How to Fillet a Catfish? The #1 Best Way to Fillet a Catfish

Precut Catfish is always the best but knowing how to fillet a catfish is a skill all fish lovers should learn!

So today we will learn everything about filleting catfish. From skinning a catfish, how to debone a catfish to the best way to fillet a catfish, this article is an all-inclusive deal.

What You Will Need:

  • A sharp and sturdy serrated knife for removing the head and tail
  • A sharp but flexible fillet knife for filleting
  • A razor blade for skinning
  • A pair of Pliers for skinning and removal of fins.
  • A piece of abrasive cloth like a burlap sack
  • A clean, hard surface

Other Helpful Tools Include:

  • Fillet gloves. Offshore Angler fillet gloves are our most favourite. They help get a better grip on fishes like catfish.
  • A vacuum sealer. This is for if you want to freeze your fish for later. Vacuuming them will help keep the meat tasting and looking fresh as new without any freezer burns.

You may also be interested in How To Make Catfish Tacos

how to fillet a catfish banner

How To Clean A Catfish?

The very first step in learning how to fillet a catfish is to clean it.

Catfish are a bunch of slimy fish. While most fish are slimy, the presence of no scales makes catfish even slimier and difficult to handle.

So we begin by addressing this issue first.

Pro tip: Before beginning make sure to wipe and clean the workstation or surface area with warm water, along with all the utensils. This will help avoid any contamination of the meat of the fish.

  • Take a piece of abrasive cloth like a burlap sack, and wipe the fish up and down with it. Make sure to be gentle and not too harsh while rubbing the slime away.
  • After this step, the fish will be noticeably easier to hold.
  • We suggest to do this particular step over a sink, to avoid the workstation being covered in slime.

In case you don’t have a coarse fabric available at hand, you can also make use of lemon and some hot water.

  • Cut a lemon and rub it over the catfish’s skin. Then run it under some lukewarm water.
  • Use a clean cloth to wipe down any residue left and it’s ready to cut.

properl cleaning the fish is essential to filleting

Skinning A Catfish:

Catfish have very thick skin and it can sometimes be hard to get. But with the right tools and techniques, skinning a catfish can be super easy.

  • Begin by using a razor blade, with which you will need to mark 6 cuts around the entire fish.
  • The first cut will be from one side fin to the other, right over the head. You will feel a bone right above the side fine. Place the tip of the razor blade there and make a fin cut all the way across the other fin.
  • Flip the fish and do the same on the downside of the fish, cutting right above the belly. This side will be a little less firm so be careful not to cut too much. Make sure the cuts are just deep enough to cut through the skin and not the flesh of the catfish.
  • Now you have a circular cut around the head and belly of the fish.
  • Now flip the fish on its belly again, and make a cut circulating the top fin. Connect this cut with the cut we made earlier, right above the head.
  • Now make another incision from the top fin straight all the way to the tail fin.
  • Now flip the fish upside down and make 2 long cuts starting from the circular cut that we made around the belly, all the way to the tail. These cuts will be made on either side of the stomach.
  • The work here for the razor is done. It’s now time to use the pliers to get the skin off.
  • Place the fish sideways and using the pliers get hold of the skin from around the cut that we made across the belly. Now the catfish has thick skin, so you will need good strength and some patience to get this done.
  • Make sure you have a good chunk of the skin in the pliers, pull at it until it starts to come off. In case it rips off in between, don’t worry, just grab it again and pull.
  • Do the same on both sides and you have a skinned piece of catfish.
catfish fillet can be used in different ways
Catfish fillet can be used in many ways

Removing The Guts Of The Catfish:

The next step includes the removal of the guts.

  • The head and the guts will come off together. For that, you will have to cut open a cavity from the belly.
  • Remember the last two cuts you made across the belly, using those cuts, cut open a cavity right under the head. Make sure to not puncture any guts. Following the cuts, cut across the flesh and you will have a nice and easy opening.
  • Once you do, turn the fish around and use a serrated knife, cut from behind the top fin, until you hit the backbone.
  • Once you hit the backbone, hold the head in one hand and the catfish’s body in the other and bend the head backwards and pull. This shall loosen the head easily and release it along with all the guts and organs.
  • Rinse thoroughly before proceeding.

