How to Filet a Fish from the Tail Up

Yes, it says: How to Filet a Fish from the Tail Up. Most people hear that and ask, why would you want to do that? The majority of anglers start filleting at the shoulders near the head and to the side of the dorsal fin. It works and it works perfectly, but like the method I am going to share in this article about how to clean a fish, it only works well if you do it with a very, very sharp knife. Most professionals and serious amateurs you will ever watch filet a fish will do it from the head back. People who do it commercially mostly filet from the tail up.

The Five Easy Steps

One: Slice both tails. Make a horizontal cut across the tail. Do it on both sides of the fish. You are going to insert the knife into this slit. You are going to do everything on both sides of the fish before you take anything off of them.


Note about scaling: Most fish have scales, and many recipes call for you leaving the skin on and removing the scales. This article talks about skinning the fish after the filets are removed, so the scales come off with the cleaning.

Two: Slide the knife into the side directly on top of and alongside the spine. Make sure the entire blade is sharp before you do this because it is going to require you using the very tip of the blade. When you first do this, only slide the knife in about two or three inches. Eventually with practice, you can slide the knife all the way to the fish's head, but for now, just slide it a little ways in.


Three: Pick the back of the knife up slightly and keep the sharp blade pressed against the bone. Slice - do not saw - the blade towards the edge and fins of the fish. Do it down first, then back so you lift the filet off the spine. If you did this carefully, the entire filet will flip up and you can begin to repeat the process -- three inches or so at a time, and work the entire filet off the bone. All you want to do at this point is create a big flap. It is still connected to the head and you have to slide the knife over the stomach and rib bones.

Make sure you cut the fish flesh off the bone all the way to the forehead. There is often a lot of meat there that gets left on. You can see meat left in this flounder picture. I was cutting it inside a large garbage bag to make the cleanup easier. It is not something to try until you are comfortable - and much safer - with that sharp knife. Since you are essentially doing invasive surgery around the animal's bone structure it is very easy to slip through the relatively soft fish flesh and into your equally soft and viable skin. Be very careful doing this.

Note: Keep the sharp side of the knife down against the spine and bone and slide -- do not saw -- the metal under the flesh towards the fins. Helping the back of the knife up slightly is what lifts the meat off the bone. It should be at about a 20 degree angle to achieve the best cuts. Do it slowly at first -- you want to gain experience. The end product is as thin and clean as any you can imagine. I joke that you should be able to read a newspaper through the carcass when you are done.


Four: Hold the filet up and make a long slice almost the gill plate and rib cage and remove the entire filet. If you do this right, the entire filet will come off clean and leave very little meat on the bones. It takes practice though, which is why you need to learn how to catch more of them.


Five: Skin them. Lay the filet on a flat surface with the meat up and the skin on a table or board. Push your fingernails into the tail very close to where you removed it from the body. Slide the knife in front of you till it touched the skin. It needs to be at exactly the same 20-degree angle it was when you removed the meat from the skin. Slide it forward moving it slowly back and forth. The skin will stay down and the filet clean and ready for breading or baking.


The Online Fisherman

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