Filleting Rockfish

OK, you have now caught some rockfish and it is time to take care of them.   Filleting is the most common method of taking care of many fish, these are not an exception.  Using this method, most of the bones will be removed and you have a nice section of white meat.  You can have the process explained to you in detail, but until you you see it done, things just don’t fall in place.  So here I will try to do it here using some photos of the process.  But first some preparatory info.


Here are some nice black rockfish & the kids from Kansas had a blast catching them


It greatly improves the meat if you bleed any fish that you catch as soon after they are aboard the boat.  This can be done by opening the mouth and either clipping most of the gills on each side, or entering from the rear under the gill cover and cutting gills with a serrated hook blade knife.   If you use a cooler and bleed the fish, you might consider finding a rubber or plastic grating that will allow the blood to be separated from the fish.  Or wash them off occasionally, then pull the drain plug drain to let the blood out.  

 It might also be a good idea to wash this off the deck before someone slips, or before the blood has a chance to dry.  If you have a built in fish box, the ones with a macerator pump in the outlet or a overboard drain are great as you can wash off the fish then pump out the blood as well.   If yours does not have a drain, that may take some thinking, or improvising to get the blood out.  One person I know suggested getting broken plastic basketed grocery shopping carts free for the taking.  He then cuts out the crate type bottom and inserts this in the bottom of his cooler.  This raises his fish out of the blood and slime.  I have followed his advice and it works great.

 Here a gaff hook may come in handy for moving the fish in or out of the fishbox/cooler and near the cleaning station.  I made up a small short handled “D” ring stainless steel gaff/hay hook just for this purpose.  It is however may be illegal to use it to land these fish in some areas.

  A good filleting knife needs to have rather a thin flexible blade.   They are made of stainless steel and need to have good enough steel to hold an edge even after severing some bones along with being guided by other bones.  Keep it sharp.

  It really helps to use a filleting glove on the non knife hand.  I do not like the loose weave rubber glove as it seems to collect fish scales and slime.  One used by many is Atlas Fit rubber coated palms with loose weave Nylon uppers for the off hand to hold onto the fish.  You can get by without a glove if the fish have been washed off good a few times to remove the slime.

It seems best to do this on a table instead of on the boat gunwale or edge of the dock.  For easier cleanup and not to cut up a table top or repeatedly dull the knife, the white Nylon cutting boards help considerably.

Also you will need some source of water to wash the slime and scales off the table or cutting board.  This can be either a bucket, wash-down pump on your boat or a hose connected to freshwater on the dock.   You will also need a bucket of water to put the fillets in and something to put the carcasses in to dispose of them.  Most marinas will not allow you to simply throw them in the water as it is an invitation to seals and sea lions which can turn into a real nuisance.

The Process :  First, lay the fish on it’s side, with the knife make a angled cut behind the gill plate, then following up along the bony head to the top behind the head.  Now down the backbone working toward the tail, but only cut rearward about 1/2 way.  Move the knife back to the first cut, bear down and follow the rib bones down to the rear of the stomach cavity.   Cut thru the belly skin at the anis to the lower fin, then follow the spinal bones to the base of the tail.  DO NOT cut the skin off at the tail.


Making the initial cut Cut down the backbone about 1/2  way


Back to the initial cut & follow the ribs back Following the spinal bone, stop just short of the tail so you have something to hold onto for the final step

Now still holding the fish’s head or rear body (away from the sharp top fin spines), flop the separated meat with the skin attached onto the table/cutting board.  With the knife, cut into the meat at the tail until it comes in contact with the skin.  Do not cut thru the skin as it needs to be still attached to the rest of the carcass.  Pull the fish with the non knife hand while pushing the knife AGAINST the skin and cutting board.  The limber knife blade will follow the skin contour above the cutting board.   Do a slight jerking motion if need be.  Keep pushing with the knife while pulling the carcass in opposite directions until the fillet of meat is free of the skin.

 Flop the fish over and do the same on the other side.

 If  you happened to cut into the stomach cavity and took a few rib bones of as shown in the photo on the left below, no problem.  After the fillet is off the skin, you can trim these bones off.  You now may have to do some slight additional trimming of sections of the top fin or a few bones.  

With the skin still on, flop it over, holding onto the carcass & tail, separate the meat from the skin Trim any bones off the fillet that might get left on


Wash the meat, inspect it and package it.  Depending on your location and cooling / freezing facilities, you can now bag the meat into Ziplock bags or vacuum pack it for placing in ice chests or a freezer.  If on a fishing venture for a few days, this meat in bags buried in ice will remain cold for many days.  Just remember to drain off the melted water occasionally.



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