Removing The Tail And Fin:

  • After rinsing the fish, use a serrated knife to separate the tail right from the edge, ensuring little to no flesh is wasted.
  • Next use the pliers to remove the fin located at the bottom of the fish, towards the side. Place one hand sturdily over the fish and using the pliers get hold of the fin and pull forcefully.
  • You will see that tiny bones will also come with it, keep pulling until the whole fin is out. Avoid breaking the fin at this point. For that a good grip is necessary.

Now you have a white pure piece of catfish meat. Ready to be filleted and deboned. So let’s show you how!

Unlike most other fish, catfish neither has scales nor small bones that need to be picked. It has a sturdy skeleton that runs in the middle and some bones lining the lower fin

How To Fillet A Catfish:

Filleting a catfish can be a bit tricky and different from how other fish are filleted. But not entirely impossible. You will need a sharp filleting knife which will both cut and guide you. This YouTube video below titled “The Best Way To Fillet a Catfish” shows how you can do this:

the best way to fillet a catfish video

Have you seen those cartoons where a cat eats a fish and burps out a skeleton? Yes, that skeleton is the exact image of what an actual fish skeleton looks like.

  • so begin by cutting the fish right through the centre. Starting from the top, move your knife all the way down gently. As you do you will feel a bony structure. Those are the ribs.
  • Now, most think the ribs are a hindrance when it comes to deboning or filleting the catfish. But I feel they are the best guide map to getting that perfect fillet.
  • Move your knife right with the ribcage and it will guide you deeper. Make swift cuts but with the utmost gentleness, separating the flesh from the rib cage.
  • Do this until you reach all the way to the end of the rib cage.
  • At this point puncture the knife through the side and slide the knife sideways, separating the fillet.
  • And there you have it, a nice and fresh piece of catfish filleted and ready to throw in that marinade, or on the grill.
  • Now, this is one fillet, for the other side of the catfish follow the same procedure. However, it will be a little difficult to handle as there will be little flesh to grip.
  • But nonetheless, follow the rib cage and keep cutting through until you have another boneless fillet of catfish, ready to cook!

How To Debone A Catfish?

Unlike most other fish, catfish neither has scales nor small bones that need to be picked. It has a sturdy skeleton that runs in the middle and some bones lining the lower fin.

Both the ribcage and the bones lining the fin will be rid of during the process of filleting so there is no further need to debone the catfish fillet as we do for fishes like salmon.

catfish fillet recipes make for healthy meals

catfish fillet recipes make for healthy meals

What To Do With Catfish Guts?

Catfish guts are both smelly and full of bacterial growth. You don’t want that to be lying around the house, any more than a dead rat. Sealing them in a double trash bag and throwing them in the trash can is one way of getting rid of but a better and more sustainable way, especially if you clean your catfish often, is to dig a deep hole in your garden or backyard and lay the remains over there.

The remains will prove good for the soil and plantation. They have plenty of trace minerals and nitrogen that are the two things that make the best fertilizer.

However, make sure to dig the catfish remains deep inside to avoid the reeking smell that could both make your garden stink and attract animals like racoons.

Now that you know how to fillet catfish, order the freshest batch from and put your skills to test. However, if skinning and filleting a catfish isn’t your forte, feel free to order from the precut, cleaned and packaged variety from your local grocery shop and have it conveniently delivered to your doorstep!

We love to hear from you!

Have you learnt anything new about how to fillet a catfish from this article? Please use the comment box below to share with you.

Festus Otasowie
Festus Otasowie
Articles: 55


  1. learning something new is always exciting to me.The whole process of skinning to deboneing seems difficult however, it can be perfected over time.

    • Hello Carol,
      Happy to hear you found this useful. Yes, I agree that the filleting process might seem a bit difficult at first but one can always master it with practice. Than you for visiting.

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