How To Fillet A Walleye & Remove Bones For A Glorious Dinner

February 8, 2022
by Dan Skewes
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A walleye fish is a freshwater fish that is part of the perch family. Also known as yellow pike or pickerel, these fish are native to Canada and the Northern United States.

Walleye fish are commonly between 22 and 42 inches long and can be identified by the yellow-olive skin on their back, their white underside, and brassy sides with yellow spots. So let’s say you’ve caught or bought yourself a magnificent walleye. The hard part is over! Or is it? Do you know how to fillet a walleye?

Walleye are a great fish to catch because of their conservation status, which has been labeled as LC (least concern) by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. This means they’re a great, easy fish to catch, but also that there are enough of them to fish sustainably. 

If you find yourself lost in trying to work out just how to prepare your fish, then have no fear! We’re here to give you a step-by-step guide on how to fillet your walleye, from the first cuts all the way to the end. 

So grab a sharp knife and get ready to make some gorgeous fillets out of your fish! 

Equipment

To fillet your walleye, you are going to need:

A sharp knife, preferably a filleting knife. These are long serrated, sometimes curved knives made specifically for cutting fish or removing bones. No matter what knife you use, it’s vital that your knife is sharp. If it’s not, during some of the tougher parts of the

A cutting board and/or something to cover your table. We’ll have to remove the blood from the fish if it’s a fresh catch, so it’s best to have something to protect your table/work surface.

Even if your fish is not a fresh catch, you’ll want kind cover as there will be scales and bits of fish that come off during the filleting process.

Bleeding

It’s important to remove as much blood as you can from a fresh catch. If not, you will lose out on some of the quality and taste your walleye might have. It’s also a lot harder to fillet a walleye if it is full of blood, as there will be a lot of mess to clean up. 

Firstly, make an incision with your knife under the fish’s gills. The gills are the part just under what would be the walleye’s neck. After this, pull the fish’s head backward sharply to break its spinal cord.

Let it drain over water or a sink for 3 to 5 minutes. After this, you might want to store your fish on ice if you have this available, but you can start preparing it right away if you like.

Related: How To Eat Crab Legs And Enjoy It

First Cuts

How To Fillet A Walleye

With walleyes, especially a big catch, there is a lot of meat in their cheeks. We recommend removing their cheeks which can be done with a gentle cut around their cheekbone. Once the meat is free, it should peel right off of the skin. After this, turn the fish over and do the exact same thing on the other side.

Here you will have two small scallop-shaped cuts of meat that many people might miss.

After this, you’ll want to place your knife inside the fish’s back, just above where the cheek meat was just cut off. This is much easier with a filleting knife, but either way, you run your knife down the length of its back all the way to its tail.

This will separate the fillets on each side of the fish from its spine. 

Ribcage

So we’ve separated the fillets from the spine, but we need to separate the ribcage next. Make sure to check exactly where your fish is still connected, and consider making additional incisions if you have to.

Check your fish for its main backbone and run your knife all the way along with it, separating the connecting ribcage. At this point, you will hear a cracking sound which will be your knife severing the ribcage and the backbone.

At this point, you’ll be able to remove the fillet.

But wait - don’t do that yet! Keeping the first fillet on will allow you to do the step you just did on the other side much easier. So flip your walleye over and sever the ribcage from the backbone just as you did before.

Once this is done, you’re ready to remove the two fillets from your fish.

Fillets

Cut behind the gill cover, and after this, you can begin to cut around the ribcage and the down. Providing you’ve done all of the previous cuts correctly, your fillet should come right off. If you find yourself struggling - don’t panic!

Just look at your fish for a moment and consider why the fillet is not coming off as it should. Once you’ve realized why, make small incisions to ensure that it will come off easily.

After this, do the exact same on the other side, and you will have two fillets on your cutting board/work surface that will look almost (hopefully) identical.  

Skin On Or Skin Off

So far, you should have two walleye fillets with their skin still on. If you’re looking to remove the scales, then you will want to perform one final step to help you on your way. This part can be fiddly, so read closely.

To remove the skin, you will want to push down on one corner of your fish with a finger or pair of fingers. Next, take your knife and push it down into the meat of the fish right next to your fingers.

Slowly guide your knife and slide it between the skin and the fish without easing any pressure. Continue to do this and slide your knife all the way to the end. If you do this right, then the skin should slide right off! 

Final Thoughts

Filleting your first walleye can be difficult, but we hope this guide has helped you understand each step of the process and how simplistic it is once you learn. With a little bit of practice, you’ll be filleting fish no problem, ready for eating.

As with all things involving knives, make sure you take care every step of the way not to cut yourself or ruin the fish! Slower is always safer! Happy fishing and cooking! 

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