Whether you fish every weekend or just every now and again with a friend, there is some gear that you need no matter what. When you open your tackle box you will undoubtedly see lures, bobbers, and hooks. Maybe some extra line and even a stringer if you don’t catch and release. For those of you who are really prepared you might even have a multi tool (we’ll talk about choosing one of these at a later date) or just simple pair of needle nose pliers. If you don’t have the needle nose pliers I would highly recommend them. They are invaluable when it comes to removing a barbed hook from the flesh of a fishing partner or yourself.
While all of these things are necessary, there is one thing that is still missing. No tackle box is complete without a quality fillet knife. You need that tool that is designed specifically to remove flesh from meat. So there are several qualities that you want to take into consideration as you make this decision. How big should it be? Fixed Blade or Folding? Electric or Old Fashioned…….well maybe some qualities you can figure out on your own.
In our super sized world, bigger is better. This isn’t the case as we look at fillet knives. The first question you need to ask is what do I fish for? As you can imagine a 6″ fillet knife would work perfectly on a smaller fish. So if you are pulling in crappie and blue gill, then no need to go much larger than this. For our Trout and Bass fishermen you might want to look at something a little larger, on the order of 7 to 8″. If your goal is to land the Loch Ness Monster, then you might want to think considerably larger. I think you get the idea, you are going to be better served to stick with a knife that is proportional to the type of fish you are landing.
If you are the jack of all trades kinda guy and your never sure what you’re going to pull out of the water, then the recommendation is to choose something in the 7-8″ range.
All Blades Are Not Created Equal
When we typically set out to buy a knife we look for a stainless steel blade. What we might not realize is that there are well over 100 grades or types of stainless steel. And each one has additives like Chromium, Nickel, Vanadium and Niobium that imparts specific characteristics to the metal. The idea that stainless steel is impervious to rust is also a myth. There are some grades that are more resistant than others. By now you might be thinking enough with the factoids, tell me what’s the best stainless steel to get.
I can tell you to start with that there is not a “best” stainless for your knife. It all depends on what qualities you want. You might decide that you don’t even want a stainless steel knife. We’ll take some time to review the pros and cons.
Stainless Steel is resistant to corrosion and comes in a variety of grades. They are generally very sharp out of the box, and can be used extensively before they start to dull. The major knock on stainless is that it can be very difficult to sharpen once it looses it’s edge. So keep that in mind. The stainless steel that seems to combine the best resistance to corrosion and sharpen-ability is an Alloy called CPM S30V. This stainless steel combines great flexibility with average hardness seems to be the growing alloy choice for most high end knife makers.
High Carbon Stainless Steel holds an edge and is much easier to sharpen than Stainless Steel, but will have a tendency to dull quicker than a typical stainless knife. This is the material that most of your kitchen cutlery is made from. There are two main drawbacks to this material though, due to a lower Chromium content it is often more prone to rust of not completely dried after use. It is also much more brittle than other metals due to it’s much higher carbon content, so a drop onto a rock can be very detrimental with this knife.
What you’ll soon find is that when you go to your local sporting goods store you are unlikely to find the grade of stainless steel on the knife, so your usually forced to choose a reputable name and read some reviews to make an informed decision.
Flex and Handle
The final items to consider is the flex of the blade and the handle construction. We’ll start with the flex of the blade, after all that is the point of a fillet knife. The most important rule is this, the thicker the blade generally the less flex in the blade. So for short fillet knives (7″ or less) you want a thin blade for maximum flex. If you are carving a small fish you’re going to need extreme flex to get maximum meat. You can get a little thicker with larger knives, but flex is important.
Your blade might do the cutting, but you have to hold onto your knife somehow, so let’s not overlook our handle. Wood has been the standard for years, and while it looks rustic it has some drawbacks. It can be tough to handle when it is covered with fish guts. And you don’t want handling issues when you are dealing with a sharp fillet knife. The other consideration is wood can retain smells, so there’s a good chance after a couple of uses your knife is going to smell like a dead fish.
Alternatively plastic or rubber handles aren’t as traditional, but offer some benefits that wood can’t. Plastic handles often have contoured handles for increased stability or rubberized grips to prevent slipping. They are also much easier to clean, and don’t retain that dead fish smell that wooden handles can.
I wish you good luck and happy gutting!