Filleting Your Fish

Nothing beats the flavor of fresh fish. But to ensure the fish you catch are at their flavorful best, take some time to plan for their proper care.

Fish is a very perishable food. If you plan to bring fish home from a fishing trip, keep your catch alive as long as possible. A good stringer, fish basket or boat live well is fine for short periods, especially when the water is cool. But the best way to keep fish fresh for a long trip is to put them directly on ice.

Get the Right Knife

A good fillet knife has a long, thin, flexible blade. Most sporting goods and department stores sell fillet knives. Buy a good quality knife and keep it sharp.

It is helpful to have a smooth, flat board to use as a cutting surface when you are filleting fish. A canoe paddle makes a good cutting board if you are filleting your catch for a shore lunch.

How To Fillet

To start, make sure the fish is dead to avoid injuring yourself. Make the first cut behind the gill cover. Be careful to cut only until the knife touches the backbone. Do not cut through it.

Knife inserted behind gill cover

Turn the fish end-for-end and run the knife along the backbone and dorsal fin. Cut deep enough to bounce the knife along the top of the rib cage.

Knife into fish along the rib cage

When the knife blade no longer contacts the rib cage, push the knife through the width of the fi sh. The blade will exit on the bottom of the fish near the vent. Continue cutting along the bone until the fillet is cut off at the tail.

Knife through the fish and cutting toward tail


Hold the fillet away from the rib cage and carefully cut the meat away from the ribs by running the knife along the ribs. Cut through to the belly and remove the fillet.

Cutting meat from rib cage


A second method is to cut through the rib cage and remove the ribs along with the fillet. An additional step is then required to cut the ribs away from the meat.

Remove the skin from the fillet by inserting the knife at the tail and cutting the meat from the skin. Hold the fillet in position by pressing down on the skin, with your thumb.

Removing skin


Now repeat the same steps on the other side of the fish. Make sure to keep the fish cool, even during the filleting process.

Additional Preparations

Contaminants are found at higher levels in the fat of some fish. You can reduce the amount of these contaminants in a fish meal by properly trimming, skinning, and cooking your catch. Remove the skin and trim all the fat from the belly flap, the line along the sides of the fish, along the back, and under the skin. Cut away a V-shaped wedge to remove the dark fatty tissue along the entire length of the fillet. Cooking does not destroy contaminants in fish, but heat from cooking melts some of the fat in fish allowing some of it to drip away. Broil, grill, or bake the skinned fish on a rack so the fat drips away. Do not use the drippings to prepare sauces or gravies. For additional information on preparing fish for your meals refer the Ohio Fishing Regulations.

How to Store Your Catch

Fish will taste best if they are cooked soon after they are caught. Fish can be stored in a refrigerator for up to two days, but if you cannot cook them within that time they should be frozen.

The best freezing method is to submerge the fillets completely in a container of cold water. Plastic freezer bags, freezer containers and paper milk cartons are good freezing packages. Tightly seal the container and freeze it. This method helps prevent freezer burn or drying and preserves the fine flavor of your catch.

Cooking Tips

Fish are delicate. Do not cook your fillets too long or at too high a temperature. This will make the fish tough and rubbery. Cook the fish only until it flakes easily at the touch of a fork.

Fillets can be grilled, baked, broiled, poached, smoked or boiled. Cook them any way you prefer.

Fish Recipes

Fillets on the Grill


Basting dip - Italian or French salad dressing, butter or cooking oil

Dip the fillets in the liquid and allow excess to drip off. Cook the fillets over a charcoal or wood fire on a grill covered with aluminum foil. Use the fork test to tell when the fillets are done.

Baked Fish
1/4 cup butter
Dash of wine or cooking sherry
1 cup grated Swiss cheese
1 pound of fish fillets (or more)
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon chopped parsley
1/4 cup melted butter
Lemon wedges

Put butter and wine in a long, glass baking dish. Place in the oven at 400 degrees F until butter is melted. Lay fillets in the pan in a single layer. Mix cheese, bread crumbs, garlic powder, parsley, and melted butter. Top the fillets with this mixture. Return to the oven and bake until the fish flakes easily with a fork, in about 10 minutes. Squeeze a little lemon juice over top and serve with lemon wedges on the side.

Broiled Fish Snacks

1 cup of fish, cooked and flaked
1/4 cup diced green pepper
1/4 cup diced onion
4 or 5 green olives, finely chopped
1/2 cup of your favorite grated cheese
1/2 teaspoon minced parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup mayonnaise

Mix all the ingredients. Spread about a tablespoon on cocktail rye bread slices or your favorite cracker. Place on a cookie sheet and put under the broiler until cheese starts to bubble. You can dress them up by putting a tiny piece of tomato or pimento or a small slice of olive or green pepper on each. This recipe makes about four servings.

Microwaved Fish

Use any type of fish you prefer. Melt a little margarine in a microwave-safe dish. Place fillets in the dish and top with squeezed lemon and a sprinkling of dill. Cook until just done be careful not to over cook. Add any ingredient you prefer to meet your taste.

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