fillet table

Rapala pro, TV personality and full-time fishing guide Captain Paul Powis has cleaned ( thousands of fish and his how-to FilletingFish TV Youtube videos have received millions of views. From the first cuts he made decades ago using our best-selling Fish ’n Fillet knife to his present filleting duties as a fish charter captain, Powis has learned plenty of fish-cleaning dos and don’ts. Below are 10 fish-cleaning mistakes to avoid, plus tips on how to get the best-tasting fillets.

Mistake 1: Not bleeding fish

If you want snow-white, mouth-watering fillets, bleed a fish immediately after catching it. After trying different methods, Powis prefers using scissors to cut several gill rakers. Scissors easily do this job and Powis says they’re safer than using a sharp knife in rough water.

A draining live well is handy for bleeding fish before putting them on ice. If without a well, bleed fish in an ice bath in a cooler.

Mistake 2: Not using ice

“One big mistake is anglers not using ice, or not enough of it, to keep their fish cold,” Powis said. “I make an ice brine [an ice-water slurry] to encapsulate the whole fish.”

Immersing a fish in an ice bath in his Yeti Tundra 160 prevents spoilage. It also firms the fish’s flesh, making cleaning easier and faster. After cleaning a fish, rinse and cool fillets in a second ice bath in a clean bucket.

Mistake 3: Bad fish storage and transport habits

After rinsing fillets in ice water, place them in a clear, food-grade plastic bag. Do not store fillets in plastic shopping or garbage bags; these products are not intended for storing raw meat.

Anglers must also adhere to fish transportation and storage laws. Read your region’s fishing regulations for details.

Mistake 4: Cleaning fish bare handed

“I do not clean fish without a Rapala Fillet Glove,” Powis said. “Wearing a glove increases your speed and confidence. You can go faster because there’s no risk of cutting yourself. I see anglers use forks when skinning fish, but a glove is the best thing in the world because you can pinch the tail-end of the skin with the glove and slice away the meat.”

The Fillet Glove comes in many sizes to ensure a comfortable fit. While the glove is cut resistant, it’s not puncture proof, so remember the golden rule of using a knife: always cut away from yourself.

Mistake 5: Using a dull knife

“Another common mistake is using a dull knife,” Powis said. “The key is to sharpen it before it gets dull. I typically don’t let a knife go more than 10 to 12 fish without touching it up.”

Powis uses our Ceramic Sharpeners for light touch-ups. For more extensive work he reaches for our Diamond Steel Sharpener.

Mistake 6: Bad cleaning board placement

The most comfortable position for a cutting board is around the navel area, Powis says. A board set too high or to low will lead to neck or back discomfort.

Mistake 7: Overlooking comfort when choosing a knife

Blade size is a common yardstick for choosing a knife. A small 4” is great for panfish, 6” to 7-1/2” for eater-sized walleye and small trout, with 9” or longer blades getting the nod for salmon and bigger trout.

Beyond blade length, Powis encourages anglers to consider their confidence with a knife. In other words, don’t use a long blade if it makes you uncomfortable. Use a shorter one instead.

Pro Tip: “If introducing a kid to cleaning fish, do not give them a long blade,” Powis said. “Give them the smallest blade possible, like the 4” Fish n’ Fillet, and some panfish and teach them with that knife.”

Comfort must also be considered. The handle should be roomy enough for all fingers and the thumb to rest comfortably. This is one reason Powis likes the the Pro Fillet Knife’s ergonomic, spacious handle. “It’s got a nice 6”, medium-sized blade to clean most of the species you’re going to eat,” he said.

Mistake 8: Overlooking electric fillet knives

“I can’t say enough good things about electric fillet knives,” Powis said. “I use electric more than conventional ones because of the volume of fish I clean, and once you get proficient with an electric, it’s a much quicker tool. The reciprocating blades act like a saw, so it’s less arm work on the filleter. The knife does most of the work.”

Powis currently is using our air-cooled, Lithium Ion Cordless Fillet Knife, which comes with both 6” and 7-1/2” blades, two batteries, wall charger and EVA padded storage/carry case. He recommends going with a battery-powered model if plug-in power might be an issue.

“The other day I cleaned 30 walleye for customers and it still had plenty of juice left in it,” Powis said.

For anglers interested in a corded model, our Heavy-Duty Electric Fillet Knife and Deluxe Set, featuring various power adaptor options, are great picks.

Mistake 9: Cutting bones for speed

When cleaning smaller fish, like a 1-1/2-pound walleye, Powis slabs each side of the fish, cutting through the thin rib bones. The rib cage gets removed later. This is his fastest method with small fish.

Conversely, when removing a fillet from bigger fish, Powis find it’s faster in the long run to cut around the rib cage and leave it attached to the backbone. Big fish have thicker bones and sawing through ribs requires extra force and takes its toll on the blade’s edge, which will require frequent sharpening and cause more fish-cleaning downtime.

Mistake 10: Storing dirty tools

Powis is meticulous about keeping knives and cutting boards clean. Hot soapy water is a must for blades and boards. He also frequently disinfects boards with a bleach solution and wipes out coolers with antibacterial wipes.

“Fish is food,” Powis said. “You don’t want bacteria on the cutting board or on a fillet knife or in its sheath. Always keep things clean.”

Avoid these 10 fish-cleaning mistakes and you’ll enjoy plenty of delicious fillets. If you're in the market for a dependablel long-lasting knife, be sure to check out the world proven Fish 'n Fillet Knife. It has more 'guts' than any other knife on the planet!

FNF Knife