How to filet a fish

Now that you’ve got a corker of a fish in the boat it’s time to think about how to filet a fish.  Here are some tips for making the job easy.  Get the cleaning done and get the party started!


A sharp filet knife.  A dull knife will have you cussin’ and spittin’ in no time flat.  Your filet knife should be sharp so that you can slice instead of saw.  Fish cleaning will be faster and easier and you’ll keep more flesh on the filet than you’ll leave on the bone.  The knife should be thin at the tip and flexible so that you can work along the many different angles that you’ll find.

A fish scaler for saltwater fish.  If you’re planning on eating the skin then the fish scaler is the way to remove the armor-like discs.  While fish scalers are commercially available you can remove many scales with other tools, too.  A metal curry comb, the kind used for grooming horses, is a tool that I’ll use with bigger fish such as a striped bass or a bluefish.

Techniques for easy filleting:

Cut behind the head along the gills.
Place the fish on its side, dorsal side facing you.
Insert the tip of the filet knife where the head meets the back bone.
Cut along the dorsal fin from.   Slice from the head to the tail along the top of the backbone.
Flip the fish over and repeat the same procedure on the other side.
Use a pair of forceps or needle-nose pliers to remove any bones.  They’re easy to find if you run your finger across the filet.

Note: If you like fish chowder then be sure to save the skeleton.

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Tom Keer

Tom Keer

Tom Keer is an award-winning writer who lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  He is a columnist for the Upland Almanac, a Contributing Writer for Covey Rise magazine, a Contributing Editor for both Fly Rod and Reel and Fly Fish America, and a blogger for the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s Take Me Fishing program.  Keer writes regularly for over a dozen outdoor magazines on topics related to fishing, hunting, boating, and other outdoor pursuits.  When they are not fishing, Keer and his family hunt upland birds over their three English setters.  His first book, a Fly Fishers Guide to the New England Coast was released in January 2011.  Visit him at or at