While I throw my bass back, especially on a lake on the rebound like Kentucky Lake, when I go panfishing, especially in the fall and winter, I’m going to feed my family. Or to have friends over. And I don’t freeze fish anymore. Mostly because I feel like I can go catch fish to eat 12 months out of the year and I keep my best fillet knife sharp and handy at all times. I’m not a fish hoarder either. I catch what my wife and I will eat that week. Or if I’m having friends out I will catch a bigger mess. But don’t get me wrong, I’ve cleaned thousands of crappie, bluegill, shell crackers, white bass, bass, sauger and more. And I’ve used just about every knife out there at some point or another. So I feel like I can recommend a bunch of good knives that will get the job done on any budget.
OUR PICKS FOR BEST FILLET KNIVES
- Best Overall Fillet Knife and Cordless Lithium Fillet Knife: Rapala R12 HD Lithium
- Best Quiet Electric Fillet Knife: Bubba Lithium-Ion Cordless Fillet Knife
- Best Corded Electric Fillet Knife Kit: Mr. Crappie Slab-O-Matic Electric Fillet Knife
- Best Fixed Blade Fillet Knife: Rapala Fish ‘n Fillet Knife Classic, True Syk Fillet Knife
- Best Budget Fillet Knife: Dexter Narrow Fillet Knife, Rapala Hawk Fillet Knife
- Best Folding Fillet Knife: Toadfish Stowaway Folding Fillet Knife, Opinel Slim Series Fillet Folding Knife
BEST OVERALL FILLET KNIFE
Rapala R12 Heavy Duty Lithium Fillet Knife
We have run a lot of electric, corded and cordless alike, and more recently the lithium options that provide longer cutting times, less recharging cycles and clean cutting power for a long lifespan. The Rapala R12 Heavy Duty Lithium Fillet Knife is the best out there in our opinion right now. It features a long run time on a single charge. I go weeks during the prime fish cleaning seasons without charging. I have cleaned thousands of crappie and bluegills with the Rapala R12 HD knife over the last two years and it’s still going strong.
You can read our full review of the Rapala R12 Heavy Duty Lithium Fillet Knife for the full details on it.
- Best torque of any cordless fillet knife
- Fast oscillation speed for cleaner cuts
- Good HD blades
- Works with previous Rapala blades
- Long use cycle on single charge
- Extra battery
- A bit louder than some other cordless
BEST QUIET ELECTRIC KNIFE
Bubba Lithium Cordless Fillet Knife
Another high-end lithium cordless electric fillet knife, the Bubba Lithium-Ion Cordless Fillet Knife is a quiet-operating, clean-cutting knife that can get you nice fillets in minutes. There is an upgraded PRO Kit that is the beefed up version of this kit but it’s also $50 more expensive. We still like the original for its quiet operation and long battery life. This knife does have one drawback that some anglers don’t like which is a slower oscillation speed. This means you have to push the blade through the fish at a slower speed. It’s brushless motor is quiet and it makes good cuts but you have to purposely slow yourself down. The Pro Version has a faster speed and beefier gears that will tear through fish a lot quicker. But if you want a quiet knife that cuts well, this one is a good value.
- quietest cordless fillet knife
- brushless motor
- long-charge on battery
- extra battery
- good blades
- slow oscillation speed requires slower cleaning
BEST CORDED ELECTRIC KNIFE KIT
Smith’s Mr. Crappie Slab-O-Matic Electric Fillet Knife
The Mr. Crappie Slab-O-Matic features a corded electric knife that comes with an 8-inch full cutting blade and 4 1/2-inch rib bones blade both stainless steel, as well as a cutting glove, carrying bag that is vented for quick drying and airing out after cleaning. This knife saws through crappie, panfish and other game fish quickly and easily thanks to it’s 120V operation and 6-foot long cord. Throw it on an extension cord for easy use anywhere you have power. The operation is a little louder than some of the other electric knives we use, but it’s a high-output corded knife at a good price point for the kit. We especially like the custom curved 4 1/2 inch rib bone blades for quick work of rib bones when working on large piles of crappies or bluegills. It’s on sale right now for $46.
