Fish Filleting Basics for the Perfect Fillet!

Catching fish can be quite expensive when we look at costs of boat maintenance and gasoline, fishing tackle and even storage of your fresh fish so the question I always pose is why wouldn’t you want to have a maximum weight return on your fillets after the hard earned dollars you spent to land this bounty? Too many times over the years I’ve seen people waste so much usable flesh when filleting, boning out and skinning their fish by simply not having or maintaining their filleting equipment to a necessary level. With a few fish filleting basics ahead I plan to help you improve your skills.

When looking for maximum weight return on a boneless or skinless fish fillet, it’s not advised to be using a wide flat bladed knife. To fillet the most common recreational caught fish around the world you really should be looking at purchasing a filleting knife that is about six to seven inches in blade length and approximately half to three quarter inches in width.

Having an extremely sharp knife when filleting fish is absolutely critical and the best way to sharpen your knife is on a sharpening stone. I’ve found over the years that using a dry stone for sharpening filleting knives is far better than using an oil filled stone. The reason for this is that you don’t create an oily mess on the workbench during the process and the oil is not carried from the stone to your filleting knife to ultimately your fish fillet. Maintenance of a dry stone is crucial for its performance and this is simply done by submerging the stone in hot soapy water ideally kept like this overnight after every use. Next day rinse it under cold water and then thoroughly dry with a lint free towel storing it with your knives in a dry environment.

Having a sharp knife as previously mentioned is critical, but equally important is to keep the edge of your filleting knife similar to a chisel design that being rounded on the bottom side and flat on the top side of the blade. The purpose of this edge is to stop the filleting knife catching on the bones of the fish allowing you to fillet in a smooth single motion plus finishing the blade with this design will maintain a sharp edge for a longer period of time which means ultimately less sharpening time for you.

The best way to achieve this edge is to purchase a steel and start practising. The procedure is very simple and the first step is to hold the knife in your filleting hand and the steel upright in the other. You then want to place the bottom of the blade against the top of the steel and with light to medium pressure draw down the blade along the steel at a consistent angle and at a slow speed but not having the blade go too low on the steel close to your hand that is holding for safety reasons above all others. Repeat this on the opposite sides of the blade and steel alternating this for anywhere between six to eight times until the blade becomes razor sharp. Only the edge of the blade should touch the steel during this process, it’s not ideal to be scratching the blade sides.

Some professional filleters prefer to wear a glove of some sorts but I don’t wear them as I lose the feel of the fish when working at high speeds. If you’re working on a stable bench top and at a slow to moderate speed with a correctly maintained knife, this will help to diminish the chances of cutting yourself greatly. If you’re working with a blunt knife you will have damaged or hacked fillets equating to less weight return and because of the extra force required to cut through the fillets against the bones, the chances of cutting yourself increases drastically. Keep in mind that the best time to sharpen your knife is when it’s still sharp; if you’re waiting until the knife is blunt you’ll find that the process will take more time and a greater effort on your behalf will be required.

Danny Bonney is a professional fish filleter and seafood industry expert of 45 years. For instant access to all of his seafood knowledge, visit

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