How To Fillet A Fish In 5 Super Simple Steps

Knowing how to fillet a fish is essential if you like harvesting your catches. Some say this is the worst part of the whole fishing experience, but the chore becomes tolerable when you think about those tasty fillets you get to eat later.

What You’ll Need To Fillet A Fish

How To Fillet A Fish

The task of cleaning fish is simple if you have the right equipment. I suggest starting with a good cleaning table set at the right height to minimize back strain from bending over too much.

A cleaning board is a must. I recommend either a store-bought model or a flat scrap piece of lumber (avoid using treated wood though to prevent any chemicals from soaking into your fillets).

A sharp fillet knife is essential to cleaning your catch and I always use an electric knife whenever electricity is available. I have been using an American Angler model for years and it has been very dependable. My model came with two blade sizes: an 8-inch model for crappie and walleye and a 5 1/2-inch version for bluegill. I have found that the 5 1/2-inch blade works best for me cleaning crappie because it gives me a more precise cut than the 8-inch version which also tended to tear the meat after I had cleaned about five or six fish.

Get The Right Knife For The Job

How To Fillet A Fish

They say that a sharp knife is safer than a dull knife. While I’m not sure about that, I do know that a sharp knife is key when filleting fish. Having a thin and easy to manage, sharp blade will help make this entire task much less cumbersome.

A bowl for holding the fillets while you are cleaning a mess of fish is also a must. I prefer using a glass bowl from an old mixer my wife discarded because it’s easier to clean and remove any blood stains from the bowl. Once you have the right equipment, follow these five easy steps to clean your catch.

5 Easy Steps To Fillet Your Fish

How To Fillet A Fish

Lay the fish on the cutting board or some type of flat, hard surface. Grasp the fish by its mouth and place the knife’s blade behind the fish’s gills and cut inward and downward towards the head until the blade reaches the backbone. Be careful not to cut into the backbone.

How To Fillet A Fish: Step 1

Turn the knife 90 degrees towards the tail and glide the blade along the backbone. Make sure your blade stays on top of the back and belly fins and cut through the fish’s rib cage. Try to avoid cutting into the backbone so it’s better to cut too shallow into the fish rather than too deep. Continue to cut through the body towards the tail and then exit the blade at the base of the tail.

How To Fillet A Fish: Step 2

With the fillet still attached to the tail, flip it away from the fish and position the knife on the thin portion of the fillet. Hold the fish and slice between the meat and skin to remove the fillet. Run the blade at a shallow angle to avoid slicing through the skin and making sure to cut as close to the skin as you can to get the most meat for the fillet.

How To Fillet A Fish: Step 3

Move the fish away from the fillet to work on removing the ribs from the fillet. Position the tip of your knife at the top of the rib cage and cut downward along the rib cage all the way to the bottom of the fillet. Angling your knife and slicing close to the ribs guarantees you will retain the most meat on your fillet. Then carefully remove the rib cage from the fillet.
Set the fillet aside in some type of a bowl, turn over the fish and repeat steps 1 through 4.

How To Fillet A Fish: Step 4

Lay the fish on the cutting board or some type of flat, hard surface. Grasp the fish by its mouth and place the knife’s blade behind the fish’s gills and cut inward and downward towards the head until the blade reaches the backbone. Be careful not to cut into the backbone.

How To Fillet A Fish: Step 5

Turn the knife 90 degrees towards the tail and glide the blade along the backbone. Make sure your blade stays on top of the back and belly fins and cut through the fish’s rib cage. Try to avoid cutting into the backbone so it’s better to cut too shallow into the fish rather than too deep. Continue to cut through the body towards the tail and then exit the blade at the base of the tail.Lay the fish on the cutting board or some type of flat, hard surface. Grasp the fish by its mouth and place the knife’s blade behind the fish’s gills and cut inward and downward towards the head until the blade reaches the backbone. Be careful not to cut into the backbone.

Finishing Up

After cleaning all the fish, I rinse off the fillets with tap or lake water and rub off any blood or scales sticking to the fillets. If I feel any small bones in the fillets, I trim those out with a conventional fillet knife. Some of the fillets go straight to the frying pan while others are stored in the freezer. I place a certain amount in a Ziploc freezer bag and mark on the bag the number of fillets and the date of the catch for future reference.

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