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Best Fillet Knife For Saltwater Fish: Freeing Fillets and Cutting Steaks in 2022

Written by: Pete D
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Saltwater anglers know that delicious fillets are the ultimate reward offered by species like mackerel, redfish, speckled trout, and tuna, and a high-quality knife is the tool to free these slabs of meat from the ribs of fish.

To do that well, a fillet knife needs a long, flexible, sharp blade and a handle that offers excellent grip. They also need to hold an edge well, be easy to sharpen, and resist corrosion from blood and salt.

If you’re in the market for a new fillet knife and want some help making your choice, we’ve got you covered. Below, you'll find reviews of some of our favorite fillet knives, as well as a complete buying guide to get you up to speed quickly.

Quick glance at the best fillet knife for saltwater fish:

Related: Best Saltwater Tackle Box, Best Saltwater Fishing Pliers

Best Fillet Knife For Saltwater Fish Reviewed

Bubba Li-Ion Cordless Electric Fillet Knife - Best Electric Fillet Knife

BUBBA Li-Ion Cordless Electric Fillet Knife with Non-Slip Grip Handle, 4 Ti-Nitride S.S. Coated Non-Stick Reciprocating Blades, Charger and Case for Fishing

Amazon 

Blade length: 7” E-FLEX, 9” E-FLEX, 9” E-STIFF, and 12” E-STIFF blades included

Sheath: No

Steel: Titanium-coated stainless steel

I know plenty of anglers who prefer an electric knife when they’re looking at a full cooler of fish, and there’s simply no way you’ll fillet dozens of fish as quickly with a manual knife.

And whether you prefer to fillet your fish out on the water or back at the boat launch, most of the time, you won’t have power. A cordless option is definitely the way to go.

Bubba’s cordless electric fillet knife is the best on the market, hands down.

Supplied with two lithium-ion rechargeable batteries and an AC outlet to keep them topped up, you can charge the batteries overnight in camp, or keep one ready to go, and never run out of power. The battery life is excellent, and I find that you can power through a lot of fish - more fish than you want to clean, in fact - before you need to worry about a recharge.

The large grip is necessary to house the motor, and anglers with smaller hands may find this is simply too much of a good thing. Ugly - no doubt - its orange, rubberized grip provides plenty of purchase, even when the slime, blood, and scales are doing their best to create a slip.

This electric knife comes with four blades in two configurations: slender, whip-like flexible lengths of 7 and 9 inches, and sturdier, stiffer lengths of 9 and 12 inches.

The smaller blades are ideal for smaller species; the larger options will cut bone with aplomb, making short work of steaks.

Bubba doesn’t report the steel it uses for these blades, but I’d guess it’s 400-series stainless, run to the mid-50s on the RC scale. It’s plenty tough, plenty sharp, and very corrosion resistant.

The bad news is that sharpening is a no-go at home, and you’ll need to purchase new blades from Bubba when these get truly dull. That’s just the reality of fully-serrated blades.

That’s always been a deal-breaker for me, but plenty of fishermen still swear by electric knives, and they are undeniably fast and effective.

If you can stomach the ugly, this electric knife is the top choice on the market, offering fantastic battery life and plenty of cutting power.

Pros:

  • Comfortable, grippy plastic handles
  • Nice blade lengths and stiffnesses for most jobs
  • Good steel
  • Awesome battery life
  • Cordless!

Cons:

  • Ugly!
  • Once dull, need to buy new blades

Rapala Fish 'N Fillet - Best Traditional Fillet Knife

Rapala 6' Fish'n Fillet Knife / Single Stage Sharpener / Sheath

Amazon 

Blade length: 4”, 6”, and 7½”

Sheath: Yes

Steel: “European stainless”

The classic Rapala is essentially a traditional Finnish design that’s become famous the world over anywhere fish are being cleaned.

The handle is simple: nothing more than polished, protected wood. But its distinctive shape works well, no surprise after centuries of development. That large pommel keeps your hand where it needs to be on powerful draw cuts, and the subtle swells in just the right places prevent fatigue and provide a sure grip, even when there’s lots of work to be done.

For saltwater, I recommend the 7 ½-inch blade. The handle is generous, and anglers with big hands won’t feel crowded. The blade on the large knife is stiffer than the smaller models, making it perfect for large fish. The tip is very sensitive, and you can really feel the bones of the back and ribs when cutting a fillet free.

It’s also stout enough to cut steaks, and the backbone of a larger fish won’t damage the edge whatsoever.

