How to filet a bass
GateHouse News Service
There might be more than one way to skin a cat, but in my opinion, there is only one way to filet a bass.
A basic enjoyment of hunting and fishing is to savor and share the gastronomic delights when we are blessed with success in the outdoors.
And when properly prepared, and then grilled, smoked, or cooked, there is nothing better tasting and better for us, health-wise than eating wild animals.
And in the case of bass, it all starts (after the catching, that is,) with carving the filets off the fish.
Fish meat tends to break down quickly in warm weather so for the best texture in the meat, keep it cool as possible and filet quickly. Also, a sharp filet knife with a long, thin blade is best.
When filleting fish, we want a neat filet and no bones, not bone one in the meat.
I have filleted hundreds if not thousands of fish. But there are undoubtedly aspects of filleting that I don’t know. Many fishermen probably filet their fish the same way as I, but over the years I have seen witnessed fishermen literally “butcher” fish. And I have had to take the knife from them, which they were all too eager to surrender.
But maybe they were just smarter. Guess who became designated as the one to filet everybody’s catch?
Here’s my technique, learned and refined on the Canadian Lakes:
If you are not lucky enough to have an actual filet table with a faucet and a hose at a fishing camp; then a deck or outside table, a small unpainted wooden plank, and a garden hose make the job easier, cleaner, and neater, especially if you have a number of fish to dress.
I like a table to work on. For one thing, it is easier on the back, but mainly it is better for the proper knife cuts and angles.
Any legal bass can be filleted of course, but I like medium-sized bass the best, those two- to three-pounders.
First of all, put the bass on the board and holding him by the head, make a slightly diagonal cut behind his gills, down to his backbone (See Photo 1, below). I like the diagonal cut because you get another nice chunk of meat along the back, versus the straight cut. (I hate to waste any meat).
Now, rotate the board, lengthwise, so that the head is facing you. Put your hand on the fish to hold him down and insert the point of the knife, right behind his head and push it down part way, to the top of the rib cage. Follow the backbone along, not cutting into the ribcage. You can actually feel the tip of the knife tick along the ribs as you travel down the backbone.
When you come to the end of the ribcage, about halfway down the backbone, push the knife all the way down and through the fish so that it exits near its vent.
Then, with the knife still perpendicular to the fish, slide it along the tailbone until you come to the end and the end of the filet is free.
Now, go back to the center of the filet (still attached to the ribs), lift it back, exposing the ribs and fold it back and cut the filet free. (Photo 2, below)
The filet is free of the fish, but the skin is still on. (Photo 3, below)
Remove the skin by putting the filet on the board and sliding the filet knife along the filet. Keep the knife flat and parallel to the board. (Photo 4, below)
And once the skin on the filet is removed, a nice touch is to split the end of the filet so that there are two “legs” to it. (Photo 5, below)
Then put the filet immediately in a pan or bowl of cold water.
Repeat the process with the other side of the fish. When done, you should have a matched pair of perfect bass filets with no bones and no waste.
When done, I spray down the board and table with the hose to remove any fish slime and set the board up so that it dries quickly.
Once the cleanup is finished, you are ready to cook the bass or freeze them for later use. The best way to freeze them is in water in a self-sealing bag (like a zip-lock) This method of freezing fish in water prevents freezer burn and/or the filet drying out.
My favorite way to cook bass is to first cut the filets in small chunks. Then take two plastic bags, putting flour in one and a couple beaten eggs in the other. Put the chunks of bass in the flour and shake up, until covered and then dump the bag into the other bag with the beaten eggs.
Then take the egg and flour-covered chunks of bass and drop them one-by-one into a hot iron pan with a couple inches of Crisco or shortening. Fry until golden brown.
Salt and pepper to taste and if you want to put a small dish of cocktail sauce on the side for “finger food,” bona appetit.