How to

Fish Filleting 101

Fishing About with Steve Cooper

ANGLING has evolved a long way since the 1960s, although not in the biological science sphere of Charles Darwin. A mighty long cast, and a serious leap of faith, would be required to link angling’s evolution to Darwinism.

Angling is more a way of life with values and beliefs that are closer to philosophy than science. I credit some significant events as catalysts for change during the past half 50 years.

First and foremost was the formation of the Australian National Sportfishing Association (, or ANSA, as it is known. The organisation was formed in February 1967 in Cairns, and the first president was that doyen of outdoor writers, Vic McCristal. Fishing World founder Ron Calcutt took every opportunity back in the early days to promote ANSA and sportfishing.

In those days, McCristal and Calcutt were fishing gurus. Young anglers, myself included, joined up to be a part of an organisation that promoted the new sportfishing ethos. Being young, we were impressionable and wanted more out of our fishing than killing. Sportfishing was seen as the ultimate challenge: angler against fish with the odds favouring the finned battlers. Mostly we steered an altruistic course; the bloodfest of competitions where success was measured in fish carcasses was not for us. We were sportfishers, and didn’t have a blood lust. Well, almost. Some days we went feral and slipped back into old ways, killing more fish than we could use.

In 1974 McCristal, far and away Australia’s most accomplished outdoors writer, stunned the fishing world with his book Rivers and the Sea. The book was thought provoking, forthright and environmentally insightful. Rivers and the Sea was a timely release that fitted snugly in the mood of the moment and changed the way many anglers, at least those who read the book, looked at our fishing environment.

The next major impact came from the Bearded Burbler, old Yibbidy Yibbidah himself: Rex Hunt. From the moment Rex kissed and released his first fish on television, the fishing scene changed forever. Overnight, catch & release fishing became the cool scene on all waters.

In the ensuing years to about 2002 the changes slowed. The industry introduced major tackle innovations, including Yo-Zuri squid jigs, Shimano Baitrunner reels, and Shakespeare Ugly Stik (solid tip) rods. Technology went ahead and black and white paper sounders gave way to electronic units that were in colour and came with GPS and other gadgetry that included tide charts and water temperature gauges.

Regarding fish handling, the Environet and lip gripping tools came to the fore for those who wanted to catch fish and keep them in good health to return to the water.

The biggest change was a soft plastic lure revolution driven by Shimano through noted anglers Steve Starling and Kaj Busch. Plastics weren’t new, but they became an overnight sensation, one that attracted hordes of young anglers, most adopting catch & release. Plastics then were lures with additives; today many plastics are moulded foodstuffs with additives – in other words they are bait.

A couple of years back a columnist suggested some of the new age soft plastic lure brigade probably couldn’t bait a hook or fillet a fish. If you use lures ad nauseam, and practise catch & release, then these baiting and fish cleaning skills are redundant.

The strong emphasis on catch & release doesn’t suit everyone. Many anglers quite rightly fish for a feed. This is as it should be. There is nothing wrong with taking a fish for the table; isn’t that how fishing started?

Hidden away under every Columbia shirt or Goretex jacket there is a primitive hunter and gatherer willing the angler to take a fish. The world keeps turning and anglers continue to evolve. For those who don’t know how to fillet fish for the table,  the following may help.

To find the best way to clean fish I contacted old mate and former professional fish filleter, Roger Lewry. The  photos opposite show the simple technique for filleting reasonable sized fish like bream, pinkies, yellowbelly, salmon, and trevally.  The method can be adapted to suit most fish species and will give you clean, boneless fillets with little waste.

The basic requirements for cleaning fish are cotton gloves, a cutting board and a sharp knife with a thin flexible blade for cutting along the backbone and removing the skin. Cotton gloves make holding onto slippery fish while cleaning them a whole lot easier. 









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