How to Fillet Catfish with an Electric Knife

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Video how to fillet a catfish without skinning

Before filleting catfish with an electric fillet knife, you first need to address the catfish’s size. Small catfish and bullhead catfish weighing less than 3 pounds require a 7-inch E-Flex blade. However, you may need a 9-inch or 12-inch blade (E-Stiff) for large catfish, flathead catfish, or any big catfish weighing more than 3 pounds. You also need a spacious workspace and a medium or large-sized cutting board.

To fillet the catfish, first, make an incision behind the gill plate, and lay the blade parallel to the backbone with the cutting edge toward the tail. Cut from head to tail steadily to produce a fillet. Repeat the steps on the other side of the catfish, and cut out the belly meat afterward. Follow up by using the knife to remove fins, rib bones, and fat. Lastly, separate the skin and membranes.

Filleting catfish with an electric fillet knife takes more time than filleting smaller fish. However, electric knives make the task easier and less tiresome than a traditional fillet knife.

Is It Hard to Fillet the Catfish, and How Long Does It Take to Fillet?

Filleting catfish is not hard. Anglers of any skill level can do it with an electric fillet knife, but professional anglers will for sure waste less meat. Ultimately, it all depends on how big the catfish is. The time needed to fillet catfish with electric knives depends on the size of the specimen.

Here’s a brief chart of the most common catfish species.

Tools Required

  • Bubba lithium-ion cordless electric fillet knife is our preferred knife to fillet catfish. This Bubba cordless version comes with multiple blade sizes which adapt to smaller and larger catfish.
  • A trash can with a lid plus a plastic bag to dispose of guts, head, bones, and skin after filleting.
  • A cooler or bucket filled with water and ice halfway to preserve the fillets.
  • A flat non-slip surface, like a cutting board, log, or cleaning station.
  • A protective glove, preferably with a metal mesh. (My preferred one: BUBBA Ultimate Fillet Gloves with Cut Resistant)
  • A small pocket knife or fork to hold the fish while trimming and skinning. (Optional)

Do You Need to Skin Catfish Before You Fillet It?

You don’t have to skin catfish before filleting it. By using the method described below, you can fillet almost any catfish specimen without skinning. Some people leave the skin on to pan-fry the fillets, whereas others remove the skin after cutting out the fillets.

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Filleting a Channel Catfish with an Electric Fillet Knife – Step-by-Step Guide

Learn how to fillet a catfish using an electric knife efficiently by following this method. We waste nothing, and neither will you!

Step 1: Preparations

Find or set up a steady base for your flat, non-slip cutting board. Make sure the workspace is adequate to the fish’s size. If you’re filleting a large catfish, the more space you have, the better. Put on your protective fishing glove, place the trash container near, and fill up the cooler with ice and water halfway.

Identify the fish size and weight to choose an adequate blade.

  • If you have a channel catfish weighing less than 3 pounds, use the 7-inch E-Flex or 9-Inch E-Flex blades of the bubba cordless knife. In this case, cutting through the rib cage is possible without damaging the blade.
  • For specimens of larger size and heavier than 3 and 4 pounds, consider using the 9-Inch E-Stiff blade. You want to avoid cutting through the rib cage of bigger catfish. Forcing the knife may burn it out faster or mess up the blade.

Step 2: Position the Fish & Knife Grip

Place the catfish over the flat surface with the belly facing you. Make sure there’s enough space, especially if you’re filleting a large flathead catfish. Hold your electric knife in a hammer-like grip, with the index finger on the trigger and thumb over the handle spine.

Step 3: Slice the Catfish from Spine to Ribs

Insert the blade at the back of the catfish’s head and activate the knife to make an incision down the spine. Cut close to the spine using the tip of the blade and separate the upper meat section gently. Cut around the bones of the rib cage to keep them out of the fillets.

Step 4: Push the Knife Through the Catfish Belly

Once you pass the rib cage, push the knife through between the meat and spine until the blade pierces through the belly. With the blade parallel to the spine, guide the knife to the tail.

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Make sure to hold the catfish with your non-dominant hand away from the point where the blade will pierce through.

Step 5: Cut Around the Rib Cage to Remove the Lower Meat Section

The tail part of the fillet should be loose. Lift it up with your non-dominant hand, and use the knife to separate the remaining meat still attached to the rib cage. Place the fillet aside once it’s free.

Step 6: Fillet the Other Side of the Catfish

Turn the catfish over and repeat the previous steps to remove the other side of the fillet.

Step 5: Cut Out the Belly Meat

Remove the innards and use the knife to cut out the belly meat. Start the knife cut slightly above the pelvic fin upwards to the lower section of the gill plate.

Catfish weighing 4 pounds or more have cheek meat that you can cut out.

Step 6: Removing Fat or Remaining Bones from the Fillet

Check the fillets to find any fat, thick bones, or impurities that you must cut out to clean the fish thoroughly.

Step 7: Skin the Fillets and Remove Belly Meat Membrane

Place the knife at an angle and make an incision between meat and skin at the tail. With the cutting edge towards the other end of the fillet, lay the blade horizontally between meat and skin, and bring the knife to the other side to separate the skin.

  • If you’re filleting specimens like blue catfish, inspect the meat side you separated from the skin. Look for any red meat, and use the knife to trim it.
  • To finish cleaning catfish, repeat the process with both sides of the belly meat. It will allow you to remove the skin and membrane.

Step 8: Store the Fillets

Finish cleaning fish fillets and store the washed fillets in the cooler, with enough ice and water. If you have other uses for the head or bones, put them in a zip lock bag and freeze them. As a final step, clean up your workspace for next time!

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Tips for Avoiding Common Mistakes When Filleting Catfish

Follow these tips to avoid common mistakes most anglers make.

  • Filleting catfish with an electric knife is faster than with a traditional fillet knife, but you don’t have to rush it. Take all the time you need if you want to save as much meat as possible.
  • Many anglers fillet catfish for the meat and throw away the rest. Nonetheless, both the head and spine are excellent soup ingredients. Don’t waste anything, and make every part count.
  • Be sure to lock the blade while not in use, and bring a towel or piece of cloth. Filleting catfish is fun, but it can turn real nasty if you pierce guts inadvertently. Keeping the area clean prevents accidents and keeps the fish fillets free of odor.
  • Protect your hands with fish handling gloves. Catfish have pectoral and dorsal spines that can cut and infect your fingers. You want to avoid this risk, especially if you’re filleting bullhead specimens. These can inject poison through their fins’ barbs.
  • Consider the size and weight of the catfish because the taste may be different. Larger fish have consumed toxins that affect how the meat taste. The ideal catfish to consume is usually between 3 and 6 pounds.

Can You Fillet Catfish without an Electric Fillet Knife?

Yes, you can fillet catfish without an electric fillet knife but it takes more time. Here’s how:

  • Place the fish over a flat surface, and use the knife to make an incision from the top of the head running behind the pectoral fin and gills.
  • Insert the blade enough to touch the backbone without cutting through. Turn the blade toward the tail, and cut the meat all the way to the tail.
  • Flip your catch around, and slice the lower meat section using the backbone to guide you.
  • Follow up by removing the rib cage once the fillet is out.
  • Skin the fillet by inserting the blade around 1 or 2 inches between meat and skin from the tail. Wiggle the blade until it lays flat between meat and skin, and slice through to the other end of the fillet.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>