After you’ve come back from a successful fishing trip, you’re going to need to immediately think about the next steps – filleting, cooking, and eating your bounty. Even if you plan on giving your fish away, filleting them beforehand is always a good idea.
When filleted, the fish has been cleaned, and the meat is ready to be seasoned and cooked. So whether you’re filleting a small snapper or a monster catfish, here are some tips to help you get the job done right:
Get the proper gear
There are a few essentials you’ll need to have on hand before you start filleting. Here’s a basic list:
- Fillet knife (extra sharp)
- Cutting board (you could use a piece of wood or another hard, flat surface)
- Bucket of tap water
- Garbage bag
- Rubber gloves (optional)
- Clean plate
Setting up your workspace
Setting up a workspace may seem pretty obvious, but making sure it’s done the right way is essential to a clean and successful filleting session. In the area where you’re going to do the cutting, lay down a bunch of newspaper. Put your cutting board or piece of wood on top of the newspaper and make sure it’s 100% sturdy on a flat surface.
Keep your clean bucket of water nearby for rinsing. Because fish are slippery (even if they’re dead), they can squirm around and get loose while you’re handling them. You’d rather have them slip onto a piece of the newspaper than the gravel in your driveway.
Scaling and prepping
The first thing you want to do with your fish is scaling it. Hold down the fish as best you can and scale away its skin. Because the very outer part of the skin is rough and flaky, you want to use your scaler to get rid of it so you can eat the skin, which can be rather tasty.
Next, you can choose to twist the head of the fish off and cut away the remainder, removing a large part of the fish’s guts. This part is optional, as many people prefer to fillet with the head on because it gives them a good point of reference on where to cut.
Start the cutting
If you’re using an old fillet knife, it’s worth it to give it a proper sharpening. A fish’s skin can be very tough, and using a dull blade will force you to exert more pressure, leading to a better chance of you slipping and cutting yourself.
Once your knife is sharpened, hold the fish down on the cutting board and place your fillet knife by its tail. Hold the knife horizontally to the fish’s spine and slowly cut toward the opposite end of the fish. You should aim to cut just above the spin and grab only the meat, leaving the bones inside.
Final clean up
If all goes well, you should be getting two large fillets – one from each side of the fish. You can cut them up into smaller pieces afterward. As you’re cutting the fillets, ensure that you’re putting them on ice as soon as possible, or if you’re ready, firing them up for cooking. Take the guts and what’s left of the fish and put it in a separate garbage bag and cover it up as best as you can to keep the birds and other scavengers away.
Making a Fish grill recipe? Read our article on grilling in open.