How to fillet a fish
GRAND JUNCTION Winter isnt the usual time for most outdoor folks to think about fishing, but as there is fishing opportunity the year around, perhaps it isnt so ill-timed to pass on a few tips on filleting a fish.There are a number of good fillet knives on the market.Outdoor Edge makes a dandy Fish & Bone folding 5-inch blade fillet knife that packs easy and safe in your tackle box because the blade folds into the handle when not in use.There are also a variety of fillet knives with different blade lengths and different types of sheath configurations you can obtain that also do a good job.And, of course, there are the electric fillet knives for those who think theyll save lots of cutting time.The electric knife is fast and does a good job, but its really not that much faster than a properly sharpened fixed-blade knife. So, whatever you prefer will get the job done, if you do it right.To gut a fish, first, lay the fish on its side, and so you are looking at it horizontally. As an added tip, if youre right-handed, point the fish head to the left. If you are left-handed, point the fish head to the right. Youll see why this works well just as soon as I tell you what the first cut is going to be.A right-hander will make a vertical cut from top to bottom just behind the gills. Cut all the way down to the bone. Youll feel the difference in the cut as soon as you hit the bone.Now, turn the blade flat and to the right, and cut flat and straight along the backbone. Using the backbone as a guide, make the cut all the way to the front of the tail. Then all thats left to do is to separate the fillet from the body of the fish by cutting upward through the tail flesh and skin.This is a natural direction to make the fillet cut, as you are going to flatten the knife blade for the front-to-tail cut. If the cut doesnt seem to want to go easily, a slight sawing action usually makes the cut easier.Then, turn the fish over, and do the same thing on the other side. It doesnt matter whether the dorsal fin is up or down. So, if you started with the fin up, put it down for the cut on the other side.For lefties do your first cut to the left, vertically, from just behind the gills and then horizontally back to the front of the tail.You should have two nice fillets ready for two more cuts to be made. These cuts will remove the ribs and the skin.The ribs can be sliced off the meat of the fillet by inserting your knife blade close to the top of the rib bones and making your cut as close to the back of the ribs to minimize meat loss. It works best when you start from the top of the ribs and slice down toward the belly area.Once the ribs are removed, the next cuts will remove the skin from each fillet.Lay the fillet skin-side down, and insert the knife blade flat along the edge where the skin and meat come together at the tail. Keep the blade as flat as possible against the inside skin surface to minimize meat waste.Rinse both sides of each fillet with fresh water. A low-pressure hose or faucet does a good job, as too much water pressure can tear up the fillet quickly.Rub gently. If you still have too much blood on or in the meat, soak in a mixture of salt, milk and water for an hour or so, or until the blood is gone.Fresh fillets always seem to taste best. But, they can be quick-freezed in plastic bags, with the air removed, to enjoy at a later time.If this is your first try, be patient. Do one fish from beginning to end. You will find its easier and quicker than you might at first think.Avoid cutting yourself. Wearing filleting gloves or cutting on a filleting board with a spring clamp to hold the fish as you work. If more help is needed, ask an experienced fishing friend for a demonstration.Now all you have to do is catch some nice fish. Good luck.Dick Hess is an outdoor columnist for the Grand Junction Free Press.