Practical Sportman Learning How To Ice Fish

By: Practical Sportman Ice Fish  09-12-2011
Keywords: Fish, Fillet Knife

Step 1: Lay fish on cutting board, I start with fish belly facing towards me. I find this side is harder to do if I start and take off other fillet first.  The second set of fins seem to get in the way and make more work.

Step 2: With knife lift fin and place blade up against back of gill plate, but on fish body. Make sure your knife is at same angle as gill plate cover.

Step 3: Cut straight down until you hit back bone. CAREFULL do NOT cut through back bone. When you get to, and knife is stopped by the back bone, turn your knife towards the tail. Hold the knife at about 45 degree angle and cut and follow the back bone to about 1 inch from the tail. STOP at about 1 inch and go slow the next step.

Step 4: Careful try not to cut through skin, thus separating fillet from fish. Cut until you are about ¾ – ½ of an inch from tail.

Step 5: Now flip the fillet and turn the tail of the fish so that fillet is laying completely flat on board. Note meat should be up and skin down.

Step 6: Place your knife on meat about ¼ inch from tail. Cut down to skin, BUT NOT THROUGH skin. But do not worry if you do see step 7b on how to do these.

Step 7a: When at skin turn your knife to face end of fish and slowly pull back on fish and move knife back and forth to start to separate meat from skin. Once it starts hold knife still and being careful not to lift skin to high away from table slowly pull fish away from the knife in a side to side motion. This will separate meat from skin.

 Step 7b: OOPS, you cut too far, the fillet is not attached to the fish. Knife was sharper than you thought is a great excuse if anyone was watching. No problem, you are filleting on a cutting board aren’t you, if not get one, spouse won’t like this next step if you do not use one.  Get a second knife with a sharp point. Simply stick tip into end of fillet and push hard against board to hold in place, now using fillet knife about ¼ inch from other cut down through meat to skin, but not through, turn knife towards end and slowly, move knife back and forth and follow skin far enough so you can grab skin.  Now hold onto skin, hold fillet knife still and slowly wiggle skin back and forth removing skin from meat.

Step 8: Alright you now have your first fillet done. Note you will see the white belly lining and rib bones attached, that is OK, just set fillet to the side out of the way, for the time being and now repeat steps 1 – 7 for the other side of the fish.  When done both sides discard the fish remains and continue filleting all your fish.

Step 9: Why do people not like to eat Northern Pike?  Bones and lots of them.  For a great feast, you want to ensure boneless northern pike fillets so no one has to pick out bones.  You have filleted all the fish, now you need to remove the bones. You can remove all the bones from Northern Pike. Removing all bones takes a little practice and time.  Follow steps 9a and 9b or bonus step for removing bones.  

Get a fillet to work on. Look at your fillet you will see the white belly with bones in them. See step 9a to remove these, and if you look close, you will see a line of white dots just above these, these are the Y bones. See step 9b to remove these. Run your finger over these. You feel and see, they are bones and all can be removed. Did you notice none of the bones go all the way to the tip of the tail but seem to end about 4 inches from the end.

Step 9a: Remove the white belly and all the rib bones. Take a good sharp filleting knife and with the tip cut along top of ribs tight up against the bone, slowly cut along and down these ribs, separating  meat from the ribs. Now do the same thing with the Y bones.

Step 9b: Take the tip of your knife and cut at an angle on one side of the Y until you reach and feel the bone, cut and follow these to the bottom of the fillet. Repeat for other side of Y bones. Now simply pull the piece away from the rest of the fish all the bones are in this scrap piece. Notice you did not go all the way to end of tail but came to end of the bones. See bonus step for this fast remove of bones.


Depending on the number of fish you caught, the number of people who are going to enjoy them, and what you plan on doing with them, then here is a faster step and what I do with Northern Pike. I enjoy a fresh meal of boneless fish and use the rest for canning.  YES, Northern Pike, are very good for canning and the finished product looks and tastes like canned Tuna.

A: When you have your fillets, I remove the rib bones as in step 9a. Then instead of step 9b, I simply cut the tail portion off where the Y bones end. Very fast way of de boning Pike.EH!

B: Put the extra fillet piece in double zip lock freezer bag and freeze. Note do not leave in freezer overly long before canning, fish freezer burns very quickly.

If, while fishing you caught 6 Northern Pike about 4 pounds each live weight, or you have frozen enough to make this amount, then you have enough to make 7 jars of canned fish.

SEE Northern Pike: A Practical Canned Fish Recipe.

Author: Greg Parkin, Practical Sportman,

Keywords: Fillet Knife, Fish

Contact Practical Sportman Ice Fish

Email - none provided

Print this page