I try and bleed all the fish that I take home with me. I think the bleeding makes the meat cleaner–both when you go to fillet the fish and when you cook it. It’s a quick ritual that I do on the deck of my boat, a few seconds with a knife. The trick to bleeding is to do it right when the fish comes out of the ocean, so yes, it’s still very much alive. At first this procedure can seem a bit ghastly, but the end result, the fillet, as it goes into the oven or skillet is so worth it. I can’t stress the bleeding part enough: striped bass, bluefish, blackfish, green bonita, sea bass, even mackerel. I bleed them all. For most fish I just cut the membrane behind both gills, lower down toward the throat. It’s not an overly surgical cut, just push the knife in and cut down. With fluke I puncture the gill plate on the white side and twist the knife just a tad. This gets the blood flowing. Our recreational bag limits on most species are so tight that it makes complete sense to slow down and really care for the catch. Now, as fishermen, many of us do a terrible job of slowing down, giving pause, especially when the fishing is good. Fish are caught, unhooked, and put in the cooler as fast as our hands can move. A good bite rarely lasts. I’m the king of rushing, to the point where my hands shake. Got to get back down, gotta get back down. But the bleeding requires a slight pause. Again, if I’m only allowed say 3 sea bass or 5 blackfish–then why am I frantically trying to get my jig to bottom? A few days ago I was blackfishing by myself. I set up on the spot right before sun up. The fish that morning came strong to the bait, and I knew I’d have a quick limit. So I slowed way down. I bled each one. I gave the fish the time it deserved, the respect. Not every trip am I so Zen, but I try to be, I try hard to find those extra seconds to deal with my catch. Take the knife, cut the fish. Then the key part: place or hold the fish in clean seawater, let it pump clean. Then get it on ice. The water step is important–it really causes the flushing. Make sure to have an extra bucket or tote aboard. After you cut the fish and get it into the bucket or tote, the fish will freak out, sending bloody water all over the place. Again, the quality of the fillet is worth a little blood on your face and clothes, a little blood on your boat. For large fish I hold them over the side, hold them tight, don’t let go. Now I’ve seen some people make the cut, but then just toss the fish in the cooler. This makes the cooler a mess, makes your ice a mess, and I think, in the end, doesn’t purge nearly as well. You need that high quality bleed which translates into a high quality fillet. True, I’ve had some excellent dinners where I didn’t bleed the fish; however, there is a trend with me that if I really pay attention to the whole process then the end result is always better. Maybe some of this is psychological–that it makes me feel better to know that I did the best job I could do for the fish in the ritual of eating it.