January 15, 2015
In-Fisherman has long promoted the practice of Selective Harvest, which encompasses the practice of keeping some fish selectively as a matter of conscience and conservation, and because fish are nutritious, delicious, and — when harvested wisely — they're an infinitely renewable resource.
Of course, transforming our catches into fine table-fare requires the assistance of fillet knives. The good news is, there are countless options to choose from. And the bad news? Well, there are countless options — and separating the good, the bad, and the ugly can at times feel more challenging than slicing the Y-bones out of a pike, blindfolded. The trouble is, the wrong knife can waste meat, make filleting a nightmare, and increase the risk of slicing yourself while dicing your catch.
For example, I'll never forget trying to clean a batch of eating-sized pike at a remote cabin. Having neglected to pack my personal blade, I was forced to use an old kitchen knife that's better days had come and gone decades prior to my trip. The blade wouldn't hold an edge, and was curved and damaged from years of abuse. Let's just say I sawed up the day's catch as best I could, but the experience yielded a lesson not soon forgotten.
When choosing a knife, look for a quality stainless steel blade — sized appropriately to the fish you'll be cleaning. Flex should also fit your cleaning needs. A bit of flex (say, an inch or so each way) is nice on short, thin blades used for smaller fish and precision cuts. Larger knives with thicker blades may have less flex, but the ability to bend is still important.
To speed you search for the right blade, we've gathered a collection of fine cutlery, including traditional and electric models, sure to ease the job of transitioning fish from lake to plate. To be sure, there are countless worthy blades crafted by companies too numerous to mention, from Leech Lake Knives to Case, Dexter-Russell, and more. We offer this selection to highlight the spectrum of options and price points at our disposal.
Berkley Deluxe Electric Fillet Knife
- Electric fillet knives are fine if you can find a power source. Berkley eases the challenge by offering an 18-foot cord, along with attachments to draw juice from an auto outlet, 12-volt battery, or 110-volt wall outlet. About the only thing that won't work is a currant bush. Other handy features include interchangeable 6- and 8-inch, stainless steel blades, which are easy to swap out for tackling fish of different sizes. The knife also offers upgrades over older models, including a user-friendly, ergonomic design, enhanced cutting performance, and rear venting to better dissipate heat. Comes with an EVA carrying case to help you keep it all together.
Cabela's D-2 Fillet Elk Stick Knife
- The World's Foremost Outfitter pairs a 7-inch, high-carbon D2 steel blade with naturally shed antlers of North American deer, elk, and moose to create this instant classic. It's handmade in the Pacific Northwest, heat-treated to a 62 Rockwell hardness rating, and guaranteed to hold an edge through the most grueling cleaning marathons. Plus, it turns heads at the cleaning shack faster than a limit of crappies during a cold front.
Clam Filet Knife
- The folks fueling the Ice Fishing Revolution bring us this dandy 6-inch blade. Crafted of stainless steel for enhanced performance, it offers increased edge retention for more filleting between trips to the whetstone. We like the looks and feel of the laminated hardwood handle, which, thanks to its full-tang composition, cradles the blade throughout its length for added durability. Comes with a custom leather sheath. Overall, a fine choice typically retailing for less than $15, tax included.
Knives of Alaska Steelheader
- Inspired by — and designed to conquer — the rugged conditions of the Last Frontier, the Steelheader's blade is forged from high-carbon, 440-C stainless steel that registers 58-60 on the Rockwell Hardness Scale and holds an edge longer than most. At 5¾-inches, it shines for small to mid-sized fish — though it's tough enough for bigger jobs, including boning and big game processing. The stoic little knife also features full-tang, riveted construction, and the sturdy Suregrip handle is a joy to hold.
Mister Twister Electric Fisherman Fillet Knife
- Electric knives carve catches with ease, and this little number is a fine option for under $40. Besides a price point that won't break the bank, it offers must-have features in electric knives, including a sharp blade, speedy cutting cycles, and plenty of power to slice and dice. Plus, it's lightweight. Coupled with a comfortable handle, it takes the pain out of processing big numbers of fish. The heavy-duty motor and high-impact housing boost longevity, while a fast-action blade release adds convenience.
Offshore Angler Breaking Fillet Knife
- Offshore recently expanded its lineup of affordable yet high-quality cutlery, and the company's breaking option is a breakout choice for making the initial cuts when processing large fish such as salmon. For less than $11, you get features including a high-carbon 420 stainless steel breaking blade that's stiff enough for heavy-duty butchering, and scores a respectable 52 rating on the Rockwell Hardness Scale. As a plus, the soft, easy-to-hold handle helps you keep a grip on the knife when carving up hefty catches.
Rapala Marttiini Salmon Rosewood Fillet Knife
- Generations of anglers have relied on the premium fillet knives Marttinni crafts for Rapala, and this collectible yet field-ready blade does the tradition justice. Featuring the mighty salmon Kojamo from Finnish folklore, the waxed rosewood handle is cool enough to silence any critics at the fish-cleaning shack all by itself. And the 7½-inch blade is no slouch, either. Stainless, sharp, and flexible, it makes quick and clean work of prized fillets. Sold with a leather sheath and wooden heirloom gift box. Trust us, though, this beauty's too fine to hide away on a shelf.
Victorinox 8-inch Flexible Fillet Knife
- If you like Swiss Army knives, you'll love the company's filleting options. The Swiss-made, stainless steel blade is nicely flexible for a variety of fine cuts, while the Fibrox handle is designed for sure and easy holding, which is further bolstered by its textured, slip-resistant grip. Sold with a riveted leather sheath that features a built-in blade protector. As with all Victorinox cutlery, the knife carries a lifetime warranty against defects in material or workmanship.
Williamson Slim Fillet Knife
- A longtime player on the saltwater tackle scene, Williamson recently expanded its portfolio with a trio of fine fillet knives. The entire lineup merits serious consideration for a variety of fish-cleaning applications, but we picked the Slim Fillet Knife for this roundup because its razor-sharp, 8-inch blade wields just the right flex to tackle precision cuts and other detail work. It packs a prodigious pedigree as well, being manufactured by Marttiini, the company responsible for producing Rapala's renowned fillet knives since 1928. Like all Williamson fillet knives, it features a co-molded handle designed for a comfortable, relaxed grip that furthers fatigue-free filleting. Plus, the European stainless steel blade boasts a progressive taper with mirror-polished finish that takes and holds an ultra-sharp edge. Priced under $35, it's a steal.
Wusthof Ikon Blackwood Flexible Fillet Knife
- A product of Wustohof's 200 years and seven generations of experience transforming German steel into world-class cutlery, this knife is one smooth operator. Yes, it retails for $225. But it's a true jewel built for decades of service — and smart shoppers find it for far less. Forged from a single shard of specially tempered high-carbon steel, the 6-inch blade is thin, flexible, and amazingly sharp — the ideal combination for creating flawless fillets from everything from perch to walleyes. Balanced perfectly with the blade, the contoured handle is carved from African Blackwood (one of the world's hardest timbers) for sublime control. Add triple-riveted, full-tang construction and a lifetime warranty, and even skeptics will cry wunderbar.