Want milder tasting trout? Try removing the scales

By: George deVilbiss/Special to Gold Country News Service
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I fish for just about anything that swims, and I eat just about every kind of fish I catch.

First and foremost, I’m a trout fisherman. From not long after I could walk, my dad had me streamside or on a lake fishing for trout. Fishing for rainbows, browns and even brookies in California has been among my favorite targets.

While I’ve altered much of what I “learned” as a youngster to become much more successful today, I also learned to discount one of my father’s theories. He would always say trout scales were very small and wouldn’t hurt you.

So, the trout generally were fried to a crispy finish with the shiny scales glittering in the pan. And, it’s true. Trout scales won’t hurt you.

At a lecture I recently gave, I held up a device and asked the audience, “Any idea what this is?”

Everybody responded, “A barbeque grill brush.”

I told them, “No, this is a trout scaler.”

A lady near the front asked, “Why in the world would you ever scale a trout?” She must have known my dad.

Many people will say up front they don’t enjoy eating fish, primarily because of the strong smell and taste.

Trout, and just about any other fish, can be made mild and flavorful.

When you buy fish, it’s usually scaled. If you buy ready-to-cook fillets, the fat generally has been removed. Both are primary causes for fish to smell strong when cooking and taste stronger.

While you can go to your local sporting goods store and find a variety of commercial scaling devices, none will work as good as a barbecue grill brush and a tablespoon.

Why remove the scales? Scales produce oils fish need to reduce friction as they swim. It’s what makes fish slimy.

For trout, use a short-handled barbecue grill brush. Hold the trout steady and vigorously brush the fish from its tail to its gill plate. You might be surprised how many scales can come off a fish and, once the scales are removed, how the fish is no longer slimy and much easier to hold onto.

Once you cook your fish, gently remove the skin. Between the skin and the meat, you’ll see a grayish layer covering the white or pink meat. Remove as much of that grayish layer as you can. It’s fat, and it tastes terrible.

You’ll be left with a mild fish dinner you’ll very much savor.

I run my trout through seasoned flour, dusted lightly with garlic powder and pan-fried in a little oil.

Forget, too, the commercial scalers for bigger fish. Bluegill, black bass, striped bass and just about any other kind of fish can be easily scaled with a tablespoon.

Hold the fish steady with one hand and, with the spoon bowl inverted against the fish, make short little jabs, beginning at the tail. Scales don’t go flying, as they would if you used a knife or most devices claiming to be scalers. They easily come off in place.

I always keep a couple of old tablespoons in my tackle gear for fish with larger scales than trout.

Not everybody in your household enjoys fish? Just remember that field preparation is as important as cooking preparation.

Don’t get stuck in your old rut of taking care of your fish. Try something different and see if it makes a difference.

Current fishing

Long-awaited and highly needed storms are here, so this isn’t an ideal week for fishing, although there should be windows of opportunity. Just dress appropriately, and you can still have a good outing.

Lake Berryessa: It’s a short hop to the closest boat-launching facility here at Markley Cove. Fish from the mouth of the cove to around the dam. There’s been a hot king salmon bite, including some to six pounds.

Collins Lake: They tout their springtime trout-planting program, and it’s underway. About half of a recent plant of nearly 2,000 pounds included three- to seven-pounders. Rod-bending action has been dynamite for those soaking Power Bait or crawlers at the lower-end campground area that provides great shore fishing access. Boaters, too, are getting their share hauling a crawler behind blades or a variety of flashy lures. The deeper water around the dam and on the east side of the lake has provided most of the better action for boaters.

French Meadows-Hell Hole: French Meadows Reservoir has been out of reach due to snow, and Hell Hole no longer is accessible. Both probably will be unreachable until after the spring snowmelt.

Rollins Lake: The lake is all but full, and boaters working the Bear River section are nailing nice browns and rainbows. Try hauling a Rapala for brown trout and a Needlefish or the old standby, a threaded crawler, for a rainbow.

San Pablo Bay: The bad news is there are still several unwanted critters in the bay that enjoy your expensive sturgeon baits. The good news is there’s been a decent bite on sturgeon; plus, halibut have moved in. The unwanted critters — kingfish, crab, starry flounder — love shrimp baits and pile worms. Eel, however, is much more difficult for them to get off the hook, so you might try that. If you don’t use eel, expect to go through more bait than usual to find a sturgeon.
Live anchovy aren’t available this time of year, but some shops carry shiners, and they’re much easier to keep alive than anchovy. Take a minnow bucket, drift a few shiners, and your chance of hooking a halibut is pretty good.

Contact George deVilbiss at