Normally, I’d be wary of a knife from a manufacturer who won’t report the steel used in the blade. In this case, however, the reason is probably that Rapala uses a variety of high-quality steels, switching between them as prices of the raw material vary.

What I can tell you from my own experience with these knives - which is extensive - is that they are always easy to sharpen, take a very sharp edge, and simply refuse to rust. 

You can count on Rapala quality.

Each knife comes with a traditional leather sheath that’s also very well made.

I’ve owned many of these, including some that have been rehandled in stag by a close friend. You more than get your money’s worth with these knives, and they’re among the best in the world.

Pros:

  • Comfortable, time-tested wooden handles
  • Excellent steel
  • Great blades overall
  • Excellent sheaths

Cons:

  • Some anglers may want modern handle materials

Rapala Soft Grip - Best Modern Fillet Knife

Rapala 7 1/2 Inch Soft Grip Fillet Knife / Single Stage Sharpener / Sheath

Amazon 

Blade length: 4”, 6”, 7½”, and 9” 

Sheath: Yes

Steel: “European stainless”

Rapala isn’t stuck in the past, and they offer fillet knives with rubberized handles that really improve grip when your hands are filthy.

Offered in four blade lengths, the larger two are great for saltwater applications. Just be aware that Rapala’s knives get thicker and sturdier as you increase their length, so the 9-inch will be less sensitive than the 7 ½, but also much sturdier.

If you’re looking to cut steaks or work on big, bony fish, the larger knife might be the better choice. But if you clean flounder or specks more often than tuna or grouper, the 7 1/2 -inch blade might be the best pick for you.

Whichever way you go, the handles are very comfortable and extremely non-slip. And the “mystery” blade steel, as I explained in the review above, is always high-quality stainless that takes a wicked edge easily and refuses to rust.

The included sheath and sharpener are great - but one word of warning. Be very, very careful using that sharpener when your hands are slimy; you definitely do not want to slip with your fingers so close to the sharp blade.

Pros:

  • Comfortable, grippy rubberized handles
  • Excellent steel
  • Great blades overall
  • Excellent sheaths

Cons:

  • ???

KastKing MadBite

KastKing Bait Knife and Fillet Knife, 9 inch Fillet Knife

Amazon 

Blade length: 6”, 7”, and 9” 

Sheath: Yes

Steel: G4116

KastKing manufactures everything from reels to awesome fishing pliers, and their wealth of real-world experience on the water translates into excellent tools that anglers quickly come to love.

When your hands are covered in fish slime and slick with blood, the last thing you want is a slippery handle. KastKing’s MadBite really delivers here, and its soft polymer handle provides plenty of grip no matter how gross your hands get.

That’s important, because one slip with a sharp knife can mean a trip to the emergency room.

And for anglers who clean their catch out on the water, they’ve provided a lanyard hole so that you can attach your fillet knife to your wrist, increasing grip even more and preventing it from slipping overboard and being lost.

When you’re cleaning large fish, a reverse grip can come in handy, and the MadBite’s neutral contours allow you to change the way you hold this knife while still being comfortable and secure.

That’s a feature I really appreciate when I’m working a fillet loose from a big fish with tough bones.

Available in 6-, 7-, and 9-inch fillet blades, the Madbites are made from 4116 stainless manufactured by Thyssen-Krupp in Germany. This high-chromium is extremely rust-resistant, so just a quick wash with warm water and soap at the end of the day is enough to keep this blade spotless.

Hardened to 56 RC, t4116 stainless is tough stuff, and you won’t experience edge hipping or breakage in its intended use. It’s also very easy to sharpen, and just a few passes on a ceramic or diamond hone will get this steel razor sharp.

For large fish, I definitely prefer the 9-inch model, and this long fillet blade really lets you feel where bone meets flesh. That aids the process a lot, as does the subtle curve of this blade toward the tip.

The MadBite comes with a blade cover, not a full sheath, and it’s a pretty minimalistic affair designed to protect you - and the sharp edge of this knife.

This is an excellent fillet knife, and I wouldn’t hesitate to use it.

Pros:

  • Comfortable, grippy handles
  • Great blade shape
  • Excellent steel for a fillet knife
  • Flexible, sensitive blades

Cons:

  • Some anglers will prefer a real sheath

Dexter-Russell Sani-Safe Narrow Fillet Knife

Sani-Safe S133-9-PCP 9' Narrow Fillet Knife with Polypropylene Handle

Amazon 

Blade length: 9” 

Sheath: No

Steel: proprietary 420-series stainless

If you take a pick in a professional kitchen, you’ll almost certainly find Dexter-Russell’s white-handled knives. The choice of chefs everywhere for their consistent quality, comfortable grips, and non-slip texture, the Sani-Safe line of knives clean up easily, too.

