How to Fillet Fish

How to fillet most fish, including Walleye

Cleaning walleye and removing all the bones is quite straight forward.  These instructions are described from the vantage point of a right handed person. If you are a lefty you will have to think of this in a mirror image.The most important part is to use a good, sharp, filleting knife.   

Invest in a good filleting knife and keep it sharp!

1. Start with the belly of the fish toward you and the head to the left. Cut through the back of the head to the backbone and turn the blade so it's running along the backbone.

2. Hold the fish by placing your non cutting hand over the head. Push the knife along the backbone right through the end of the tail.   You now have one fillet attached to the outer skin.You should be able to see the rib cage attached to the meat.  

3. Turn the fish over and do exactly the same on the other side.   Cut through the back of the head up to the spine, then turn the knife and cut along the backbone again to the tail.This will be a little harder than the first cut, but take your time.

4. Getting the ribs out:  Now take the first fillet and place it on the cutting board skin side up with the top of the fillet to the right.  Put your hand on top, pushing your fingers firmly into the skin to give you a good grip, or use your knuckles instead of your fingers.   This will flatten the ribs to the cutting board, which ensures you don’t waste any meat.

5. Now take you thumb and lift the side of the fillet closest to you and slide your knife between the rib cage and the meat.   Start at the top of the fillet and cut toward what was once the belly.  The key is to put pressure down on your knife as you cut along the rib cage.    Make sure you slide your knife all the way through the fillet. You will know you have enough pressure on your knife when the blade ‘wows’ a bit as you make your cut.    Take your time with this at first.

6. Place the fillet skin down on the table with the tail closest to you. Begin a cut at the tail to remove the meat from the skin.   Cut carefully along the length of the fillet toward the top and completely remove the fillet in one piece.

7. Lastly, remove the Y bones. You will see that the fillet has a ‘centre line’ running through it, and you will be able to feel the Y bones by running your fingers parallel to the ‘centre line’. Make a cut along the outside of the Y bones – typically the length of the cut should be about one third of the fillet.   Cut through to the cutting board. Secondly make a cut along the centre line the same length.   Remove this piece of meat, which is full of Y bones.    That’s it!

IF FILLETING A NORTHERN PIKE - you might want to use a filleting glove. It is more difficult than filleting walleye and often hard to get all the small bones out, but the general method is the same as for walleye. When removing the Y-bones, you should be able to see and feel a ridge of white bones running down the fillet. They will look like white dots. These are the Y-bones you are going to remove. They will be in the thickest part of the fillet.

Make your first cut above the white dots and cut down until you feel the bones. Lightly cut following the bones curving upwards slightly following the path of the bones. Now move to the center line of the fillet and make your cut on a forty five degree angle. Cut upwards until you feel the Y-bones. Simply work your knife along the bones just past the vent.

You can now grab the line of Y-bones. They will be held together with a thin line of flesh. Gently pull and use your knife to free them if need be. As you get better, you will be able to pull them right out of the fillet after your first two cuts.

Some people remove the Y-bones AFTER the pike has been cooked.  A fish that has been cooked well will break right along the lateral line easily with a fork. If you have undercooked your fish, the fillet will not break apart along the line. The meat will have a “shine” to it on the inside as you try to break the fillet in half. Put is back in the pan to cook it properly.

As you break the fillet down the lateral line, you will see the Y-bones. Grab them with your fork (and maybe fingers) and pull them out. The key is to look at your fillet before you dig into it to eat. Take 15 seconds before you start eating to remove the Y-bones.