How To Skin A Catfish – Step by Step With Real Photos

When prepared properly, catfish are delicious! In this ‘How to Skin A Catfish‘ guide, I’m going to tell you everything you need to know to go from catching catfish to the dinner table with any species of freshwater catfish (Bullheads, Channel, White, Flathead or Blue)

First I’ll explain how to skin the catfish, then I’ll go over how to fillet the catfish. So heat up the grease because you’ll be cooking delicious catfish nuggets in no time!

Tools Needed

To properly skin a catfish you really only need a few basic tools:

  • Sharp fillet knife
  • Catfish skinning pliers
  • Cutting board
  • Glove (optional)

Preparing Your Catfish

Anytime you are catching or planning on cooking fish, always keep it as fresh as possible. To do this, keep your catch on ice. This will keep the meat cool, and make it much easier to handle when it comes to skinning and processing it for a meal.

Be sure to thoroughly rinse your catfish with freshwater before skinning. Catfish are known to get a little slimy (don’t worry, this is normal) so rinsing with water and wiping down with a towel will make it easier to grip and hold the fish.

How to Skin a Catfish

Step 1: Remove Top Dorsal Spine

Start off by using your catfish skinning pliers to clip off and remove the top dorsal fin of the catfish. This fin is usually made of bone, and will make the skinning process much easier once removed.

How To Skin A Catfish - Remove Top Dorsal Spine

Step 2: Make cut behind gill plate

Use your fillet knife to cut a ‘ring’ all the way around the fish, just behind the gill plate and in front of the top dorsal fin. This incision only needs to be about 1/4″ deep.

How To Skin A Catfish - Make cut behind gill plate
How To Skin A Catfish - Make cut behind gill plate

Step 3: Remove skin with catfish skinning pliers

Using your catfish skinning pliers, clamp onto the outer skin of the catfish on one side where you made the incision. Firmly hold the head of the catfish on one hand, and use the pliers to pull the skin toward the tail of the catfish.

How To Skin A Catfish - Remove skin with catfish skinning pliers

Flip the fish over, and repeat this process on the other side.

How to Skin a Catfish- Remove skin with catfish skinning pliers

Note: Catfish skin is very tough, and the skin may rip when you pull. That’s ok, just get another grip of the skin with your skinning pliers and repeat the process. When finished, it should look like this:

How to Skin a Catfish - Remove skin with catfish skinning pliers

Step 4: Remove unwanted parts

Using your fillet knife, remove the pectoral fins, innards, and the head of the catfish.

How to skin a Catfish- Remove unwanted parts

Step 5: Final trim and rinse

At this step, you should now have a skinned catfish. Trim off any missed pieces of skin, and then rinse the fish. Be sure to rinse the abdominal cavity.

Trimming off the fins is optional- some people keep these on because they turn very crispy and crunchy when fried.

How to Skin a Catfish- Final trim and rinse

This fish is ready to cook (whole) or, you can remove the fillets so they are completely boneless (see steps below).

How to Remove Catfish Fillets (Boneless)

Step 1: Make initial cut at base of tail

Using your fillet knife make an incision on one side of the fish at the base of the tail. Angle your knife at 45 degrees until you feel the backbone of the fish.

How to fillet a catfish - Step 1- Make initial cut at base of tail

Step 2: Cut along backbone toward gills

Keep your knife at 45 degrees, and with a cutting motion work your blade along the backbone until you reach the rib cage area. Carefully peel the fillet away from the knife as you cut.

How to fillet a catfish - Step 2 - Cut along backbone toward gills

Step 3: Fillet around the rib cage

Use the tip of your knife to cut around the rib cage. Peel away the fillet and cut along the outside of the rib bones. The tip of your knife should cut outside of the rib bones, leaving the rib cage intact on the carcass as you peel away the boneless fillet.

How to fillet a catfish Step 3 - Fillet around the rib cage

Step 4: Flip over and repeat

Flip over the fish, and repeat the process on the other side. Once finished, run your fingers over the fillets to feel for any missed bones. If you find them, simply cut them out with the tip of your knife.

How to fillet a catfish - Step 5 - Final trim and rinse

Step 5: Final trim and rinse

Once finished you should be left two boneless and skinless catifsh fillets that are ready to cook. Always be sure to rinse off your fillets before cooking or freezing.

How to fillet a catfish

Bonus Tip: Fish carcasses make excellent garden compost. If you do not have a garden, consider disposing of your fish carcass and remains back into the lake.

Step 7: Eat and enjoy your meal!

Catfish fillets can be prepared in a number of different ways. The most popular catfish recipes are usually baked, grilled, or fried.

If your looking for healthy catfish recipes (not fried) consider trying one of my panfish recipes…they’re delicious and work equally as well on catfish!

Air-fried catfish fillets
Air-fried catfish fillets

Frequently Asked Questions

Do you have to skin a catfish?

No, you do not have to skin a catfish, although this is the preferred method because catfish skin is very tough and chewy when cooked.

What happens if you eat catfish skin?

Nothing, it is perfectly healthy to eat. If you do decide to eat catfish skin, be sure to thoroughly rinse and scrub with lemon water to remove the outer coating of slime.

How do you humanely kill a catfish?

To humanely kill a catfish use a knife or scissors to cut the gills. This will kill the fish very quickly without suffering.

Why do catfish live so long out of water?

Catfish have a special suprabranchial arborescent organ that allows them to breathe air outside of water much longer than other species of fish. This means some species of catfish can live out of water for up to 24 hours.

Do you need to soak catfish before cooking?

Soaking catfish fillets before cooking is a common way to tenderize fish and remove the fishy or ‘muddy’ taste associated with larger catfish. Consider soaking your catfish fillets in buttermilk for 6-8 hours before cooking for a mild flavor.


Catfish are a very abundant species of freshwater fish found all over the world, they are fun to catch and make an excellent meal when prepared properly.

How to Skin a Bullhead Catfish

Knowing how to skin a catfish is not that difficult if you have a few simple tools and follow the steps outlined above. Don’t be a catfish hater! Thanks for reading and good luck the next time your out fishing.