Friday, May 22, 2009

What's The Deal With Fillet Knives?

Located close to home, I like to stop at Cabela every two weeks or so to see whats new in the bargain bin. One thing that caught my eye was a french fry cutter that I had used the weekend before at Leech Lake. Calling my friend Mark who originally bought it there, he had returned it and they put it in the bargain bin, less the bolt that was stripped out in the first place. I told the guy in the store my story and he thought it was pretty funny. Walking around the counter a fillet knife caught my eye. It was a Cabela's brand 6 inch knife with a riveted laminated handle (feature top left). Checking the price it was only $8.99, almost 65% off. The salesman pulled it out to give a look, it was pretty interesting, a nice knife, well constructed, just the right flexibility and shape. There was a guy standing next to me eyeing up my prize and waiting for me to give it back. Although I needed another knife like I needed the swine flu, it was too much of a bargain to pass up. Driving home gave me time to think of the collection of fillet knives I have so I decided it would be a good post.

I suspect that everyone has the standard birch handled Rapala Fillet knife (upper left). I have at least 3, 1 - 4" blade and 2 - 6" blades. I also have a couple of their black handled
Rubber handled knives again in a 4" and 6" blades. These knives are the workhorses for filleting fish. I love the 4 inch blade for taking the fillet off, even for larger fish as it is easy to control when cutting around the ribs. The 6" blades are the best for taking the skin off. Although the original Birch handle is a classic, I am liking the rubber handled ones as they grip better. Both blades seem equal in ability to hold an edge. My most expensive knife is the red handled Leech Lake Knife on the left. I bought this at the Northwest Sportshow about 10 years ago. It has a laminated handle, 7" blade, and is the sharpest knife I own. Don Canney knows how to make a knife. Although a beautiful knife, the design is such that both sides of the blade are sharpened. The theory is that what dulls a fillet knife are the fish scales. With this knife you cut through the scales with the chisel top of the point, cut the entire fillet off the fish through the rib bones, cut the rib bones out as a separate process, then remove the skin. Having perfected the method that cuts around the rib bones as part of the fillet process (except for Alaskan fish), it is hard to change your habits. I love the knife and use it occasionally as it is a sharp as ever. Being sharp on both sides can cause problems however. I keep forgetting to bring it back to the show for a touch up, which he will do at no charge. The next picture on the right is a Chicago Cutlery folding Traveler Fillet Knife. Again I have a 4" and 6" models. These knives were given to me by my good friends Pat and Linda Holmes (Dugar). The knives are a typical Chicago Cutlery brittle but mild steel with a black walnut riveted handle in a matching leather sheath. I have cleaned many a walleye with these. They are no longer made and have become collectors items so I have put them away for now. The next knife on the left is a special knife that was given to me by a friend Chuck Teasley. Chuck lived in the same apartment some 30 years ago and we have been friends since. Charlie has move south but comes up every year and we try to get out fishing. Often he surprises me with a special gift and one year he brought a fillet knife with my name engraved on it. It has a 6" blade and is excellent for skinning the fillet.

The next 4 knives are my Alaskan Butchering Kit. These knives are indespensible for cleaning your catch in Alaska from 100 lb halibut, 17 pound silvers, 12 pound reds, and assorted rockfish, lingcod, or pinks. Starting on the right (orange handle) I use a standard 5 inch butchers boning knife for cleaning halibut. Halibut are a very unique fish that have few bones and once you see how they are cleaned it's a piece of cake. The initial cuts are seldom more than 2 inches deep and the shorter blade helps you to cut the fillet from the rather flat skelton. It reminds me of butchering a deer! The next knife on the left (brown and black handle) is a 9 inch Browning Featherweight Fillet Knife. The blade has a serated edge near the back of the blade which makes cutting through the rather thick rib bones much easier. I also like to this knife for skinning the halibut fillets. Most fish packers like to leave the skin on as the do not have to spend additional labor and they charge by the pound. Removing the skin makes the fish last much longer in the freezer. The knife below it with the black handle and sheath is made by Knives of Alaska and is their Coho Fillet model. It has an 8 1/2 inch blade and is serated at the tip of the blade. My brother Steve and I tag team the salmon, I cut off the fillets and he takes the ribs out. The Coho knive really excells for carving those rib boned out using the serated tip, it cuts those pin bones like butter. It has one of the best steels of my knives however it does stain easily, especially if you leave blood on it for any time. The last knife on the left is my special salmon cleaning knife, a 12 inch Cimeter Knife. This knife is traditionally used for cutting large steaks from beef and is significantly larger than a standard butcher knife. We fish out of Stewarts Landing, Jeff King's place just down river on the Kenai from Soldotna. He has a cleaning table at the river and we where just bringing our fish when I noticed a guide with a huge knife. This guy could clean a 15 pound salmon in 45 seconds using this butcher knife. He simply cut out the bottom fin ahead of the vent, using the curved edge opened the fish cavity then turned the knife around and completely removed the fillet, ribs and all in one fell swoop. He turned the fish around and removed the opposite fillet. Using the curved tip he quickly extracted the rib bones and he was done. I had to have one and it works fantastic for silvers, reds, and pinks. I will not go to Alaska without it. 4 years ago Steve, his son Kevin and I went red fishing. In 1 1/2 hour we managed to keep 18 red and silver salmon. Returning to the Marlow's we started cleaning, I on the big knife and Steve using the Coho knife we were quickly going through the fish. Our guide walked over calling out, I be right there to help. One look and he exclaimed "I guess you guys got this down, never mind!" Although not as proficient as the Kenai guide, we can completely fillet out a salmon in around 1 1/2 minutes.
The last thing I use is a Rapala pliers with the split ring end. My good friend Ryan Sterle showed me this trick of grabbing the end of the fillet skin with the pliers, holding it in place while you finish the skinning job. It really works great as the tip has the split ring tooth which digs in and grips the skin. Some people swear by using an electric fillet knife and the guys at Brindley's are masters at it. For me they work fine yet my old habits of cutting around the ribs drive me back to my good old standby's. Oh well. I am planning to hit Mille Lacs on Monday for my annual first boat trip to the big lake with my neighbor Tom. He usually brings good luck and here hoping the trend continues.


Anonymous said...

well dave you have too many knives for sure!!!

If your friend Tom fishes like he turkey hunts you will have alot of fun and for sure catch fish. Nice report on Leech also but I am a little disappointed in the size in your boat, you need more tackle I am sure ha ha

later bud

Xeyes said...

Saw your note about comments, so I'll leave one.
Got here by accident, stayed to enjoy a great blog. Thanx for sharing! I'm green with envy.

Dave Anderson said...


And thanks for stopping!

Capt. Dave Sipler - JETTYWOLF said...

I'd sure like one of those Leech Lake Knives, Dave. I read so much about how sweet they are.

These dang Redfish and Black Drum have armor and ruin a blade quick.

Stumbled accross your post on Google about knives. Figured I say Hello.

Carol said...

We do a lot of filleting around the house too because fish is pretty much a favorite. We've got a lot of really really sharp filleting knives around the house too. The husband's hobby is angling and so does his friends. So you'd pretty much have an idea where all the fresh fish comes from.