- fast cutting
- great kit, with vented quick drying bag, glove, two sheathed knives
- good price point for kit
- Nice rib bones knife blade
- louder than some other cordless electric knives
- cord limits mobility a bit
BEST FIXED BLADE FILLET KNIFE
Rapala Fish’n Fillet Knife Classic
Without question the most popular selling fillet knife of all time for cleaning fish is the Rapala Fish’n Fillet Classic Knife. The comfortable, ergonomic, grooved wooden handle and long silver blade has long been Rapala’s best seller in their knives category and for good reason. The flexible blade, leather sheath and sharp edge make quick work of your favorite table fare fish. We’ve cleaned so many fish as this is our normal pack knife on trips. I always have this knife with me when I travel and use it a lot at home too when I’m just cleaning a handfull of fish or cleaning up fillets for cooking that might have been mass cleaned with an electric blade. This is a great knife that will last you without breaking your bank—starting at $19. And even comes with a sharpener!
- affordable price
- flexible sharp blade
- great sheath
- comes with sharpener
- it’s not electric (joking)
True SYK 9-inch Fillet Knife
I was newly introduced to the True tools and knives recently and the True SWK 9-inch Fillet Knife does a great job. I ran the few knives that were new to me through piles of fish recently to see how well they cut, flexed and did the delicate work around rib bones and through skin. This knife has a carbon steel blade that has a medium flex but holds an edge really well thanks to the hollow ground construction. The ceratoke coating adds to the life and durability of the blade and actually seemed to help the blade through the meat for very nice close cuts on fish. This curved knife comes with a matching curved hard plastic sheath made from recycled ocean plastic with a belt clip for easy access to your knife while filleting and working. The soft tacky comfort grip is nice to cut with when you’re dealing with wet slippery fish. It’s at the high end of the price range for a fixed blade of this build at $39.
- Very good cutting edge
- flexible blade
- easy to spot if dropped
- comfortable grip
- price on the high side
BEST FOLDING KNIFE
Opinel Slim Folding Fillet Knife
The Opinel Slim Series aka the Effie’s line of folding fillet knives offer one of the most elegant solutions to filleting fish. These knives feature a Sandvik 12C27 Stainless Steel for the blades which inhibits rust and corrosion and can be resharpened and maintained with natural oils. The real wood handles are stylish and ergonomic while also being easily folded and carried in a pocket or bag. Their unique Vibrolock locking ring offers a one of a kind locking mechanism that keeps the knife rigid while in use.
These knives are still handmade in the Savoie Region of France just as they have been since 1890. It’s an incredible knife for the money. You can get the 10 inch for $21. This is the 12 size with a 5-inch blade in the photo. They cut smooth and easily and flex perfectly to remove all of the meat from the skin and bones.
- Elegant design
- Real wood handle and quality blade
- Great price for a custom feeling knife
- Lots of size options
- Comfortable ergonomic handle
- great blade-locking mechanism
- Can’t be cleaned in a dishwasher. Needs to be hand washed and air-dried to preserve wood handle.
ToadFish Stowaway Folding Fillet Knife
Another knife I’ve just recently been introduced to is the Toadfish Stowaway Folding Fillet Knife. I like to keep a good folding knife in my boat as I will sometimes just stop at a fish cleaning station on the lake and cut up a couple fish on my way in so I don’t have the mess at home to deal with. Piece of advise, keep Ziploc bags in your boat and know where a couple good cleaning stations are on your lake. As long as you clean up after yourself, most resorts don’t mind you cleaning there. But the knife is very well made. The blade opens and closes easily and locks in place well. They use razor sharp Japanese Stainless-Steel blades with a beautiful black finish and the knife features a carabiner on the end to hook onto your belt loop or tackle pack to have handy anytime. The knife is heavy duty with a nice tacky comfort grip for easy handling. I cut up a dozen crappie this weekend with it and liked how sharp the blade was out of the package. It made very clean, close cuts and made quick work of those crappie.
