Filleting a fish is one of the most important skills any hobbyist fisher can have. After all, if you plan to keep your catch, rather than tossing it back, you will need to know how to process it properly. Learning to fillet a fish involves getting the right tools and taking the time to practice. There are also slight differences in the technique required for filleting different types of fish.

The first tool that’s needed in order to fillet a fish is a filleting knife. A filleting knife needs to be very, very sharp, and should have a thin blade. This makes it easy to get close to the bones, allowing for a thicker cut of meat. The blade needs to be flexible as well. Since the knife is sharp and fish can get very slippery, cut-proof gloves are also a necessity. Remember, it’s better to be safe than sorry, particularly when you’re learning, so set aside money for a good pair of gloves. Lastly, a solid cutting board is important. This can be made of polyethylene or wood.

For a small fish, start right behind the gills. It’s important to note that the fish should already be de-finned and de-scaled at this point. Use the knife to slice downward until reaching the fish’s spine. Cut along the backbone towards the tail. Now you have your first fillet. It’s time to flip the fish over and do the same thing again. Examine the fillets. The section with the rib bones can be cut away entirely. Check for bones one more time. These can be removed with tweezers, or even pliers.

Filleting a flatfish is a bit different. Halibut and flounder are common examples of flatfish. Flatfish have four fillets, not two like a standard round fish. First, lay the fish right-side-up, and stand at the tail end. Make two cuts, one straight down the back and one in the shape of a collar behind the eyes. Remove the fillets in a similar way as you would for a round fish. Then, flip the fish over and do the same thing on the bottom of the fish. Flatfish are also sometimes cooked whole, so filleting is not always a necessity.

Filleting a fish is not particularly difficult once you get to know where to slice. Continue practicing and in no time, you will have beautiful, fresh cuts ready to cook.