A good fillet knife is an essential tool for cleaning fish.
Sharp, flexible, and secure in your hand, these long, thin knives make quick work of producing fillets for your table, and no serious angler doesn’t have at least one ready to go.
But do you know what separates the best from the rest?
If you’re in the market for a new fillet knife, we’re here to help. Below, you’ll find a detailed buying guide as well as reviews of the top fishing fillet knives.
Quick glance at the best fishing fillet knives:
Table of Contents (clickable)
Blade length: 6”, 7”, and 9”
KastKing is a well-respected name among anglers, and they know what real-world fishing demands.
That’s just as true of their MadBite fillet knives as it is of their reels or pliers, and I like their lineup of fillet knives quite a bit.
The handles on the MadBite knives are made from a soft polymer that provides a sure grip when your hands are loaded with slime and blood. They also feature a lanyard loop, handy if you’re working around water.
I think these handles are spacious enough for pretty much any size hands, and they’re shaped to allow a variety of grips.
Full marks for me on that front!
Available in 6-, 7-, and 9-inch fillet blades, the Madbites are made from 4116 stainless manufactured by Thyssen-Krupp in Germany. This is excellent steel for a fillet knife, as the addition of chromium (15% of the total alloy) makes it darn-near rust proof.
Hardened to 56 RC, it’s flexible, tough, and easy to sharpen. Indeed, just a few passes on any reasonable sharpening medium should have it hair-popping again.
The blade shape is nice, providing a gentle belly nearer the tip and plenty of straight-line edge nearer the handle.
I’m not in love with the black finish on these blades, but it’s purely cosmetic.
Each knife comes with a blade cover--not really a sheath--designed to protect you from the sharp edge.
Overall, the MadBite series are great fillet knives, and you won’t be disappointed.
Blade length: 4”, 6”, and 7½”
Steel: “European stainless”
Easily the most recognized fillet knife in the world, the classic Rapala has probably worked on more fish than the rest combined!
Based on a traditional Finnish design, the Rapala is deceptively capable.
Yes, the handle is simple wood, but it’s shaped to work and is surprisingly secure, even when you’re up to your elbows in slime. Chalk that up to centuries of refinement of the handle shape and material.
There’s plenty of space for your hand, too, though be aware that the handles get bigger as the blades do and that the 4-inch is probably too small for most adult men to use comfortably in the field.
The blades are constructed from no-name “European” stainless, and if I were to guess, I’d say that’s because the steel may vary from batch to batch. What I can tell you from experience is that it simply refuses to corrode, is easy to sharpen, and holds a wicked edge for quite a while.
Each knife comes with an effective leather sheath of the traditional Scandi style.
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.
Blade length: 4”, 6”, 7½”, and 9”
Steel: “European stainless”
Take Rapala’s classic design and add a soft, rubberized handle to improve grip, and you have what may be the finest fillet knife money can buy.
The textured grip works well no matter how much slime and blood cover it, and with an added guard to protect your hand from sliding up and onto the blade, you get just a touch more security than from the traditional option.
The blade design and quality is identical to the traditional Rapala: expect excellence, and each knife comes with an attractive black leather sheath.
Blade length: 9”
Steel: proprietary 420-series stainless
Dexter-Russell’s Sani-Safe knives are used in kitchens all over the US, and they’ve proven their performance time and time again.
And while most kitchen knives don’t make the cut for outdoor use, this knife is an exception.
The patterned, white plastic handles are comfortable and reasonably grippy, though probably the least so of all the knives on our list. I’m not complaining, and I don’t think you will, either. Plenty of professional anglers use these knives to clean fish and cut bait with no trouble and no worries.
That’s saying something right there.
The 9-inch blade is among the most flexible of those on our list, and it’s relatively straight with almost no belly near the tip. Depending on your preferences, this is either a good or bad thing, and either way, the 420-series (most likely 420A) steel resists corrosion like a champ and is easy to put a scary sharp edge on in the field.
These knives don’t come with a sheath of any kind, so you’ll want to think about that before you make your decision.
