Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

By Chris Schultz
Herald Journal

June 28, 2004

The deal on cleaning fish

A few nice bass, a limit of fair sized walleyes, a bunch of slab crappies, or even a big northern pike, cleaning fish like that can be quick, easy and even fun.

However, when you have a pail full of mid-sized sunfish that you, and your kids, had a blast catching, the task of cleaning all them can be looked at in an entirely different light, especially, if you have to do it all by yourself.

That’s the task I faced last week, and although I consider myself to be a fast and efficient cleaner of sunfish, filleting 72 of the buggers all by yourself, really makes you consider why you kept that many, and how many you will keep next time.

During the process, I was happy about only one thing, the fact we only kept 72 sunfish, when between my two kids and wife we could have kept 80.

With the pan fish bite still on, here are a few tips to make your fish cleaning efforts a little easier, and more productive.

First of all, you have to remember that the final goal is good eating, and tasting fish from lake to table.

– It’s always best to clean fish as soon as possible after they are caught.

If time does not allow, and let’s say you can’t get to cleaning until a day later, keep the fish in a big cooler with ice cold water, and change the water and ice at least a couple of times until you can clean the fish.

– Be well prepared, have a good system set up, all your tools is place, and your knives sharpened.

My system kind of works like this: I prefer to stand while cleaning so I throw down a rubber mat to stand on, and I make sure the cooler with fish is easily accessible so I don’t have to bend down to crab fish and then I place the pail where the fillets goes on the work bench, and the five gallon pail lined with two garbage bags on the opposite side of the cooler.

The process is then very simple, like a manufacturing line, cooler to table, to pail, to garbage.

– For panfish, use small fillet knives, have several of them, and make sure they are very sharp.

Good flexible fillet knives aren’t expensive, and can only be sharpened so many times.

When it starts to get dull, and its been sharpened on a runner or stone a few times, replace it.

Injuries are also much more likely to happen with a dull knife then with a sharp one.

– Use plenty of newspaper. I clean my fish right on top of old newspapers.

The newspaper does a good job of keeping the fish in place, and when it starts to get a little sloppy, I just replace it.

The used paper goes right in the garbage with the fish guts.

– Use a cleaning or fillet method that you are comfortable with and efficient at.

There are all kinds of tricks out there when it comes to cleaning fish some are good, most aren’t.

– If you prefer to scale the fish instead of skin them, make sure you wash the fillets vigorously several times to remove the scales.

Once you’ve done that, do it again. Unwanted scales can ruin any meal of fish.

– When you’re done cleaning, take good care of the fillets, the part you are going to eat.

I like to keep them in ice filled, lightly salted, water in the refrigerator for a while before freezing them or frying them.

When freezing sunfish fillets, use plastic, airtight containers and freeze the fish in water.

When you put the container in the freezer, don’t stick it back in a corner, give it plenty of room in the freezer so the fish can freeze quickly and evenly.

That’s what is meant by the term sharp freezing.

– When it comes time to eat some of the fish that are in the freezer, do not thaw the fish in the microwave.

Let them thaw slowly at room temperature or in the refrigerator.

Thawing them too fast will make the fillets soft and mucky.

– Finally, when every thing is said and done, and the fillets are taken care of, clean all your tools, containers, and work areas extensively.

Then, tie up the garbage bags tightly and keep them in a cooler with cold water until it’s garbage day.

Don’t throw them in the garage bin on Wednesday, when the garbage doesn’t get picked up until Monday.

– When you have the system down, and if your kids are old enough, teach them how to clean fish, and then set the rule, if you catch it, and keep it, you clean it.

Have fun fishing and remember to only keep the fish you can use.

Opinions vary on Minnesota waterfowl hunting

From the DNR

A large majority of Minnesota’s waterfowl hunters are satisfied with their hunting experience, but nearly half wish they could harvest more ducks, according to a recently released survey of hunters’ opinions and activities.

Seventy percent reported being satisfied (slightly, moderately or very) with waterfowl hunting, according to the survey, conducted in 2002 by the U.S. Geological Survey through the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

In the same survey in 2000, 71 percent of Minnesota waterfowl hunters reported being satisfied (slightly, moderately or very).

In 2002, nearly one half (44%) said they were dissatisfied (very, moderately or slightly) with their duck harvest compared with 50 percent dissatisfaction in 2000.

The results show that hunters are reasonably satisfied with hunting regulations, management strategies and the overall experience.

“As waterfowl managers, we’d like to find ways to increase overall satisfaction levels with waterfowl seasons and harvest,” said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl staff specialist.

“Since this was a random survey of waterfowl hunters, it provides a good representation of the opinions of hunters across the state. We’ll take these results seriously.”

The survey was distributed to 4,800 waterfowl hunters following the 2002 waterfowl season. A total of 3,129 responded.

The average age of respondents was 45 years old and had been hunting waterfowl 22 years.

Results of the survey are used to help wildlife managers set seasons, determine regulations and management policies.

A full copy of the report will be available online at

Among other findings in the survey were:


While use of spinning wing decoys in Minnesota appears lower than in other states, their use is increasing. In 2000, only 10 percent of hunters reported use of a battery-powered, spinning wing decoy compared to 26 percent in 2002.

Of those who responded to the survey, 20 percent reported they own a battery-powered spinning wing decoy.

Of those who used the decoy in 2002, nine percent believe the decoys are extremely effective, 29 percent believe they are very effective, and 42 percent believe they are somewhat effective.

