The Best Approach to Cleaning Fish: The Electric Fillet Knife

Cleaning fresh caught fish with an electric fillet knife cuts the time in half. Photo provided by author

Several years back after a successful outing on Kentucky Lake we took our place at the fish cleaning table. A pile of crappies lay in front of me. I plugged in the electric fillet knife and went to work.

“I don’t like that,” said a burly guy looking over my shoulder. “Cleaning fish that way leaves too much meat.” There are many ways to clean fish but the electric knife has revolutionized it. Sure there are those that still believe a fixed blade fillet knife is best, and in some cases when you are undressing smaller fish or a small number it may be the best option. They even have their place even when using an electric blade but I’ll get to that in a minute.

There are also those who like their fish cleaned “Southern style,” where the fish remains intact with the exception of head, scales and entrails. But when fish are crappie size or larger the electric knife makes short work of the process.

Fish are a great source of protein and should be eaten.  Besides, what’s better than consuming fresh fish you have caught yourself. Few can argue a steaming platter of fried, baked or broiled bluegills, crappies, perch or walleye can satisfy the most fickle palate. However, fish sometimes go to waste because of the cleaning process.

According to figures released by the Sport Fishing Institute some 48 million freshwater fishermen catch nearly two million pounds of fish but much goes uneaten. In many cases it’s because of the labor involved in preparation but once you get the hang of using an electric knife, the process is cut in half.

Basically there are two designs in electric fillet knives. The most popular are those powered by regular household AC current. When fishing away from power sources there are 12-volt battery powered models. The design of the knife is important. Most anglers prefer those featuring a slender handle. The blade should come to a point at the tip. If you clean everything from bluegills to salmon, like I do, be sure to select a model that offers different blade lengths. Electric fillet knives run in range from $25 to $65 and replacement blades can be purchased from $10 to $20.

Trying to fillet a fish for the very first time with a standard fillet knife convinces many that it’s not worth the hassle. Not only can the conventional way be more difficult and time consuming, sometimes trying to find a sharp knife can be troublesome.

When using an electric knife all you have to do is lay the fish flat on a cleaning board. Make the first cut directly behind the gill. Turn the blade towards the tail and follow the spine. Stop the cut about an inch before the tail. Then flip the fillet over and do the same thing. With the blade lying flat against the cutting surface, remove the skin from the fillet. The ribs should remain intact in the fillet and you can then then come back with a fixed blade knife to cut out the ribs.

If you still have any questions you can YouTube it…just like everything else.

John Martino
Martino is a well-known outdoor writer throughout Indiana and has served as longtime outdoor columnist for the Kokomo Tribune newspaper. Martino has won numerous awards for both his writing and his service to youth, conservation and the community. He recently retired as Superintendent of Parks and Recreation for the City of Kokomo and now works as Ivy Tech Executive Director for Facilities for the Kokomo region.

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