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The Art of Properly Filleting a Fresh-Caught Fish: Minimizing Waste and Maximizing Yield

Filleting a fresh-caught fish is an essential skill for any angler or seafood enthusiast. Proper filleting not only ensures you get the most out of your catch but also provides a foundation for preparing delicious, bone-free fish dishes. In this comprehensive guide, we will walk you through the step-by-step process of filleting a fish while minimizing waste and maximizing yield.

Whether you’re a novice or an experienced angler, these techniques and tips will help you master the art of fish filleting.

Tools and Equipment

Before you begin, it’s important to gather the necessary tools and equipment:

  1. A Fresh-Caught Fish: Ensure your fish is as fresh as possible for the best flavor and texture.
  2. A Fillet Knife: Choose a high-quality, sharp fillet knife with a flexible, thin blade. A blade length of 6-9 inches is suitable for most fish.
  3. Cutting Board: A clean, stable surface to work on is crucial. Consider using a fish fillet board designed with a built-in ruler and grooves to catch juices.
  4. Fish-Gripping Tools: These tools, like pliers or a fish-gripping glove, help you maintain control of the slippery fish.
  5. Disposable Gloves: Wearing gloves keeps your hands clean and minimizes cross-contamination.
  6. Container for Discards: Have a container nearby to collect scraps and waste.
  7. Sharpener or Honing Rod: Keep your fillet knife sharp throughout the process.
  8. Optional: Tweezers or Needle-Nose Pliers: Useful for removing small bones from the fillet.

Step 1: Prepare Your Workspace

  • Start with a clean and well-lit workspace.
  • Lay the cutting board on a stable surface.
  • Put on disposable gloves for cleanliness.

Step 2: Secure the Fish

  • Place your fish on the cutting board.
  • Use fish-gripping tools to secure the fish’s head and tail. This makes it easier to handle the slippery fish.

Step 3: Scale the Fish (Optional)

  • If your fish still has scales, you can choose to remove them. Use a fish scaler or the back of your knife to scrape against the scales, moving from tail to head.

Step 4: Gut the Fish (Optional)

  • If you want to remove the entrails, make a small incision just behind the fish’s gills.
  • Gently scoop out the innards with a spoon or your fingers.
  • Rinse the fish thoroughly to remove any remaining debris.

Step 5: Start Filleting

  • Position your knife behind the fish’s pectoral fin, near the head, and make a shallow incision down to the backbone.

Step 6: Make the Initial Cut

  • Angle your knife slightly downward toward the backbone.
  • Starting from the head, insert the knife along the backbone, following the natural curve of the fish.
  • Use gentle, controlled strokes, and let the knife do the work.

Step 7: Free the Fillet

  • As you move down the fish, gently separate the flesh from the ribcage by keeping your knife blade close to the bones.
  • Continue this motion until you reach the tail.

Step 8: Remove the Fillet

  • Once you’ve separated the fillet from the ribcage, cut through the skin near the tail.
  • Carefully lift the fillet away from the skeleton.

Step 9: Repeat on the Other Side

  • Flip the fish over and repeat the filleting process on the other side.
  • Your fish should now be separated into two fillets.

Step 10: Remove Skin (Optional)

  • If desired, you can remove the skin from the fillet. Lay the fillet skin-side down and, with a gentle sawing motion, insert your knife between the skin and flesh.
  • Hold the tail end of the skin firmly, and with the knife at a slight angle, work your way along the fillet to remove the skin.

Step 11: Inspect for Bones

  • Carefully run your finger or a pair of tweezers along the fillet to check for any remaining pin bones. Remove them as needed.

Step 12: Store Your Fillets

  • Rinse the fillets under cold water to remove any residue.
  • Pat them dry with paper towels.
  • Store the fillets in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer until you’re ready to cook.


Properly filleting a fresh-caught fish is a valuable skill that enhances the quality and taste of your seafood dishes while minimizing waste. With the right tools and techniques, you can efficiently extract every bit of edible meat from your catch. Practice makes perfect, so don’t be discouraged if your first attempts aren’t flawless. With time and experience, you’ll become a master at filleting fish, making the most of your angling adventures and creating delicious meals for yourself and others.


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