Fishing Tips

How to Clean Striped Bass Like a Pro

Posted 11/24/2015

Make this great gamefish into great table fare

Striped bass are the most sought after gamefish on the East Coast. So many anglers fish for them, especially during the spring and fall migrations from their breeding grounds in the Mid-Atlantic to New England and back again, that they are highly regulated. Most of the member states that make up the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the interstate compact that manages striped bass, currently have a bag limit of one fish with a minimum size of 28 inches for ocean-caught stripers. 

Wild-caught striped bass are also amongst the most delicious fish you can bring home to eat and with the tight bag limit, it only makes sense to take the time to properly prepare and clean the fish you plan to eat. Stripers are one of the harder fish to clean because they have a large section of dark red meat running down the middle of the fillet. It is located along the fish’s lateral line beneath the skin, and it is comprised of blood vessels, nerves and connective tissues that, if not removed, can give the fillet a distinctly fishy, oily flavor. The rest of the fillet is muscle that when cooked is moist with a delicate, delicious flavor. Unfortunately, many anglers ruin the eating quality of the fish by doing a poor job of preparing the fish for the table. 

 This guide will walk you through the process of handling, cleaning and preparing a striped bass so it will provide you with a most delicious meal. We’ve also included a great recipe in this article.

 The process of enjoying the best eating quality of striped bass starts as soon as the fish is brought aboard the boat. It has to be bled immediately. After you unhook the fish, lift one gill plate and cut the red gill rakers completely through with a knife or scissors. Put the fish in the splash well or in a live well (if you have one big enough), and let it bleed out. The process can take five to ten minutes. Then put the fish in a cooler with ice and leave it there until you’re ready to clean it. 

Step 1: Doing the job right requires two knives: a large, stiff-bladed knife for filleting and a thin-bladed fillet knife for trimming the dark meat. Both should be extremely sharp. 

Step 2: Use the heavy-bladed knife to make a diagonal cut about one-half inch behind the gill plate from the lateral line to the top of the back. Do not cut into the stomach cavity or you could release stomach acid that could taint the meat.

Step 3: Insert the knife point into the first cut so it falls just above the centerline of the back. With the blade facing away from the fish, cut just deep enough to split the skin above the dorsal fins all the way to the tail. 

Step 4: Turn the knife around and begin carefully cutting downward to start removing the fillet. The blade should be guided by the bones beneath it. Only cut until the blade hits the thick backbone down the center of the fish. Do not complete the cut to remove the fillet at this time. 

Step 5: Turn the fish over and repeat what you did on the first side: diagonal cut behind the head, split the skin down the opposite side of the dorsal fins down the back, and then make the cut to the backbone to begin removing the fillet. 

Step 6: Now you remove the fillet completely by continuing the cut with the blade slicing along the bones beyond the backbone and out through the skin, but only from the tail forward to the rib cage as shown.

Step 7: With the tail portion of the fillet lifted, continue to remove the fillet by working toward the head and carefully tracing your way up and over the rib cage. Flip the fish over and finish removing the fillet from the other side. 

Step 8: To remove the skin, place the fillet skin-side down on the edge of the cleaning table so you can work easily. Starting at the tail, carefully slice down through the meat to the skin, turn the blade almost flat to the table and work it forward, holding the skin near the tail in your other hand. Be sure to work the blade back and forth in a slicing motion so it cleanly cuts the skin from the meat. 

Step 9: Cut the fillet in half lengthwise, slicing along pale pink line down the center. 

Step 10: You’ll end up with two pieces—the large back strap portion and the smaller belly section. 

Step 11: Turn the fillet pieces over so the dark meat side is facing up. Using the thin-bladed fillet knife, remove the dark meat by making a shallow cut with the blade almost horizontal to the fillet that begins near the middle of the fillet and gets deeper as you roll the blade over the edge. 

Step 12: This is done down the length of the fillet so it looks like this when the cut is complete. It takes a little practice, but it cleanly slices away most of the dark without sacrificing the good stuff.

Step 13: There will be a little dark meat left down the center of the fillet. Remove that as shown. Repeat this process with the other three fillet sections. 

Step 14: When finished, you’ll have back strap and belly section fillets like these from each side of the fish. 

Striped bass can vary greatly in size, so the fillets can range from easily manageable to much too large to cook in one piece. You can cut the back portion into two or three sections before bagging. As soon as you’re finished, bag the fillets and put them back on ice. If you plan to freeze them, put the bags in the refrigerator for a few hours to firm up, then dry them with paper towels before you vacuum bag portion sizes for the freezer. 

Striped bass fillets are delicious baked, broiled or sautéed. The meat is moist, delicate in flavor, and is complemented with a wide range of spices and sauces. Here’s one of our favorite recipes we know you’ll enjoy as much as we do. 

Crunchy Striped Bass Parmesan

  • 2 lbs. striped bass fillets
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper 
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese 
  • 1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs 
  • 4 tbs. unsalted butter, melted 
  • 2 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil 

Preheat the oven to 425°. Prepare a large glass baking dish with cooking spray, put in the fillets and season with sea salt and pepper. Mix the Parmesan cheese with the bread crumbs, melted butter and olive oil in a bowl, then liberally coat the top side of the fillet with the mixture. Bake it for 15 minutes or until the fish is flaky and the topping is golden brown. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.