The patterned, white plastic handles are pretty secure, and their shape does a great job of protecting your hand from sliding up over the blade. Basically a design with the opposite intention of the Rapala, this offers greater safety when you’re pushing the point than the traditional design from Finland.

The 9-inch blade on these knives is very straight, beginning to curve only as it nears the tip. For some anglers, this is great; for others, it’s something they don’t like. 

Personally, I find that it’s very easy to turn in a cut and change direction, and control is excellent. But it’s not quite as good for long, sweeping cuts.

Dexter-Russell manufactures these blades from 420-series (most likely 420A) stainless. It’s as close to corrosion-free as you’ll find, and this steel is both tough and easy to sharpen to a hair-popping edge.

These knives don’t come with a sheath of any kind, so you’ll want to think about that before you make your decision.

Pros:

  • Comfortable, grippy plastic handles
  • Nice blade length for most jobs
  • Excellent steel
  • Great blade overall

Cons:

  • No sheath

Morakniv Fillet Knife

Morakniv Fishing Comfort Fillet Knife with Sandvik Stainless Steel Blade, 6.1-Inch

Amazon 

Blade length: 6.1”

Sheath: Yes

Steel: Sandvik 12C27

Morakniv is famous for no-nonsense quality, and from knives designed for woodworking, to hunting, to construction, they really know how to deliver.

It’s no surprise, then, that their fillet knife is just as good as everything they make.

The plastic polymer handle of the Morakniv fillet knife is nice and neutral, offering plenty of grip and comfort in a variety of positions. Like the MadBite, that makes it excellent for reverse grip, an essential position when you’re working on really big fish.

The shape is designed to prevent pull or push cuts from moving the knife in your hand, and it works really well to increase safety. Overall, I find that this knife disappears into the work, allowing you to focus immediately on what you’re doing with no thought given to the tool.

Morakniv makes these blades from Sandvik 12C27 steel, a very high-quality stainless that has proven itself time and time again in the real world. I find it very easy to sharpen, and it holds its edge well, even when you need to cut bone. It’s also proven to be very corrosion-resistant in my use, and I don’t ever need to worry about it - I just do what needs doing.

The blade is just over 6 inches, slightly curved, and very sensitive. It’s ideal for fish like flounder and specks, eating-size redfish, snook, blues, and salmon. For really big species, though, a bigger knife might be a better choice.

Each knife comes with a cheap-looking but entirely effective sheath, a hallmark of Mora design.

Pros:

  • Comfortable, grippy plastic handles
  • Nice blade length for smaller saltwater species
  • Outstanding steel
  • Great blade overall

Cons:

  • Only one blade length offered

What We Consider When Selecting a Fillet Knife

Fillet Knife Basics

A fillet knife is a single-purpose tool: it’s good for cleaning fish and nothing else.

I’ve used these fillet knives quite a bit.

To accomplish this task with minimum waste, fillet knives come armed with slender, delicate blades that allow you to feel and follow bone, cutting close and wasting as little fish as possible.

Kitchen vs. Water: Where are Wustof and Henckels?

Kitchen knives from Wustof, Henckels, and other top brands are notably absent from our shortlist of reviews.

Why?

Fillet knives that are built around kitchen use often come with attractive handle materials. Because chefs and home cooks are likely to keep their dominant hand clean, manipulating proteins like chicken, fish, and beef with their off-hand only, these knives don’t need to worry as much about secure grip.

But when you’re filleting fish on the top of a cooler in the field, slime, blood, and slick scales are going to end up on both hands, pretty much guaranteed. And if you’re using a kitchen knife with a slick, black handle, you’re going to lose control of the blade as it twists or slips in your hand.

That’s just not safe.

So leave kitchen knives in the kitchen where they belong.

Grip

The first thing I consider when evaluating a filet knife is the handle.

The more experience you have, the cleaner you’ll stay!

That may sound strange since the blade is the working end--but unless you can control that length of steel, the knife is no good as a tool.

You really want some kind of handle texture to create a grippy surface, and in many cases, this can be enhanced by the feel of the material itself. 

Rapala’s Soft Grip is a great example of this, as the combination of material and texture really keeps the knife secure in your hand.

I also like a neutral grip for filleting, that is, a handle contour that allows different techniques and grip positions. Especially with larger saltwater species, reversing your grip may be necessary for some cuts, and I like a knife that feels good in my hand whichever way the blade is pointed.

