Introduction: How to Fillet a Fresh Caught Salmon

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This is an Instructable on how to fillet a salmon that is fresh caught out of the river. Keep in mind that these salmon were caught less than two hours before we cleaned them. Also we leave the skin so it can be grilled, but they are scaled. Also this Instructable will show you how to recover the roe (eggs) and milt (sperm sacs) of the fish.

A way to tell if you have a male or a female fish before cutting it open is by looking at the head of the fish. Males have a more pointed jaw and females are more rounded. The top fish in the first photo is a male and the other three are female. Sometimes it is hard to tell because fish can be in different stages of changing as well as different sizes. A smaller male fish might look like a female if its jaw has not yet extended.


a fillet knife (If you have two, we use one to scale the fish and one to fillet it.)

a fresh salmon (This technique could be used to fillet other fish, but we have not caught any on which to try it.)

a fish cleaning station (This may be provided where you fish, or you may have to go home to clean them. Make sure your space is large enough for the fish.)

a fish cleaning mat (This is optional, but it helps keep the fish from sliding around when cleaning it.)

Step 1: Remove the Anal Fins and Scale the Fish

The anal fins are a pair of fins located near the rear of the fish. To remove these fins place your knife behind the anal fins, make a small cut down and run the knife parallel to the fins. Once these fins are removed, dispose of them properly.

Once the fins are removed, scale the fish. As you can see, we did not do this on this fish, and it made it a lot harder to scale.

To scale the fish, you need to place a dull fillet knife (or a sharp one if you do not have more than one) near the tail of the fish and run it down the skin toward the head. Do this repeatedly, and with a fast repeated motion, to completely scale the fish. Make sure that you scale both sides of the fish.


You do not have to scale the fish, but salmon scales come off easily. It makes it difficult to clean the fillets and cook them if the scales are still on them.

Step 2: Cut Down the Center Off the Belly and Remove the Roe/milt

Put the fish on its back and place your knife in the anal hole. Once the knife is in, cut the fish all the way down to the mouth. This will open up the fish, and then you can reach in and remove the roe/milt.

The picture shown is the roe of the fish. This will just pull right out with a little tug. The roe is in a membrane that is tough enough to just pull out, and the milt is a firm jelly-like substance that will also take some tugging to remove.

Once you have removed the roe (or milt) from the fish, you can proceed to remove the rest of the guts with your hand, so they wont get in the way when you fillet the fish. Dispose of guts properly.

Step 3: Filleting the Fish

Now that you have gutted the fish, place your knife behind the front fin and cut down until you hit the back bone. Once you hit the back bone, place your knife horizontal and run the knife along the back bone horizontally down to the tail, cutting through the ribs. Do this on both sides to get both fillets off.

Step 4: Remove the Ribs

Once you have your fillets cut, you have to go back in and remove the ribs. To do this place your knife next to the ribs and run the knife down to the edge of the filet slowly. Make sure not to cut straight down, or you will lose a lot of the filet, instead run the knife parallel to the meat of the fish. This will remove the ribs with minimal loss of meat. Dispose of ribs properly.

After you remove the ribs, there will still be pinbones remaining in the fillets. You can remove these with tweezers, needle-nose pliers or hemostats before cooking, or you can pick them out of the fish as you eat it. Removal of the pinbones is easier after the fillets firm up in the refrigerator. Many people prefer to remove all of the bones before any cooking or preparation. Our family does.

Step 5: Properly Dispose of the Fish Parts

Here in the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska, the fish remains need to be cut up and thrown back into the river. We do this to keep the bears from tearing into the trash. Help keep bears wild. These remains are also consumed by other fish, which benfits the environment. Be sure to check your local regulations on proper disposal.

Step 6: Enjoy Your Fresh, Parted-out Salmon

Now that all of the prep is done on your fish, clean the fillets off in clean water and prepare them how you would like. These fillets are from four fish, three of which where female and one of which was male. The white stuff in the second photo is the milt of one fish, and the red stuff in the second photo is the roe of three fish.


We plan on posting more salmon-related Instructables, so if you are interested, please keep an eye out for those.

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