- nice folding design
- carabiner clip
- comfort soft grip
- Japanese stainless-steel blades are very sharp
- quality of build
- higher than some folding knives on price
BEST BUDGET KNIFE
Dexter Narrow Fillet Knife
I have used the Dexter boning and fillet knives for more than a decade. I used the orange handle ones for cutting up game forever and finally broke down and bought the white handled ones for filleting. These are sharp knives but they take a sharpening very well so you can keep them sharp for a long time. Full disclosure I would get my old boning knives from a friend who has a buddy that works for a meat processing plant and after they put so many edges on them with their industrial sharpeners they have to retire the knives. I would get these “retired” knives and fillet several more years with them. Yeah I’m that cheap. Ha!
Seriously the Dexter knives are legendary for their steal and edges. The comfortable hard rubber composite grips offer a great hold for a no-slip cut with slimy fish. I highly recommend folks have a Dexter in their cleaning bag for carving up game and fish. And for $13 you really can’t go wrong!
Rapala Hawk Knife
This Rapala Hawk Fillet Knife is arguably the cheapest fillet knife that does a good job. It’s made of stainless steel with a medium flex blade. It holds a decent edge and comes with a plastic sheath. It has a molded hard plastic handle so not as comfortable as some of the other fixed blades but it has a very good finger guard to keep your forefinger from the blade if your hand should slip while cutting. It’s a 6-inch blade that cuts well enough to get the job done. So if you really don’t care that much or clean many fish and just want the best budget option, this is probably your knife.
- cheapest available that does a good enough job
- good for a few fish here and there
- good trigger guard
- not as comfortable as higher price-point options
- not as sharp out of the box as some of the other options
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A GOOD FILLET KNIFE FOR FISH
There are a few key aspects and components in a good fillet knife for cleaning fish. Let’s quickly run through those to help you evaluate which knife is best for you.
Blade Length – This is one of the important aspects of a fillet knife for fish. Mostly you don’t want a super long knife for small fish or a short knife for wide or tall fish because it makes the job of filleting very cumbersome. A 5 to 7-inch blade is great for panfish and small bass while an 8 to 12-inch blade is great for bigger freshwater species like walleye, salmon, catfish, striper, etc. While we often clean crappie with a 9 inch blade, that’s mostly because a 2-pound crappie is very tall so the longer knife blade helps. So basically a smaller height fish a smaller blade and taller fish a longer blade.
Flexibility – this is the double-edged sword in filleting fish, pun intended. You want a knife to be flexible to make precision cuts along bones and around rib cages, etc. But you need the blade to be sturdy to cut through tougher fish, skin, scales, etc. So for bigger, tougher-hide fish, you want a less flexible knife and for smaller, thinner skinned fish you want a more flexible blade. This is why many fixed blade and electric knives opt for a medium flex blade.
Blade design – So the design of the blade can help with filleting fish. Stainless steel blades are very popular for filleting fish. This is because you are often cutting and keeping your knife wet. It’s in wet environments cutting on wet things. So you want a blade that inhibits rust. It’s also why you see a lot of blades are coated on fillet knives made for fish. It’s also why we don’t often take a kitchen cutlery fillet knife and clean fish with it. My best fillet knife I own is actually in my kitchen and I never cut fish with it because the blade is not made of a material that resists rust as well. So I clean and dry it immediately after every use.
Electric vs fixed blade – Electric knives have become very popular especially with the advent of lithium power. So no you have an ultra portable knife that can rip through a pile of fish quickly and effortlessly. While I still maintain that a fixed blade will get more meat off of a fish, the electric knife can take a long job of cleaning 40 crappie and turn it into 20 minutes of work. Instead of an hour of work. But I still use a fixed blade and folding knife a good bit. Because like I say, I can get ever speck of meat off a small fish with my fixed blade where there is a little more waste with electric due to speed and sawing that chews through the meat as much as cuts it. So it’s a question of speed or maximum meat salvage.