Countless anglers fish for striped bass. They’re the most popular gamefish going! Due to this high demand, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has enforced a bag limit of one fish (28 inches minimum) for ocean-caught stripers.
Not only are they popular among anglers, they’re also popular among foodies. Why? They are beyond delicious. But, to have a chance at experiencing striped bass’ delicate flavor, you need to know how to clean and fillet it properly. There’s no point wasting a great fish now is there?
The process starts on your boat!
Once you bring this delightful gamefish aboard, unhook it and slash the red gill rakers with a knife. Don’t wait around, you want to get this done straight away!
Put it in the splash or live well and allow it to completely bleed out. This could take up to 10 minutes so try to be a little patient! While this is happening, you should get an ice-packed cooler ready to store until it’s time for cleaning.
Okay, that part was easy enough, right? Let’s get into the nitty-gritty “how-to” side of things.
How to Clean & Fillet a Striped Bass
To ensure you get the most out of your fish, you’ll need the right tools. In this case, the right knives.
A large, firm-blade knife made for filleting is the first one we’ll be using today so make sure you have this in your arsenal. Then, a thin-blade fillet knife comes into play (so, yes, you will need this too!).
Oh, we also recommend you invest in a good-quality steel mesh glove. Trust us, you’ll thank us later if the knife slips.
Have you got all your tools together? Perfect, then you’re ready to start!
Step One: Sharpen and Rinse
The first step is still an “admin” task. You’ll need to sharpen your knives and rinse the striped bass. Since we’re going to skin it, we don’t need to worry about scaling.
Step Two: The Diagonal Cut
Right, now we’re really getting into it!
With your fish on its side, grab your larger knife and cut diagonally roughly half an inch behind the gill plate. Make sure you’re diagonally line is running from the lateral line to the top.
Bear in mind that the stomach cavity isn’t far away here. Try your best to not cut into (it gets easier with practice, we promise) because it’ll release stomach acid which doesn’t taste too good!
Step Three: Dorsal Fins
Using the same knife as step two, stick the knife’s point into the first cut. It should be just above the fish’s centerline that runs down its back. Ensure the blade is facing away from the bass and cut to split the skin (not all the way through!) from the dorsal fins to the tail.
Step Four: Almost Time to Remove The Fillet
Move the blade (yep, same knife) so it’s facing the fish and start cutting down to begin taking out the fillet. You’ll notice that the fish’s bones will guide your knife here.
At this stage, you don’t want to completely remove the fillet. You just need to ensure your blade hits the backbone all the way along.
Step Five: Repeat
Now, turn the fish so it’s lying on the side you’ve just worked on because you need to repeat step two to four!
As you can probably remember, you need to:
- Make the diagonal cut behind the gill plate.
- Split the skin behind the dorsal fins and along the back.
- Cut to the backbone to start the fillet removal process.
Step Six: Time to Remove the Fillet
Yep, it’s that time.
To completely take out the fillet, you need to continue that same cut but take it all the way past the backbone and out the other side. Don’t go past the ribcage yet though!
Step Seven: Over the Ribcage
Since you’ve got the tail portion out of the way, you need to carry on removing the fillet. Simply slice over the rib cage. That’s all there is to it.
Remember, you can take it as slow and steady as you like. There are no brownie points for rushing!
Now, turn the fish onto its other side so you can take out the fillet properly.
Step Eight: Removing the Skin
Congratulations! You’ve got your striped bass fillets! But you’re not quite finished yet.
It’s easier to remove the skin if you place the fillet flat right at the edge of your table (making sure the skin is facing down). Then, begin at the tail end and cut downwards through the meat to the skin.
Once you’re there, turn the blade so it’s almost parallel to your work surface and push forward. Hold the skin at the tail end with your free hand to make life easier.
Our advice is to move the blade forwards and backwards (like you’re slicing something) so the skin comes away neatly.
Step Nine: Cut the Fillet in Half
Set the skin to the side and cut your fillet in half. By “in half” we mean lengthwise.
An easy way to do this is to follow the baby pink line running down the middle. If you’ve done everything correctly so far (we’re sure you have), you’ll have a big back strap section and the belly part.
Step Ten: Dark Meat Removal
Once you turn the fillets over, you’ll notice there is some dark meat on them. This is where your thinner fillet knife comes in to join the party.
Starting at the midpoint of the fillet, make a superficial cut that depends as the blade length overlaps the edge. Make sure you’re doing this lengthwise.
We won’t lie to you, it does take a little practice but you’ll get there! It’s better to try and fail than to have never tried at all, right?
Step Eleven: Leftover Dark Meat
This won’t get rid of all the dark meat unfortunately so you’ll have to go back in (with the same, thin-blade knife).
Remove the leftover dark stuff using the same technique you learned for removing the skin (i.e. blade parallel to your work surface, sliding back and forth along the length).
Step Twelve: Completion
Woop! You’ve only gone and filleted a striped bass!
You’ll now be staring at back strap and belly fillets from both sides of the fish (in other words, the fruits of your labor).
Depending on the size of the fish you caught, your fillets will vary. If yours are too big to cook at once, cut them into three sections before you bag them up.
Ah yes, bagging! You’ll want to do this straight away so you can get the fillets on ice and preserve the flavor. This is especially important if you’re not going to be freezing them since they need to stay as chilly as possible.
See? Cleaning and filleting doesn’t have to be too tricky!
There are, of course, many ways to fillet a fish. As you progress through your fishing career, you may well come across a way that works better or is just easier for you to get to grips with.
But however you decide to fillet, make sure you enjoy it! That’s what it’s all about, right?