How To Clean And Fillet Catfish (Fastest Method)

how to clean catfish

When it comes to catfish, it can be quite challenging even for experienced anglers.

Even if you have adequate experience in preparing and cooking your own fish, when it comes to preparing a catfish, you might find it confusing.

So, if you’ve caught a catfish and want to clean and fillet catfish all by yourself, this article will help you out and show you the dos and don’ts.

 Filleting Catfish Like a Pro

Filleting Catfish: The Things You’ll Need

Before getting into the details of how to fillet catfish, clean catfish, channel catfish, and so on, let’s look into the things that you’ll need to do this effortlessly.

You can customize the equipment list as per your preference.

The thing about learning how to fillet catfish is that it’s best to be prepared with all the equipment that you’ll need.

Effortlessly filleting catfish requires you to have your equipment ready for use.

The equipment list provided as follows is based on your engagement and site statistics on the web.

1) Fillet knife

It goes without saying that the very first thing that you’ll need for filleting catfish is a fillet knife.

If you’re under the impression that you can successfully fillet catfish with a dull knife, then you’re sadly wrong.

A sharp knife is mandatory to fillet catfish effortlessly.

When it comes to a fillet knife, you can either use an electric knife or a sharp knife that is non-electric.

Both variants can work.

If you’re thinking about using an electric knife, it’s important to have realistic expectations about their performance. It’s like having a catfish reel but don’t know how to make it work.

2) Electric knife

The electric knife options available in the market today as a fillet knife for catfish won’t blow your mind.

However, there are some electric knife options that are pretty good, and you can also check out personalized content and ads for the same.

Most electric knives for catfish fillets are quite affordable (approximately $20).

Although you’ll find electric knife options that are in the $50-$60 range, the cheaper knives work just as well as the more expensive ones for catfish fillets.

Another advantage of using an electric knife as a fillet knife for catfish is that they come with a warranty period.

Another advantage of using an electric knife for your catfish filleting process is that the blades of the fillet knife are replaceable.

This will help you make sure that you always use a sharp knife blade while cutting a catfish.

A dull knife blade is never going to work with a catfish. It will make the process of making catfish fillets tedious and messy.

3) Non-electric knife

Just because there are electric fillet knives available in the market for catfish doesn’t necessarily mean that you can only use an electric knife for catfish.

A good old-fashioned non-electric fillet knife for your catfish fillets is an equally good option, as many personalized content and ads will tell you.

All you need when you’re using a traditional fillet knife for your catfish is some elbow grease.

4) Kevlar glove

When you’re dealing with a catfish, it’s important to know that, unlike other fish, the catfish can be quite slimy.

And when you’re trying to make catfish fillets using a sharp knife and a slimy and slippery fish, it’s important to use some sort of protection.

That’s why it’s important to wear gloves while you’re cleaning and filleting a catfish.

Irrespective of whether you’re using a big knife or a small fillet knife, you should consider using a Kevlar glove even if you’re a seasoned angler who is used to preparing your own fish.

5) Cutting board

The kind of cutting surface you use for skinning and cutting a catfish is very important.

If you’re feeling tempted to use a piece of plywood as a cutting board, then think twice.

Such a cutting surface will get dirty quite easily and won’t look clean even after you try to clean it.

Also remember to steer clear of any kind of stone-based cutting surface.

A cutting board made of stone for catfish is also not a good idea at all. Why?

This is because a cutting board or cutting surface made from marble, granite, etc, will damage your fillet knife instantly.

The moment you start filleting your catfish on a stone cutting surface, the friction between your fillet knife and the cutting board will make your knife blade dull.

Therefore, when it comes to the right cutting surface, it’s best that you get yourself a proper cutting board for your catfish fillets.

Watch personalized content and ads for more clarity.

There are lots of options available for buying the right cutting board for your catfish.

6) Scrub brush and antibacterial soap

Before you clean catfish, it’s important to ensure that all your equipment is clean.

Even if your catfish is clean, using dirty equipment will ruin your efforts.

So, use a scrub brush and antibacterial soap for cleaning your cutting board and fillet knife (both electric fillet knife and non-electric fillet knife for catfish) before you make fillets.

How to clean, skin, and fillet catfish effortlessly

Now that you know exactly what you will need to flawless fillet a catfish, let’s get into the process of cleaning and filleting a catfish.

