Best Fishing Knife For Filleting – Buying Guide
When shopping for a new fillet knife, there are a few important factors to take into consideration:
Type of blade
A traditional fish filleting knife typically has a narrow, straight-spined blade with a cutting edge that curves up towards the tip of the silhouette, such as the Rapala style on this list. You’ll also find slender fishing knives with an upward curve in the spine towards the tip. Both these types of narrow, slender knives are designed to let the blade slice through the flesh smoothly, and with minimum resistance. The curved-up tip is ideal for the finer work, allowing you to be extra precise with smaller fish varieties.
The difference between fillet blades and boning blades
Even though boning knives tend are relatively thin compared to standard kitchen knives, they are not as thin as fish filleting knives. Another difference is that a boning knife lacks the flexibility needed to slice through a delicate fish smoothly. More rigid, thick, and stiff: a boning knife works better for heavy-duty cuts and is therefore mostly used on meats such as beef and pork.
Also, boning knives normally come with a straight blade, whilst fillet knives often feature a curved tip. The curved tip makes it easier to maneuver when carefully separating skin and flesh. This added dexterity is a big plus when filleting fish. And is one of the main reason why we’d always pick a fillet knife over a boning knife when tackling our salmon, tuna, and more.
To summarize: a boning knife may be great in the kitchen when prepping large cuts of meat, but it lacks the finesse and ease to smoothly slice through fish flesh.
Length of the blade
Picking the right blade length is very important when it comes to fish filleting knives. In filleting knives, the blade length usually falls between 3 and 12 inches. Unfortunately, there is not a ‘one-length-fits-all’ solution, as the ideal length depends on the type of fish you plan to use it on. The good news is that there’s an easy rule of thumb, that makes picking the correct blade a bit easier:
The blade length of your filleting knife should be just a tad longer than the depth of the fish its body, measured from the back to the belly, at its widest point.
When the blade length is slightly longer than the width of the fish’s body, it ensures that the entire blade can fillet the fish in one, smooth and clean cut. Instead of having to make multiple incisions because the blade can’t reach all the way through.
Yes, you could simply settle on a longer blade length, for example, a 12-inch style, as this is compatible with most fish species caught by amateur anglers. However, do note that the longer the blade, the less dexterity, and maneuverability it offers for filleting smaller fish. Trust us: filleting a panfish like a crappie or a bluegill is quite tricky with a massive knife. If you plan to use the knife on a big variety of fish species, you might want to consider investing in multiple sizes, ensuring you always have the perfect match in your tackle box.
If you only plan on buying a single filleting knife, a blade length of approximately 7 to 8 inches is most recommended. This mid-sized length is short enough to maintain its important maneuverability, whilst still being long enough to tackle most common fish species caught by hobby anglers.
Fish filleting knives come in a variety of materials, but there’s only one that gets a full seal of approval: stainless steel. This material is durable, corrosion-proof, and offers the slight flexibility needed to make one smooth, clean cut through the flesh. Also, stainless steel is crucial when dealing with saltwater environments. Because a corrosion-proof blade is key to deal with the degrading properties of saltwater. Ensuring your knife is durable enough to last you in the long-term, without rusting or losing its edge.
Now, the important thing to note is that not every stainless steel blade is the same. Though all types of stainless steel are generally corrosion-proof when exposed to wet environments, one might be more durable in the long-term than others. Why? This has to do with the gradation of the stainless steel used. To put it simply, there are over 150 different grades of stainless steel. The grade of the stainless steel refers to the exact type of compounds used, for example, which is the main alloying element, what is the top-grade element, and how much carbon is in the blend.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to know about all 150 gradations of stainless steel, nor do you have to understand the science and chemistry behind it. However, it does help to be aware of the pros and cons of the most commonly used grades of stainless steel. As found in filleting knives and cutlery:
420J Stainless Steel
420J and 420J2 Stainless Steel are cheaper, lower-end grades with slightly less durability in the long term. Though this material is stain-resistant and corrosion-proof, it’s also very soft. Meaning that though a knife can feel strong and sharp during initial use, it will likely lose its edge quickly. So, resharpening after repeated usage is key to keeping the blade at top-performance potential.
440A and similar grades 425M, 420HC, and 6A
These gradations are high-carbon stainless steels. One of the preferred alloys for knives, the material is known for its excellent strength and resistance. 440A stainless steel filleting knives have great edge retention, corrosion resistance, and are easy to resharpen.
440C (and similar grades including Gin-1, ATS-55, 8A)
Even stronger than 440A, 440C is high-chromium steel with ultra hardness. Though this material is slightly less corrosion-proof than 440A, it does offer more edge retention and stain resistance. Which is a reason it is more commonly used than 440A. If sharpness is key over corrosion resistance, this may be the choice for you.
154CM (ATS-34) Knife Steel
A lot of manufacturers use this type of stainless steel due to its excellent edge retention and durability. And, according to experts, the 154CM grade is ‘a benchmark for high-end performance stainless cutlery’. Not as stain-resistant as the 400-grade steels as listed above, it is still a solid choice to fillet your fish with ease.
S30V Knife Steel
S30V Knife Steel has a high chromium content and also contains vanadium and molybdenum, which adds to its toughness, corrosion resistance, and the ability to hold a sharp edge. On the downside, the hardness of the steel makes it tricky to sharpen – and less compatible with most knife sharpeners.
Buy from a trusted brand
When shopping for filleting knives, you’ll notice that not all manufacturers list the grade of stainless steel used. Though we always prefer knowing exactly what our gear is made of, we don’t consider it a deal-breaker as long as the knife is made by an expert brand in gear. The most popular, established brands adhere to high-quality standards, ensuring that even though the grade of the steel is not listed, you can still be fairly certain it’s a top performance alloy. Our advice is to stick to brands that are known for their durability and sharpness, such as Morakniv, Kershaw, Rapala, Gerber, Wusthof, and more. This way you don’t have to worry whether the grade of the steel lives up to expectation and have the peace of mind you’re buying an authentic fishing knife that truly cuts it.
In regards to the handle of your filleting knife, we’d advise you to settle on a rubber or plastic grip. Though some manufacturers still use wood as a handle material, we’re not big fans of this option. Wood may get slippery when wet, plus tends to retain scent. Meaning that over time, your tackle box or kitchen drawer may start smelling extra ‘fishy’.
Plastic handles and rubber handles have multiple benefits. Not only are they corrosion-proof, but are also easy to clean and fairly lightweight. Look for knives with a molded rubber or plastic grip handle, as these offer a more ergonomic grip. Making it easier to control and more comfortable to handle the knife when slicing through.
Electric fillet knives
When shopping for fillet knives, you’ll also come across a few electric options. An electric filleting knife is ideal for those that plan to either prep a lot of fish, or prep very large fish. The pros are that this style can make filleting extra quick and easy. Because you won’t have to exert any pressure on the blade to make it glide through the flesh. However, the downside is that an electric fillet knife is not ideal for filleting on the go or out in nature. These styles are heavier and bulkier than regular non-electric knives. Meaning they will weigh you down and take up extra space in your tackle box or daypack.
If you do prefer an electric fillet knife over a regular style, the American Angler PRO Electric Fillet Knife is a top-rated choice. This knife comes with an 8-inch stainless steel blade, ideal for tackling most saltwater and freshwater fish species. A perk is that the blade is interchangeable. So, if you want more/less length, simply invest in spare, differently-sized blades to mix and match to your heart’s delight. The American Angler PRO Electric Fillet Knife also comes with a built-in cooling fan and venting, allowing you to cut longer without the risk of the device overheating.