Blade length: 6.1”
Steel: Sandvik 12C27
Morakniv is world-famous for no-nonsense field knives that bring Scandinavian simplicity to cutting tasks. It’s no surprise, then, that their fillet knife makes our list.
The handle is a more or less traditional Swedish shape, made from plastic polymers that offer substantial grip in even the worst conditions. Nicely sized for all hands, you’ll find that you simply don’t think about grip while using this fillet knife as the tool disappears while working.
That’s as high a compliment as can be paid a handle, I think.
The blade is made from outstanding Sandvik 12C27 steel, Morakniv’s standard stainless. It’s proven itself everywhere and in every task, and it resists corrosion, sharpens easily, and holds a wicked edge.
I won several knives from Mora, and this steel is simply awesome in the real world.
The 6.1-inch blade is long enough for most fish, and it’s a good compromise for the smaller stuff, too.
Each knife comes with a cheap-looking but entirely effective sheath, a hallmark of Mora design.
Blade length: 7” E-FLEX, 9” E-FLEX, 9” E-STIFF, and 12” E-STIFF blades included
Steel: Titanium-coated stainless steel
When you’ve got a lot of fish to fillet, many anglers skip manual knives and go electric. And if you’re going to bring an electric knife into the field, you want a cordless option for obvious reasons.
Bubba’s cordless fillet knife is my favorite option on the market.
It comes with two lithium-ion rechargeable batteries and an AC outlet to keep them topped up. Battery life is excellent--no other brand even comes close on this front!
The grip is large, so anglers with smaller hands may not like it. It’s also rubberized, providing good grip even when nasty, and--at least to my eyes--ugly as sin!
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.
Together, there’s pretty much nothing this knife can’t handle. The titanium coating is more gimmick than performance-enhancing, but the no-name stainless doesn’t rust and seems to stay sharp for a long time.
When sharpening is required, turn to an expert or buy new blades. That’s the issue with full-serrations, unfortunately.
If you can stomach the ugly, this electric knife is the top choice on the market, offering simply fantastic battery life and plenty of cutting power.
A fillet knife is designed around one task: removing fillets of fish with as little waste as possible.
Two of my own fillet knives, rehandled in stag.
To do this well, the blade needs to be long, thin, and flexible, providing sufficient feel for you to detect bone and offering the “give” necessary to maneuver around them or slide along them.
A Tramontina boning knife I use in my kitchen.
Boning knives are similar but sport stiffer blades that aren’t ideal for fish.
You may wonder why the many excellent fillet knives available from companies like Wustof and Henckels aren’t included on our list. It’s not because of quality, I can assure you!
Instead, it’s basic design.
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 in the field, where the majority of filleting is done, fish slime and blood are ubiquitous. And if you’ve never had that potent combo on your hands while trying to grip something, prepare yourself!
Nothing in the world is as slick as slime and blood.
Premium-quality kitchen knives usually don’t come with handles that are even remotely safe to use in those conditions.
The first thing I consider when evaluating a filet knife is the handle.
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.
I like enough handle to provide a firm, full-handed grip, though, of course, that depends on your relative hand size. I made sure to note handle sizes in each review.
I also like to see some texture to combat slime and blood, something to provide grip when my hands are really nasty.
Some anglers like finger grooves and the like--I personally don’t. The more plain the handle shape, the wider the variety of grips that work well and feel comfortable, though your mileage may vary.
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.
Too short a blade results in the need to make multiple passes, and that inevitably leads to wasted meat and ugly fillets.
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 present 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:
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.
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.
I own and use plenty of folding knives, but not for filleting.
This folding Buck fillet knife is hard to keep clean.
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.
As you can see from our list, good tools don’t need to cost an arm and a leg, and quality can be easy to come by. Any of the knives on our list will work a charm on your next fishing trip, and they’re all capable of making a mountain of fillets in no time.
As you can see, I rate the Rapalas pretty highly, but don’t let that turn you away from the excellent alternatives like Morakniv.
We hope that this article has helped you select your next fillet knife, and if it has, we’d love to hear from you.
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