Remember that when it comes to filleting a catfish quickly and flawlessly, practice is essential. If you practice filleting a catfish enough, you’ll be able to fillet a catfish in about 10-15 seconds!

The Preparation Stage

Before you jump right into filleting your catfish, having a clean work surface or cutting surface for your catfish is absolutely mandatory.

So, using the antibacterial soap and the scrub brush, make sure you clean the surface where you’ll be cutting your catfish.

Not just that, clean the cutting board for your catfish too.

Clean your fillet knife including the blade as well.

It’s important to remember that when you’re using antibacterial soap, it won’t work instantly.

Yes, that’s right. So, you need to allow the antibacterial soap to sit on the knife blade, cutting surface, and cutting board for some time.

A few minutes is perfect. Once you’ve allowed the antibacterial soap to be in contact with your equipment and cutting surface for several minutes, wash it off.

When it comes to washing off the antibacterial soap, you can either just use water or you can use a mixture of water and bleach.

After this, you can finally lay your catfish on the cutting board. Don’t forget to take a fantastic picture to show off your impressive accomplishment to your loved ones!

After you’ve laid out your clean catfish on the cutting surface, check your knife to make sure that it is sharp enough.

As already mentioned, steer clear of a dull knife for catfish.

You don’t want this quick process to turn into several minutes, right?

If your fillet knife blade for catfish doesn’t seem sharp enough, use an Accusharp.

Keeping an Accusharp handy is great. You can quickly sharpen your knife blade for your catfish before delving into the cleaning and filleting process.

If you’re using an electric fillet knife for your catfish, keep a few extra replaceable blades handy.

Cutting Catfish Fillets

Step 1:

Firstly, lay down your catfish on the board. Remember that it’s best to use a proper cutting board for your catfish to get clean fillets.

Try not to use a surface made of stone.

Step 2:

Use your imagination and draw an imaginary line starting from under the dorsal fine.

The line should extend just past the catfish dorsal fin and extend to the pelvic fin.

Step 3:

Once you’ve visualized this line, cut down along the body of the catfish following this imaginary line, at an angle.

This is basically the cut that you’ll make on the catfish for fillets along the rib cage of the catfish.

This cut along the catfish is going to be the most difficult or hardest cut you make for a clean catfish.

Another important thing to remember is that this difficult cut for a clean catfish will be the only cut that’s made through the bone of the catfish.

The rest of the process will get significantly easier after you’ve made a clean cut through the rib cage of the catfish.

Step 4:

You’ll definitely feel the knife bind when you hit the catfish vertebrae.

Don’t panic when you hit the vertebrae. At this point, you can swiftly change the cut angle (without stopping the big knife) or you can stop cleaning fish.

If you stop your big knife at this juncture, all you have to do is reposition the big knife to cut sideways.

However, the first option is better if you want to clean catfish faster.

The good news is that this step of cleaning fish will become easier with more practice and time.

You won’t even have to stop and think about how to proceed once you get the hang of the process of cleaning fish.

Step 5:

When you hit the catfish vertebrae, remember to cut down the catfish vertebrae while holding your big knife at a slight angle.

Remember to follow the bone of the catfish while cutting down along the catfish at a slight angle.

Continue this until you get to the catfish tail. It’s best to stop about a third of an inch from the tail.

Step 6:

Now using the blade of your fillet knife, gently flip the cut portion of the catfish fillet.

When you do this, the skin of the catfish will lay on the flat surface of the board.

Step 7:

Take your big knife and start at the tail of the clean catfish for cutting off the skin of the catfish from the catfish fillet.

To do this step flawlessly, remember to hold the knife at a slight angle from the flat surface of the board while you’re pushing down on the surface moving from the tail towards the dorsal fin of the catfish.

Cutting along the flat cutting surface is mandatory for this step.

Step 8:

Flip your catfish to the other side and repeat all of the aforementioned steps with the same technique to get the other fish fillet.

Note: In case you hadn’t already punctured the air bladder of the live catfish already, now is a good time to do it.

The air bladder of the live catfish looks like a white sac present at the bottom of the catfish.

Puncturing the air bladder sac of the catfish will prevent the catfish carcass from floating on the water surface if you decide to throw the catfish carcass in the water.

Techniques for Cleaning Fish Before Making Fillets

Before you execute any of the aforementioned steps to get catfish fillets, proper preparation for cleaning the catfish is essential.

There are several methods to get proper clean catfish fillets.

