How to Properly Fillet a Fish for the Table

Fishing is a rewarding experience, from the thrill of the pursuit of the fish to the fighting and landing of the fish. Perhaps even more rewarding, however, is being able to take a freshly caught fish and turn it into a home cooked meal. As daunting as it may seem, cleaning a fish for the table by filleting is surprisingly easy. By following a few easy steps, it is quite simple to turn a fresh fish into the genesis of a fresh meal in a matter of minutes.

The first order of business is to acquire the necessary utensils. Of course, a good quality fillet knife with an appropriate blade length is paramount. It is suggested that a fillet knife have a blade of at least the width of the fish to be filleted. Another necessary element in the process is a good sturdy surface to perform the filleting process. Something with a good texture such as a wooden board will suffice; it’s important that the fish does not slide around while being cleaned. There are other items that can make filleting easier, but for the sake of this article, the list of supplies will be kept basic.

To begin the process, take the fish and lay it out horizontally with its belly facing towards you. Next, make an incision behind the pectoral fin at a 45 degree angle to the head, cutting until the knife touches the spine. The knife has reached this area when cutting becomes difficult. Turn the blade of the knife towards the tail of the fish and begin slowly cutting, following the backbone along the way. With some fish, it may be difficult to cut through the rib bones. If this is the case, try to go around them. Continue cutting towards the tail with the blade following the backbone as a guide until the blade reaches the tail and the fillet has been separated from the fish. Repeat this process on the other side of the fish.

Now that the fillets of edible meat have been removed, the fish carcass can be discarded. Skinning the fillets is optional, but many prefer a skinless fillet. To remove the skin, take a fillet and lay it with the skin side down. Get a firm grip on the narrowest part of the fillet that was once joined near the tail of the fish. Pliers may be necessary. Take the knife and begin gently cutting as close to the edge of the fillet being held as possible with the knife angled down toward the skin while simultaneously pulling upward on the section being held. If done properly, the fillet will separate from the skin with no loss of meat.

Now that the fish is ready to be cooked, the only thing left is to prepare and enjoy the satisfaction of making your own home cooked meal from the fish you caught.