How to Fillet a Fish

Knowing how to fillet a fish can make it easier, faster and more enjoyable when preparing your next seafood meal. Filleting a fish often sounds difficult, but with practice, it can be made easy.

Anglers who learn a few different ways to fillet a fish properly can ensure that they are not wasting any of their catches, no matter what types of fish they are preparing. Reviewing filleting fish instructions is a smart way to also guarantee that no unwanted fish parts will be included in otherwise tasty dinners. To find out how to fillet a fish without bones properly and other different important aspects of fish filleting, review the following sections below.

  • Find out what you need to fillet your catch.
  • Learn what to do to remove hazardous bones.
  • Get basics for keeping your fish contaminant free!

What supplies will I need to fillet a fish?

In order to follow filleting fish instructions properly, only a few household tools are necessary. The required utensils are listed below.

  • A long, sharp knife
  • A bowl or container of water
  • A first-aid kit (for precaution)

For safety reasons, only adults should handle the fish fillet equipment used in this process.

What is the simplest method for filleting a fish?

When learning how to fillet a fish, you should begin with the basics. Before you start, check the fish to make sure it is fresh. Moist, red or bright pink gills and clear eyes are good, and the fish should not emit an excessive odor.

There are a few different ways to fillet a fish, but it is best for beginners to start with the simplest method. Before filleting, make you have properly cleaned and gutted your catch. You can review the steps below to get your meal started:

  • Wash the fish in cold water to remove the slimy layer on the fish.
  • Lay the fish on its side to prepare for the cut. This allows for better sturdiness throughout the fillet process.
  • Use the knife to make a vertical incision behind the gills. Cut carefully until the knife reaches the backbone. When you are filleting the fish, cut as close to the bone as possible, but be gentle because you do not want to slice through the bone of the fish.
  • Hold the head of the fish with one hand and use the other to cut with the knife.
  • Move the blade in a sawing motion along the backbone of the fish in the direction of the tail fin. About one-half-inch before you reach the tail, stop cutting.
  • Flip over the fresh-cut fillet and slice off the flap of fish skin attached to it. Make sure there are no gray pieces of skin or shiny connective tissue remaining and place the fillet meat in the bowl of water.
  • Flip the fish over and repeat steps three through six on the other side.

If you follow these filleting fish instructions, your resulting slices of fish meat will be boneless (or mostly boneless) and ready to store or cook. Some methods for filleting fish suggest slicing off the head and tail before cutting the fillets. Since there are different ways to fillet a fish, this step is based on preference.

Once your fillet is ready for cooking, review our free recipe guide to find the perfect recipe for your freshly caught fish!

How do you fillet a fish without bones?

When learning how to fillet a fish, you may encounter a few smaller bones remaining in your fish fillets. Some species may be more prone to smaller “pin bones” in the flesh, and it can be unpleasant to bite into unexpected bones.

If you want to fillet a fish without bones, there are a few more instructions available that you can follow. Read the steps below to learn more about this procedure.

  • Use the knife to cut around the bones along the top and bottom of the fillet. Try not to cut through any bones because this will leave pieces of bone in your fish fillet. Set aside the top and bottom sections of boneless meat you cut away.
  • Flip the fillet over so that you can see where the Y-bones on each side of the fillet come together to meet. The Y-bones continue along the length of the fish but stop before the tail section.
  • Cut right next to the outside edges of the bones along the length of the fillet on both sides to create two more meat sections.
  • Starting in the middle of the tail section, make a downward angular cut above the bones to the end of the tail. Set the boneless piece of meat aside, flip the fillet over and do the same on the other side.
  • Discard the section of meat containing the fish bones.

Mastering how to debone a fish can take more time and practice than simply cutting the fillets. Fish bones are easy to locate inside translucent white fish meat, so the trick is to learn how to cut around them. However, deboning your fillet is not always necessary before cooking the fish and eating it.

If the deboning methods do not work for you, invest in a handy pair of needle nose pliers (or even tweezers) to gently pull any bones from the fillets before preparation.

How do you reduce the risk of contaminating the fillets?

While you prepare to fillet a fish, you want to ensure that your fillets will not be contaminated. Taking the proper steps when trimming, skinning and cooking can reduce the potential for contamination.

Before following the filleting fish instructions, remove the fish skin and trim away all of the fat from the stomach, sides, back and underneath the skin. You can cut a “V” shape along the length of the fish fillet to remove any dark and fatty tissue left over.

If you follow the instructions for how to fillet a fish closely, your meat should be safe because heat from proper and thorough cooking also destroys harmful bacterial contaminants in fish fillets.

Our downloadable fish recipe guide can help you prepare your fish fillets, no matter what the catch of the day is!