How To Filet A Fish

If you have decided to cook your catch, there is obviously a preparation stage before any cooking can begin.

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Many people enjoy fishing, whether it is for recreational purposes or for a professional reason, the sport can be relaxing and provide fishermen with a tasty meal at the end of the day.

If you have decided to cook your catch, there is obviously a preparation stage before any cooking can begin, and whilst you could just throw the entire fish on the fire, so to speak, it is preferable to filet the fish first.

In order to ensure that the fish is filleted correctly, it’s important to follow some steps, which we are going to explain fully in this article. It may take a few practice runs in order to get the skill down to a T but by sticking to these easy steps, you will be confidently able to filet a fish in no time at all.

Table of Contents

How to filet a fish

1. Clean Your Work Area

Before beginning any part of the filleting process, it is essential to ensure that your work space is clean and free of any debris. This is important for any food preparation but particularly with fish, which is a product that can spoil easily when exposed to any bacteria. Having a clean work area can also contribute to lowering the risk of food poisoning.

Let’s now take a look at the steps involved for filleting the fish.

2. Bleeding The Fish Out

After catching the fish, you should begin the process right away by bleeding the fish out. This can be done by making a small incision below the gill and quickly snapping the fish’s head backwards in order to severe the spine. Once this is done, you should thread a string or rope through the gills and out of the mouth and allow the fish to bleed. This is a vital step since skipping this part can result in a loss of taste in the meat as well as creating a rather messy work space when it comes to the filleting portion of the task.

3. Put The Fish On Ice

Once the fish is sufficiently bled out, you should then place it on ice in order to retain the freshness. Do not remove it from the ice until you are ready to complete the next steps.

4. Descale The Fish

You may choose to descale the fish at this point or you may prefer to remove the entire skin later in the process. For those wishing to descale now, this can be done quickly and easily by scraping the back of a knife from the tail end to the head of the fish.

5. Remove The Guts

The next phase of the process is to remove the guts from the fish. This may seem like a gruesome process but can be done quickly and efficiently. You should begin by making a hole in the stomach area of the fish. Begin at the tail and run your knife along the stomach, all the way to head, this will enable you to open the fish up. It is a better option to wear gloves as you remove the guts by hand and dispose of them. Once they have all been removed you can then use cold water to rinse the inside of the fish to remove any final remnants.

6. Re-clean Your Work Area

When gutting the fish it is vital that another clean of the work area takes place once the guts have been thrown away, they may contain bacteria which is harmful and by cleaning the area once again, you are removing the risk of infection.

7. Dispose Of The Fish Guts

It is also possible to perform the gutting whilst still at the water’s edge but it is worth noting that the scent of the guts may attract larger predators and so proper disposal is important.

8. Remove The Fish Head

Next we are going to remove the head of the fish, this can be done by using a sharp knife to cut the head exactly where it meets the gills. Cutting through the spine may require a little extra effort but using a good quality knife should make the process relatively easy. The fish head can be thrown away or kept frozen for use in making a stock or soup.

9. Remove The Fins

Using sharp scissors, you can now remove the fins and discard of them appropriately.

10. Filet The Fish

It is now time to begin the actual filleting process. You will need your sharp knife once again and should begin by inserting the knife at the tail end on the spine and running it along the spine right through to the head. As you are cutting, it is worth lifting the filet in order to ensure that your cut remains straight. When making the cut, you should not use a sawing motion as the will tear at the flesh, a smooth, slicing motion will produce a much nicer cut of the filet.

At this stage it is not recommended that you cut through the ribs, but rather work around them and their form.

11. Repeat On The Other Side of The Fish

Once the first filet has been successfully cut away, you can then repeat the process on the other side of the fish being careful as the fish will be more slippery this time around due to the removal of the first filet. You may find it a little more difficult with the second side as the fish will also be much less bulky and harder to grasp hold of, for this reason it is important to take your time to ensure a good cut.

Now is the point where you may cut your filet into steaks should you so wish, or leave it as it is if you prefer a full filet.

12. Remove The Fish Bones

When eating your fish you do not want the presence of bones and so at this stage it is important to check the filet for any remaining bones which can then be removed using either a boning knife or a pair of tweezers. Discard the bones appropriately.

13. Remove The Fish Skin

It is perfectly safe to consume the skin of the fish but many people prefer it to be removed. If this is the case, the skin can be easily removed by using a knife to make a cut where the skin meets the meat, you can then slowly cut away the skin by moving the knife along the underside whilst maintaining a firm grasp on the skin.

14. Remove The Fish Fat

For those who have only ever bought their fish filet prepared already, it may be surprising to learn that there is a certain amount of fat on the fish. It is at this point that the fat can be removed with a knife, although if you do like to eat it, it is not at all harmful.

15. Rinse Your Fish

The final stage is to rinse the fish under cold water to remove any bacteria or other debris that may be present. The fish can then be either cooked straight away, chilled or frozen for use later down the line. If kept in the fridge, the fish will stay perfectly good for two days but should be kept on ice. For fish that has been frozen, it can be consumed up to three months later.


Whether you have been fishing for many years or are totally new to fishing, learning how to filet a fish is a great skill for any fisherman. Following this simple guide will ensure that your fish will be filleted to the best standard, giving you a healthy, tasty and self sufficient meal!

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