Minnesota guide Tom Neustrom has filleted thousands of fresh- and saltwater fish in his 36-year career. He carefully considers handle design, blade length, and blade flex to select the perfect cutter for a given species. Follow his advice, and you’ll never hack up a walleye or crappie again.
- Bend to the Bone
Nothing is more important than how a blade flexes, says Neustrom. Flex allows you to work along backbones and over ribs without unintentionally cutting either. Most of the work, he says, is done with the blade’s wider half, so you typically want a knife with 15 to 20 percent flex (bend) close to the handle. The tip should flex well, too, because it’s used for the more delicate skinning.
2. Grab Hold (Safely)
A wood handle looks great, but a composite or rubberized handle provides a surer grip with wet, slippery hands. What Neustrom cares about even more is the handle’s shape. A notch for your index finger or a guard on the hilt at the base of the blade helps ensure your hand doesn’t slip up toward the blade. These features also improve knife control, so you’ll make fewer mistakes.
3. Easy on the Juice
A traditional knife gives you a better feel for bone structure and how shallow or deep to cut. Once you can achieve perfect fillets by hand, you can graduate to an electric knife.