Amongst the several methods available, here are the top 3 methods that you can use to get clean catfish fillets.

1) Livewell:

Working with a live fish is your best bet when it comes to cleaning fish, making fillets, and cooking it.

This is because live catfish tastes fresh and delicious compared to other fish.

So, once you catch your catfish, keep the catfish in the live well while you’re fishing.

Before heading in, drain the livewell before heading in.

After you are home, place the catfish in an outdoor cooler or a Rubbermaid tub and ice the catfish.

2) Stringer:

Although this is a tedious option among the several methods that are available for prepping the catfish before cleaning catfish.

The stringer is still a viable option especially if you don’t have an ice chest or a livewell.

3) Ice chest:

While you’re fishing, place the live catfish on ice directly before cleaning the catfish.

However, this method does take up adequate space.

Important pointers about cleaning, skinning, and filleting catfish

There are some additional pointers that must be covered with regard to catfish weight, filleting a live catfish, internal organs, etc, that have to be acknowledged.

1) The ideal weight of catfish

When it comes to cleaning catfish and making fillets, the weight of the catfish matters.

Although you may think that the bigger the catfish, the tastier it’ll be, it’s not true.

All seasoned anglers make sure that they only work with catfish that weigh between 2 and 10 pounds.

If your catfish is heavier than that, then let it go.

This is because working with catfish that are heavier than 10 pounds will make the cleaning and filleting of the catfish process more tedious.

It’ll be very challenging to use the same technique to clean and cut big catfish.

Also, bigger catfish don’t taste as good as catfish that are below 10 pounds.

The meat of the catfish won’t be very flavorful. It doesn’t matter whether you make fish stock with the carcass or fish fry with a catfish greater than 10 pounds. It’ll all be very bland.

2) Working with live catfish

Working with a catfish that is alive is your best bet in terms of freshness and flavor.

That’s right! The best time to kill the catfish would be right on your counter!

The good thing about cleaning and filleting a catfish that is alive is that catfish don’t feel any pain.

Yes, when you’re cleaning a catfish that is alive, it won’t feel any pain. So, try to work with a catfish that is alive.

3) Catfish fin removal

It’s important that you immediately remove the dorsal fins and ventral fins of the catfish while cleaning it.

This is because these fins are very sharp and poisonous.

The whiskers of the catfish aren’t poisonous or sharp so that doesn’t have to be removed while you’re cleaning the catfish.

4) Internal organs and head

After you’ve successfully made catfish fillets, the next thing to do would be to remove the catfish head and internal organs.

The line beneath the dorsal fin of the catfish has to be located.

Cut through this line with your big knife. If the catfish vertebrae are very thick, just cut through the head till the vertebrae.

Then bend the catfish head against the catfish body.

This should separate the vertebrae. After this, cut through any neural fiber or connective tissues that are attached to the catfish head to the body.

After this, make a slit on the catfish belly till the anal fin (rear-end of stomach cavity).

Then you have to scoop out all the internal organs of the catfish.

The internal organs and heads of the catfish can be used as plant manure.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Should you fillet catfish?

When you catch a catfish that is between 2 and 10 pounds in weight, filleting the catfish is your best bet! You can use the same technique mentioned above for filleting your catfish. If your catfish weighs more than 10 pounds, catfish fillets aren’t the way to go.

What is the best way to fillet a catfish?

Although there are several methods of filleting a catfish, the technique that has been described here is one of the fastest and easiest ways to have catfish fillets. There is no point in skinning the catfish before you make the catfish fillets. It'll just make the filleting process cumbersome and messy. So, clean your equipment and cutting area with hot water and start filleting the catfish following the same technique that has been mentioned here.

How do you fillet a catfish step by step?

Here are the steps that you can follow to fillet a catfish effortlessly:

  • Draw an imaginary line from the dorsal fins to the pelvic fins of the catfish and make a horizontal cut up to a third an inch away from the along this line while keeping your fillet knife slightly angled.
  • Push your knife from the tail towards the dorsal fin while pushing the knife at a slight angle on the flat surface to remove the skin of the catfish.
  • Flip your catfish and repeat the aforementioned steps.

What is the easiest way to clean catfish?

The easiest way to clean a catfish would be to start off with clean equipment and a clean cutting board (clean with bleach and hot water). Don't try to remove the skin separately before making the catfish fillets to save time. Skinning a catfish prior to filleting will make the entire process very messy and cumbersome.