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How to Fillet a Fish – Time to Do It in Seconds Instead of Minutes!

how to fillet a fish
Written by Derrick Riley
Last Update: August 14, 2023

Cleaning fish is something everyone can do, but filleting requires skill. You’ll need a chopping board, a sharp knife with a thin flexible blade, and a broad, flat blade to remove the hard skin.

If you are clueless about how to fillet a fish, don’t worry. You are in the right place. Read this easy step-by-step guide on filleting fish and get it done in minutes with extreme precision!

Filleting a Fish: Everything You Need to Know

1. Choosing a suitable knife

There’s a wide range of knives available for all the processes: from de-scaling to filleting. The two most suitable knives are the fillet knife and the salmon knife.

Made of stainless steel, the fillet knife is indispensable and flexible without being frail and works with excellent control. You can cut the fillet with minimum wastage of meat because of the sharp, flexible blade.

On the other hand, the salmon knife is a double sharp-edged knife. It’s usually larger than the fillet knife and you can use it to de-scale as well as fillet a larger fish.

The ultimatum is to have a sharp knife, not serrated.

2. Repairing your workshop

Clean surrounding is always helpful when preparing seafood. All the tools you’ll need should be organized and within your reach.

Start by cleaning the workspace. Then sharpen the knife and fix your cutting board so it won’t slip when you’re de-scaling.

You should work near the sink in order to be able to clean the fish easily. Try to use gloves so you could protect yourself from the sharp edges of the bones.

Also make sure you have paper towels or a piece of cloth to dry the fillets after you’re done cleaning. Remember to have a plate with you where you can put the fillets.

3. Rinsing your Fish

After setting up the workplace, do a cold water rinse and use a cloth or paper towel immediately afterwards to dry the fish. Don’t waste your time cleaning the head of the fish because it will be disposed of in the trash.

4. De-scaling of the fish

De-scaling is not as simple as it seems. Due to the sharp edges, you need to stay cautious at all times and use gloves.

Designed scalers are better for this task. But if they are not available, a salmon knife and sometimes the back of your knife can be used to de-scale.

This can be either a head-to-tail (for large fish) or a tail-to-head (for small fish) method. Place a scale or the back part of the knife at one side and scratch it along the skin, and repeat as needed.

In Japanese styles, a sharp knife is used to de-scale in seconds and cut a little layer of the skin.

5. Gutting your fish

This process is a lot easier than de-scaling. In order to open the abdominal cavity to remove the inside, take a sharp knife and inject the tip of the knife horizontally from the fish anus to near the head.

Now remove the innards with your hands with gloves on and dispose of them, or you can remove the gills and use them to remove innards as well.

6. Removing the head and the tail

The next step is to remove the head and tail, which requires minimal effort. All you have to do is draw a line in front of the pectoral fin and right behind the gills, at a little angle towards the head. Make a solid stroke with the knife on both sides, which’ll pierce through the bones.

For the tail, hit a simple stroke at the point where the tail and the body connects. Now, dispose of the head because you can save it for cooking later on.

7. Filleting a fish (step by step)

  • Getting rid of the fins

You can use a simple knife or a pair of scissors for this task. Gently cut the pectoral, pelvic, dorsal, and caudal fins, so it won’t get in the way of smooth fillets slicing. In addition to that, be careful that you don’t waste any meat. You can also follow this step when de-scaling.

  • Slicing the perfect fillet

Slicing the perfect fillet

Keep your one hand on the fish, and start blading from the tail with the other hand. You can also use the spine as a guide and roll the knife towards the head. After cutting a little bit, lift it to see if the spine is not having a layer of meat.

Don’t worry if your fillet is left with some bones; they will be removed later on. You can also use a salmon knife to fillet a large fish more precisely.

  • Slicing the other half of the fish

This is actually a difficult step.  When you’re done slicing one side, place the bony side of the fish on the cutting board. Remember to use a cloth to avoid losing its grip. Now run the knife in the same manner.

  • Full bone cleansing

You cannot follow the steps mentioned above for removing the bones unless you waste a layer of meat with it. In order to avoid that, use tweezers to de-bone the flesh.

  • Skinning

With a fillet knife, make a little cut that separates the slice and the skin. As you go further with the knife, remember to grasp the skin and pull it along. Sometimes, it gets peeled off while de-scaling.

Although many dislike it, the skin is edible and has many nutritional benefits.

  • Removing Excessive fat

You can use a fillet knife to remove all the fat and make it as lean as you want. However, this depends on your preference.

  • Final touch

After getting perfectly boneless slices, fillets can be put under the tap or in a water container.

Dry the fillets with a cloth-piece or a paper towel. If you want to preserve them for 2 to 3 days, just put them in a container full of ice. Moreover, you can preserve them for 2 to 3 months placing them in a plastic wrap or a Ziploc bag, and then refrigerate the bag.

how to fillet a fish - Final touch

Handy Fish Filleting Tips

  • Fish, when caught, can fill the air with odor until cleaned properly. To prevent this, put the fillets in milk for 20 minutes, and the milk will absorb all the smell. Afterward, dry them. Alternatively, you can apply salt on them.
  • Do not keep fish in a dry place or in the refrigerator; it will rot up in a day. Keep in ice or a freezer.
  • If you’re wondering, here’s a description of the Japanese style. Experts can slice a fillet in less than 30 seconds.

First, they cut the head and de-scale and skin (if required). Then they run the sharp knife from the tail towards the opposite end. While blading, they place the resting hand on the fish. They perform these steps on all sides.

Lastly, they make small strokes to separate the fillet from the bones and use tweezers for the extra bones in the fillet.


There you go! These easy steps will help you master the skill of filleting a fish.

Let us know in the comments below if you find our article helpful. Share your experience with us in the comment section below. Happy filleting to you!

About the author

Derrick Riley

I’m Derrick in my early 40s, but planning to bag from every saltwater source in America. In practice, I’ve explored over a dozen bodies of water that hosted almost all of the saltwater game fish. My personal favorites are brook trout and striped bass though. I don’t mind catching bluegill and white crappie either.

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