Fillet Knives - Buyer's Guideby Capt. Terry Rand
Choosing a fillet knife is relatively simple if you are always cleaning the same size fish. Things get trickier when you’re looking for one knife to cover a number of different tasks. The answer is no one knife will do it all.
If you’re cleaning a variety of different sized fish then it pays to have multiple knives. Fillet knives come in different lengths and thickness. Smaller blades work better on smaller jobs while longer blades handle the larger tasks. If you’re filleting small trout or perch then it is much easier and safer to do wielding a 4” blade than a 7” or 9” blade. Conversely, a 9” fillet knife is necessary while trying to fillet a 40” striped bass.
If you like to skin your fish after the fillet process then a knife with a thin blade will be helpful to you. This allows you to easily bend the blade flat against the cutting board making the task of skinning much easier. A blade that will not bend easily will cause the fillets to be skinned unevenly.
Choose a knife from a reputable name brand knife making company. Most of these companies offer warranties on their products. Choose a knife that is made with a high quality stainless steel. Quality steel retains its edge longer and sharpens easily. For a knife of good value expect to pay anywhere from $25 - $50 for a nice product. If you’re looking for something that will get you through a season or two you can find knives in the $10 - $20 range that will get the job done. And, of course, there are plenty of expensive products out there for the fillet man with discerning tastes. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on proper knife sharpening.
The easiest approach to filleting a fish is by first making an incision behind the fish’s head, directly behind the pectoral fin. The cut should run from the top of his head down the side of the fish. Next, face the fish’s back towards you and insert the knife tip, behind the head, until the tip hits the spine. Now, cut along the back all the way down to the tail, guiding the knife tip with the spine.
Begin filleting the fish by deepening the incision you made along the back, staying to one side of the spine as you deepen the cut. Just run the tip of the blade along the inside of the incision using the spine and attached bones as a guide as you move along. When you hit the rib cage you can either cut through them and separate them from the fillet later or you can carefully cut around them and remove the fillet. Repeat the process on the other side.
To skin the fillet, simply lie the fillet on a cutting board, skin side down, and start at the tail end of the fillet. Lay you knife blade flat and insert it into the tail area, separating the flesh from the skin. Use a couple of your fingernails to grab a hold of the skin just behind your fillet knife. Now, keeping your knife blade flat to the cutting board, move the knife back and forth slowly while applying forward pressure. If you keep the blade flat you will notice there is no wasted meat left on the skins.
This should get you pointed in the right direction for filleting fish and choosing a fillet knife for the task at hand. As you gain experience you will probably find certain knives for all of your various filleting needs. And remember, a sharp knife not only gets the job done more quickly, it is also generally safer than a dull blade.