Blade Length

When you’re filleting, a good rule of thumb is that you want a blade at least as wide as the fish you’re working on, plus a few inches, ideally. That gives you length for sawing cuts, if necessary.

Big fish like this Cobia demand long blades, but there’s a sensible maximum of about 9 inches.

Too short a blade results in the need to make multiple passes, and that inevitably leads to wasted meat and ugly fillets.

But you can get too much of a good thing: 9 inches is about a sensible maximum, as length causes you to lose control and decreases sensitivity.

Steel

In the knife world, it’s easy to become a steel snob, and enthusiasts often make their choices by considering steel “quality.”

Steel is an alloy of carbon and trace elements, and it’s what’s added to that carbon (as well as the critically important heat treating) that makes steel what it is. 

Stainless steel is an alloy of iron and carbon with additions like boron, chromium, cobalt, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, niobium, titanium, tungsten, or vanadium. 

The more carbon there is in the blade, the harder it can be made. But the addition of other elements to the steel can boost wear resistance, improve ductility, or increase corrosion resistance.

Knife steel really begins its life in a kiln, where it’s heated to re-arrange its chemical and crystalline structure. This hardens the steel quite a bit, but it also makes it brittle. To bring the steel back to strength, it’s subsequently softened by tempering. A perfect balance between hard enough to hold an edge well and soft enough to bend rather than break, crack, or chip is what manufacturers seek, and this is probably the most important step in the making of a good knife.

In many ways, it’s like baking: a chocolate cake and a carrot cake are both “cake,” but it’s the additions to the flour and the baking temperatures and times that make them what they are.

Steel works the same way: 1095 and 440C are both steel, but it’s the additions to the 440C and baking that makes them what they are.

Super steels like CPMS30V and ZDP-189 are great for many knives - they hold an acceptable edge for a very, very long time and get scary sharp, but to get that kind of edge performance, they skimp on additions like chromium and nickel that result in better corrosion resistance.

Especially for filleting fish, that’s not ideal, and I’d trade a bit of edge holding and a lot of toughness for better corrosion resistance.

Let’s focus on three important considerations for a fillet knife:

Corrosion resistance

A good fillet knife can take a beating from saltwater and blood without a hitch. I’m not talking about cosmetics here--I don’t care if my fillet knife stains. Instead, it’s corrosion along the edge that I’m worried about.

Think about it like this: you’ve finished filleting a cooler full of fish, cleaned your knife up with soap and water, and put it away for the next use. 

Rust on the blade edge will quickly destroy it.

But is it bone dry? What’s the humidity like? 

Even minor corrosion can destroy a fine edge, leaving pits that quickly degrade its sharpness.

I want very corrosion-resistant steels in my fillet knives, and I think you do, too.

Don’t worry about “premium” steels, and instead, stick to the simple stuff that’s known for high corrosion resistance.

Sharpenability vs. Edge Holding

In virtually all cases, these are diametrically opposed to each other, meaning that as sharpenability improves, edge holding gets worse (and vice versa).

Super steels like V3 and ZDP-189 are great for general use in that they can hold an edge for a very, very long time. That’s great on a camping trip or when you need to break down a lot of cardboard boxes.

But for filleting, edge holding times aren’t critical.

You want a fillet knife that’ll hold an edge through your work, to be sure, but given how much better they perform when razor-sharp, the ability to get a blade sharp quickly is usually more important than absolute edge holding--at least when it comes to fillet knives.

That’s because an edge that’s not as sharp as you can make it doesn’t fillet very well, and a pretty good edge really isn’t. 

What you really want is to work with a sharpener while you fillet, and you’ll want steel that’s easy to touch up quickly--just a few passes on a sharpener--so you’ll be back in business with a scary-sharp edge.

Why not folding?

I own and use plenty of folding knives, but not for filleting.

This folding Buck fillet knife is hard to keep clean.

Why not?

Two reasons quickly come to mind. The first is that with a good sheath, the fixed blades are safer and more convenient to use as there’s simply no concern about lock failure.

The second is sanitary. Folding knives are very hard to keep scrupulously clean, and with fish slime and scales, that’s a critical consideration.

Final Thoughts

A good fillet knife will serve you for years at the very least, and with proper sharpening and just a little care, may last a lifetime or more.

Any of these knives on our shortlist today will get the job done and then some, and our top picks are simply just a bit better than the others. 

We hope that you’ve learned something today, and as always, we’re here to answer your questions and respond to your comments.

Please leave a message below!

About The Author
Pete D
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Pete grew up fishing on the Great Lakes. When he’s not out on the water, you can find him reading his favorite books, and spending time with his family.
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