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How to Fillet a Bass

filleted bass

This is a pictorial guide which you can follow to get boneless, skinless fillets off of a largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, white bass, perch, crappie, or other bass-like fish. You’ll also end up with rib bones and a gutted and de-gilled carcass for making fish stock.

There are definitely other ways to fillet fish, but this is the way I like doing it. 

Use the fillets for a fish fry or in your favourite recipes. Try any of these: Korean Bass Jeon Pancakes, African Bass and Plantains, or Bass Hushpuppies. Use the ribs and carcass to make a delicious fish stock or soup. Try using it in this Chinese Bass Congee

  • Special Equipment
    • Fillet Knife
    • Scissors/Shears
    • Cutting Board
  • 1 Bass-like fish

Preparation

1

whole bass

Start with a whole bass, rinsed off in cold water and set down on a clean cutting board. If you need instructions on how to dispatch a live bass before filleting, click here

2

unscaled fish

This guide is for skinless fillets, so I won’t be scaling the fish. If you would like scaleless skin-on fillets, you can learn how to scale a fish here, then just skip Step 11.

3

flipped fish

Flip the fish over and find the pectoral fin on the side. Slide the knife underneath it. 

4

first incision

Sidle the knife up to the bone of the fin, then make a diagonal incision from the ‘shoulder’ to the belly at about a 45° angle. 

first incision

At first you’ll feel pressure from the scales, but you’ll pop through pretty easily. Next you’ll encounter the spine once you’re about a knife’s width down (depending on the size of the fish). Stop once you hit the hard spine. 

5

turn your knife

Now turn your knife so the blade edge is facing the tail and the flat of the blade is lying on the spine. 

cut towards tail

Grip the head-side of the cut with the fingers of your off-hand, then begin gently sawing back and forth, applying pressure towards the tail. You’ll encounter rib bones at first which you must cut through, but after the rib cage, cutting will be easier. Try to keep the flat of your blade on the spine the whole time. This will get much easier with practice! 

cut towards tail

If it makes it easier for you, you can lift up the fillet as you continue to cut towards the tail. This allows you to see your progress, but isn’t necessary. 

lifted fillet

As you can see, the guts aren’t affected by the filleting. 

reaching the tail

Once you reach the tail, lay the fillet back down if you’ve had it up, then firmly push the knife through the last bit of flesh and skin out towards the tail. 

cut at tail

There you go, you’ve completed the first fillet!

first fillet done

6

other side

Flip the fish over and follow the same steps on the other side to take off the fillet. 

other side

Make your incision beside the pectoral fin, from shoulder to belly. 

begin cutting

Turn the knife horizontally and begin cutting towards the tail. 

cut through tail

Cut through the last bit of flesh and skin to release the fillet.

both sides filleted

My second fillet was a little rough since I was going slow for pictures, but that’s okay, it happens. 

7

cut out guts

Now it’s time to separate the guts from the carcass. First find the anus on the fish, located towards the back and bottom fin. Make an incision on the tail side of the anus.

make incision

Pull away the gutpile from where you cut.

gutpile

Grab the gutpile with a hand and pull firmly away from the head. 

pull gutpile

There will be a white tube attaching the guts to the head. If you can’t easily pull it out by hand (often the case with larger fish), you’ll need to cut it with your knife or some scissors. 

removing guts

Now discard the gut pile. You may want to check out what is inside the stomach at this point. To see how to do this click here and check out step 10.

8

Now it’s time to remove the gills. Gills add a bitter taste to stock, so be sure to remove them. 

removing gills

The gills can be very sharp and abrasive so you may want to use gloves. You could also just use pliers to tear them out. Here, I used scissors to snip them off at the base and pulled out all of the gill material. Discard the gills with the gutpile. 

9

broken down bass

Now it’s time to skin and bone the fillets. 

fillets

10

Take one fillet and point the belly side away from you. You’ll notice a ridge of rib bones poking out on a red line. 

deboning fillet

Make a very shallow cut just behind the rib bones, then keep cutting, allowing your knife to follow the contours of the ribs, being sure to cut as little meat as possible from the actual fillet. 

deboning fillets

Keep cutting towards the belly, keeping the blade of the knife pointing slightly upwards at the rib bones while pushing the knife. 

deboning fillet

The bones will be smaller and softer towards the belly.

deboning fillet

Lift up the ribs and pull upwards gently as you finish off the cut, pushing through the last bit of flesh to separate the ribcage. 

boneless fillet

Set the separated ribcage aside, then do the same process for the other fillet. 

11

Now it’s time to remove the skin from the fillets. 

skinning fillet

Lay a fillet skin-side down on the cutting board. Make an incision 1/4″ or 6mm from the tip of the tail, just through the flesh. Don’t cut through the skin! The little nubbin on the end will be your holding piece. 

skinning the fillet

Holding the very tip of the tail, turn the knife horizontally and begin sawing towards the large end of the fillet. 

turn knife horizontally

Keep the flat of the blade against the skin and keep sawing your way across the fillet while you hold the end. 

skinning the fillet

If you accidentally cut through the skin, start over, but from the other side of the fillet. If things are going good, just keep sawing. 

saw towards end

Saw right through the end, pushing through the flesh and separating the fillet from the skin.

separated skin and flesh

You can dispose of the skin.

boneless skinless fillet

Now repeat on the other fillet. 

12

two fillets

Rinse off the fillets and carcass, then pat dry with paper towels. You can either cook them right away or freeze from this point. Discard the guts, gills, and skin. 

13

filleted bass

Congratulations, you just filleted a bass, well done!

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