Sixteen percent of respondents believe the decoy is only slightly effective while four percent believe they are not effective at all.

When asked about various restrictions on the decoy (if these decoys are found to increase duck harvest and possibly result in shorter seasons and/or lower bag limits), respondents were generally neutral about the restrictions included in the survey.

Of the listed restrictions, banning their use for the entire season received the lowest support while banning them during the first eight days of the season received the most support. (Owners of spinning wing decoys were much less supportive of restrictions than non-owners.)

Over the course of the season, users of spinning wing decoys harvested an average of 16.30 ducks compared to 7.96 for non-users.

Decoy users averaged 1.29 ducks per hunting day compared to 0.99 for non-users.


A variety of questions were asked concerning preferred season dates. Hunters were asked to select their preferred season dates for a 60-day, 45-day, and 30-day duck-hunting season.

60-day season: About half of respondents (52 percent) preferred an early opening date, 35 percent chose the traditional opening date, and 13 percent were undecided.

45-day season: 30 percent preferred a single season with a traditional opening date, 29 percent selected a single season with an early opening date, 17 percent selected a split season with an early opening date with closed dates earlier in the season, 13 percent selected a split season with an early opening date with closed dates later in the season, and 11 percent were undecided.

30-day season: 48 percent would prefer a single season with the traditional opening date while 37 percent would opt for a split season, 16 percent had no opinion.


A large majority of respondents (81 percent) indicated they support creating waterfowl refuges as a management strategy.

Approximately 50 percent of respondents indicated a preference for opening day shooting hours to begin at one-half hour before sunrise while 26 percent preferred a 9 a.m. start.

The traditional noon start was preferred by 27 percent.

As for the 4 p.m. closure during the early part of the season, 36 percent percent were in favor while 46 percent opposed it.


Support continues for this youth hunting day, although the percentage supporting it dropped from 66 percent in 2002 to 61 percent in 2002.

Thirty-six percent of respondents strongly supported the hunt in 2002, down from 44 percent in 2000.

Of those who responded to the survey, 11 percent reported they took youths hunting on the special day.

Based on percentages provided by the survey, it is estimated that nearly 19,000 youths participated in the 2002 youth waterfowl hunt.


Survey participants were asked to respond to four statements about the DNR.

Overall, respondents were neutral to mildly positive about the DNR.

Over 50 percent of respondents agreed with the statement: “The Minnesota DNR has waterfowl management staff who are well trained for their jobs.”

Nearly 50 percent of respondents agreed with the statement: “The Minnesota DNR answers questions honestly.”

To the statement, “The Minnesota DNR listens to waterfowl hunters’ concerns,” 43 percent agreed.

About 37 percent agreed that the “Minnesota DNR responds to waterfowl hunters’ concerns.”

Seventeen percent of respondents reported they had been checked by a conservation officer during the 2002 waterfowl season and nearly 90 percent of those agreed or strongly agreed that the officer properly enforced regulations.

Just over 80 percent agreed or strongly agreed that officers were polite and respectful.


19 percent of respondents reported hunting waterfowl outside of MN in 2002, down from 25 percent in 2000;

Goose hunters reported less of a decline in satisfaction over time than did duck hunters.

About one-third of goose hunters indicated their satisfaction had declined in the past three years, or since they began goose hunting in the state.

Sixty-eight percent of goose hunters were satisfied with their goose-hunting experience in 2002.


2002 from 2000

7.0–7.3 Very dissatisfied

16.5–16.3 Slightly dissatisfied

6.3–10.0 Neutral

48.8–43.7 Slighly satisfied

21.4–27.3 Very satisfied


2002 from 2000

16.5–18.3 Very dissatisfied

27.5–31.8 Slightly dissatisfied

9.0–8.2 Neutral

38.3–32.7 Slighly satisfied

8.7 –9.0 Very satisfied

Outdoor Notes

• Milfoil in Howard Lake: Currently there are three patches of Eurasian Watermilfoil in Howard Lake.

These patches are east and west of the swimming beach on the south end of the lake and from the north landing around the creek to the west.

This spring, Howard Lake, the lake itself, which is known for good clear water and super fishing, is fighting a battle with an early algae bloom, so are many other lakes, and is one of public perception.

To clarify matters, an early algae bloom did occur on Howard Lake this year, but the lake is not toxic, and the lake was not filled with sewage from the floods of three years ago.

• The floods of three years ago are probably affecting algae blooms in the lake, but the impact of this years heavy spring rains, and runoff, at a time when lake levels were very low, has had the largest impact.

For more information on the subject, go to, and read the story from the June 21 issue of the Howard Lake-Waverly-Montrose Herald Journal.

• Dutch Elm disease is back again. If you have elm trees that have dying branches, or brown leaves, contact your county extension office ASAP.

• Mosquitoes are out in full force, be prepared for them, and if your especially sensitive to bites, stay inside at dusk.

• Although it’s been a bit different on each lake, the sunfish spawn is still on.

Get out, and get them, while the action is fast.

• The crow hunting season in Minnesota opens July 15.

• Carry a spare, or extra, outboard key in your boat.

The extra key doesn’t do any good in the truck.

• A few broods of young pheasants have been seen in the last week or so, according to readers from the Montrose and New Germany areas.

• Today, June 28 the sun will rise at 5:29 a.m. and set at 9:04 p.m.

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