Transforming the day's catch into fine table fare calls for a sharp fillet knife, for more reasons than one. First off, safety is a key concern. The old saying "a sharp knife is a safe knife" is well-founded, because if you try to compensate for a dull blade by applying extra force to make a cut, your risk of injury skyrockets.
Efficiency is also a prime factor. If you've ever endured the misery of butchering fish with a blunt blade, you can appreciate the need for sharp steel. A dull knife wastes meat, makes intricate tasks like removing a pike's Y-bones all but impossible, raises the frustration level, and lengthens the whole process immeasurably.
Since even the best knives need touching up from time to time, having the right tools to hone your blade is critical to safe, speedy and efficient fish cleaning. There are countless options on the market, ranging from inexpensive pocket and pen-style models to electric sharpeners and complete systems of stones and strops. It's worth noting that power-driven grinding wheels not designed specifically for cutlery are seldom recommended by knife makers, since they can burn the temper off the blade, making it vulnerable to chips or cracks—and often void the warranty.
To speed your search for the best knife sharpeners that fit your needs, we've assembled the following lineup of 11 top choices sure to help you keep your edge.
KME Knife Sharpening System
Proudly crafted in the U.S. from American parts, KME's time-tested system incorporates a unique spherical bearing rod guide, which virtually eliminates the potential for operator error. Infinitely adjustable to angles from 17 to 30 degrees, it features a fully rotational clamp with dual horizontal stops; neoprene-padded jaws; solid cherry pistol grip; and quick-change stone clamping system with interchangeable ceramic, Arkansas, and diamond options. kmesharp.com
Buck Knives EdgeTek Fish FlipStik
Legendary knife maker Buck Knives offers this fishing-friendly sharpener, which features 325-grit coarse and 750-grit medium sides, 100 percent diamond-coated surfaces and an oval contour for honing a variety of blades. In a nod to the steel that holds our catches fast, it also features hook-sharpening grooves. At nine inches extended and five inches closed, the lightweight sharpener is compact yet easy to deploy for duty. buckknives.com
DMT DuoSharp Plus Bench Stone with Base
DMT takes traditional sharpening stone technology to new heights with the DuoSharp system. The slick setup offers a pair of flat sides featuring the company's iconic, interrupted diamond surface patterning. You can choose from four different grits; for a well-maintained fillet knife, DMT recommends using a combination of the fine and extra fine options for seamless two-stage sharpening. The process yields razor-sharp edges in a fraction of the time required with conventional stones. If you're looking for fast and easy sharpening without oil or water, this is a great pick. As a plus, there's also a continuous strip of abrasive that excels at touching up hook points. Sold with a non-skid mat or base. dmtsharp.com
Gerber Myth Field Sharpener
Crafted with the same durable yet modern design as Gerber's other Myth series tools, this multi-purpose field sharpener weighs 2.4 ounces and folds to just 4 inches in length for easy stowing in a tackle box or pocket. It features coarse carbide, fine ceramic, and large and small diamond-coated serration sharpeners, allowing you to touch up a variety of blades. Another plus: the butterfly-style handles have textured rubber inlays for sure gripping, and do double-duty as a protective housing. gerbergear.com
Spyderco Tri-Angle Sharpmaker
Packaged in a compact plastic case, the Sharpmaker comes with two sets of triangular ceramic stones, including a pair of medium-grit rods for aggressive sharpening and two fine rods for finishing work. The triangle design handles straight and serrated blades, while a furrow running the length of each stone accommodates hooks and other pointed items. Thankfully, Spyderco provides detailed printed instructions and a helpful DVD that enable even sharpening neophytes to quickly set the stones in the base, choose from a trio of angles, and get down to business. Among the bonuses are a set of brass safety rods to keep your digits out of harm's way, and the fact you can use the system without fussing with oil, water, or other lubes. spyderco.com
Smith's Adjustable Knife Sharpener
In a victory for ease of use, this handy little sharpener has a dial that lets you choose from six grind-angle settings — ranging from 14 to 24 degrees. As a result, it's a great choice, whether you're putting an edge on a dull or damaged blade or keeping your favorite knife ready for your next catch. Other sharp features we appreciate include fine and course stages, along with a fixed-angle slot for serrated knives. As a bonus, the sharpener relies on replaceable abrasive components for years of service, and sports a soft-grip handle and non-slip rubber feet for safety and comfort. smithsproducts.com
Chef'sChoice Diamond Hone Marine Sharpening Station
Chef'sChoice knows knife sharpeners, and built this one just for fishing and boating fans. It's actually three sharpeners in one, as it handles knives, hooks, and scissors or line cutters with equal ease. On the cutlery front, the two-stage knife sharpener features 100 percent diamond abrasives, a slick stropping stage, and precision angle guides. We like it for putting a long-lasting edge on our favorite fillet knives, but it works wonders on straight and serrated blades of any steel, alloy or hardness. Runs on 120- or 12-volt power (comes with adaptors) with the flip of its magnetic switch. The PX-4 water-protection rating is a huge plus, as is ease of cleaning — which is easily achieved with low-pressure spray from a garden-variety water hose. chefschoice.com
Wicked Edge Sharpener Pro Pack 2
Offering a collection of stones and strops, plus sharpening angles from 13 to 35 degrees — adjustable in minute increments of .05 degrees — this diamond sharpening system makes it easy to put a professional edge on your knives in minutes. Comes with diamond stones ranging from 100 to 1,000 grit, diamond and leather strops, 1.4-0.6 micron fine ceramic stones, QuartzStone base, and a brace for flexible blades.
At just under $750, the system represents a major investment. But the company backs it up with a lifetime parts and labor warranty, meriting serious consideration if you're looking for a longtime sharpening ally. bestsharpeningstones.com
Cabela's Work Sharp Electric Knife and Tool Sharpener
This professional-grade sharpener features flexible, abrasive-belt technology to
hone fishing knives plus a variety of other blades including those on scissors, serrated knives, axes, and numerous other tools. We like the fact it's compact yet powerful. Comes ready to plug into standard wall outlets, but with an inverter, it also runs on 12-volt systems in boats, RVs and other vehicles. Includes two long-lasting P80-, P220-, and 6,000-grit belts and three sharpening guides. cabelas.com
Wusthof IKON Knife Sharpener
Founded in Germany back in 1814, Wusthof knows a thing or two about knives and sharpeners, and it shows. The company's manual, hand-held model 4348 IKON makes quick work of even the toughest customers. Its two-stage design features a coarse diamond abrasive notch for quickly giving blunt blades an edge, plus a fine ceramic notch for delivering the finishing touch. You can also use the latter notch for routine maintenance of straight knives and deburring serrated edges. With its solid, stainless steel body, ergonomic black handle, and distinctive Wusthof trident, it's a badass sharpener built to last. lansky.com
Lansky Master's Edge Knife Sharpener
Armed with 600-grit medium and 1,000-grit fine ceramic rods, this easy-to-use sharpener handles straight and serrated blades on everything from thin, flexible fillet knives and kitchenware to hardcore Bowie designs. A trio of pre-set angles at 17, 20, and 25 degrees make it easy to dial in a precision edge. Lansky also sweetens the pot with a medium ceramic triangular rod, which sharpens all manner of serrations, awls, and fish hooks. Other amenities include a rubber non-slip base and integrated hand guard. lansky.com