There's nothing more satisfying to an angler than enjoying a home-cooked meal of fresh caught fish. The aromas, the taste, and that prerequisite feeling of fullness should be icing on the cake to an otherwise productive day spent on the water. Now, actually catching those fish is always a hit and miss possibility. Using the right tools to prepare your catch, however, should essentially be a no-brainer.
An "all-around knife" would consist of a 7.5-inch blade - this model will allow you to fillet small and large fish quite satisfactory.
The World of Knives
Choosing a fillet knife can be a daunting task for those that are new to the cooking arena. Many of the fillet knives out on the market have very similar characteristics, often making it hard to realistically tell the good from the bad. The truth of the matter is, an inferior knife can be responsible for wasted meat, excessive time spent filleting and an ever-present danger of personal injury due to slippage. Pretty good reasons for choosing wisely, aren't they?
The Size Factor
Fillet knife blades average between 4 and 9 inches in length, with the standard sizes being 4, 6, 7.5 and 9 inches. Quite the variety, but the main reason for these variances is in correlation to the size of fish they are used for. Bigger fish require a longer blade, due in part to the wider girth and extra surface area you will be faced with. Smaller fish, on the other hand, require a shorter blade for easier handling and less overkill.
For those that target panfish (crappie, perch and bluegills) a 6-inch blade would be an optimum length. Bass or small trout would be best suited to a 7.5-inch blade, whereas pike, salmon and larger fish will require a 9-inch blade.
An "all-around knife" would consist of a 7.5-inch blade - this model will allow you to fillet small and large fish quite satisfactory, and with the least amount of struggle and effort. If you can only choose one for a wide-variety of situation, my advice would be to go this route. For optimum efficiency and ease of use, pick two or more to cover all of the bases correctly.
Stainless steel is the standard of the fillet knife world. But not all stainless steels are created equally. Unfortunately, most fillet knives do not say what type of stainless steel they are so your best bet is to go with one from a reputable company that will provide a metal blade that is extremely strong, durable, and corrosive resistant.
The amount of flex a blade possesses is an important consideration when it comes to choosing a knife. Flex can be critical to optimum cutting and slicing, and will make your task of filleting all the more easier.
For the most part, flex is contingent on the thickness of the blade. The thicker the blade, the less flex it will hold, and vice versa. Shorter blades should have more flex, as the smaller fish you are working on will require tighter angles and sharper cuts. Longer blades should still have a certain degree of flex to them, but it is not quite as important as maintaining it in the shorter steel. Four- and 6-inch blades should be quite thin and considerably flexible. (The blade should 'bend' an inch or more either way when the tip is pressed straight down and pressure is applied.) As blade lengths increase, flex should still be maintained throughout the blade, but with length comes an added thickness, due to the higher strength capabilities they need to exude.
Rubber will provide a slightly greater grip, due to the fact it can be squeezed slightly.
Although the blade is the business end of a fillet knife, the handle certainly plays an important role. Comfort, grip, and execution can all be derived from a well-constructed handle, allowing an angler to fillet safely and effortlessly.
Material is the first consideration to look at. Although wood has been the standby in years past, plastic and rubber are certainly taking over the market in the present day. The one downside to wood has always been its ability to get extremely slippery when wet, leading to a lack of control and the possibility of slippage, often leading to the dangerous aspect of blade to flesh contact. The other negative surrounding wood is its ability to 'soak' up fish smells, engraining them in the handle and causing difficulty in regards to cleaning and sanitizing purposes.
Plastic and molded rubber are both excellent choices. Rubber will provide a slightly greater grip, due to the fact it can be squeezed slightly. They both provide good traction. Both rubber and plastic can be cleaned easily and thoroughly, so germs and fish smells need never be a worry. Of course, both materials are corrosive resistant, so your investment is bound to last a long time.
Make sure that the knife you purchase has a beveled area for your index finger. This is found at the spot where the blade meets the handle, and will provide extra insurance against slipping, while providing extra leverage.
Recessed finger holds can be great for extra grip, yet they only work well if your fingers are of a similar size. If your hands are of an overly large size, this setup may prove more uncomfortable and constricting, as they won't form-fit to each individual finger.
Knife Sheath and Sharpening Stone
Most knives on the market come with a sheath. This is great for storing your knife in a cupboard or tackle box when not it use, but can also be handy for attaching to your belt when out in the boat, or while preparing a shore meal. To lessen any chance of injury, always keep it covered unless actually in the process of filleting.
It goes without saying that your knife will lose its sharpness over time, rendering the cutting surface dull and ineffective. Some knives will come with a small hand-held sharpener, making the task of keeping a sharp edge quick and easy. (I actually give it a few swipes through the sharpener before each use, always keeping it at its optimum condition.)
Buying a knife that comes with a sharpener is advantageous, as it is manufactured for that specific blade, meaning that it will excel at the job it is designed for. It also means that you will never have an excuse for keeping a dull blade.
For those that like to clean a mess of fish regularly, an electric fillet knife might be the perfect option for you. These machines can effortlessly work through fish like a hot knife in butter, saving time, effort and patience. Although they have a bit of a learning curve, and will take some time to get used to, the benefits are certainly viable.
Many models out on the market have rechargeable battery packs, 12V lighter plug (great for back wood fishing when your vehicle is the only source of power), 110V wall plugs, and even 12V battery post clips. The options for powering these units really are limitless.
Throw in a travel case, and you're set for some heavy duty filleting.
Keep this option open if eating fish is a favorite hobby of yours - the advantages of going electric certainly speak a strong argument.
Eating your catch has become a tradition that most of us share in. Nothing beats the taste of fish, and of course, the family and friend gatherings that they always provide. Fillet knives are an important part of the cooking equation, and selecting the right one is paramount for success.
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