It’s important to have sharp knifes and to keep them sharp when you’re filleting fish of this size. Having the correct knife for each task keeps the knives sharper longer and makes processing the fish faster because you have the correct tools for the job!
The 12″ Slicing Knife is what we used to take the skin off of the meat.
The 8″ Wavy Edge Bread Knife is what was used to remove the diamonds/spikes from the outside of the fish.
The 10″ Butcher Knife was used for miscellaneous duty throughout the video.
The 9″ flexible fillet knife is what was used for removing the ribs and trim work.
The Victorinox/Forschner honing steel you see in the video is the best money can buy, you will be amazed at the edge this steel can put on a knife and keep on a knife. If your knives are very dull you may even consider buying a diamond steel for heavy duty sharpening and then the honing steel for getting and maintaining that razors edge.
Learning how to fillet a large sturgeon like a pro takes quite a bit of practice but if you follow these steps and take your time you will find that the end result is a great looking fillet with little to no waste.
Andy: The first thing that we’re going to do is remove the scutes on the sides and on the back. We cut them off the back because it actually exposes the line that you cut down and this last one on the head is kind of tough to get off, you’re going to have to put a little pressure on it. Remove the fins so we don’t have to cut around them.
I’m putting quite a bit of pressure on this knife to get these diamonds off, but if you hold your knife flat you’re not going to cut into the fish. If you hold your knife flat, and scrape, they’ll come right off without cutting in.
Kevin: Andy, why do you cut the scutes off?
Andy: The reason you cut them off is because when you go to skin it, the scutes will actually push down into the meat when you lay the meat onto the table and then the knife will catch on every one as you’re skinning and you’ll end up cutting through the skin and that really puts an extra twist on your skinning.
So that’s how we prepare it.
I want to show you this line here that we’re going to cut down. Right here, you see this? Where you’ve got white then yellow then white, that’s the line we cut down and I start right here at the dorsal fin, and I’m only going to in about a quarter of an inch just to get my cut started and I’m going to cut down both sides on that line. And again, just going about a quarter of an inch. Then I’m going to come back through and I’m straight down with the knife, perfectly straight down and absolutely straight.
Once you get down there about half an inch you can actually angle that knife a little bit against that center to make sure that you keep going straight down.
And eventually what you do is you start hitting the top of the ribs. You can feel the knife going “tap tap” on the top of the ribs on both sides.
If you open that up you can actually see that the ribs start to go out. So you get it to that point and then with just a little extra pressure you go right through the ribcage on each side and you end up like this when you’re opening this thing up and you’ve separated the ribs on both sides.
At this point I turn it over, cut around the gill plate, poke my knife through and come right down to the tail and cut that off. Going through the ribs, it lays open like that. Then you come back through with the knife and just cut through that little stomach liner.If you hold this thing up to the light you can actually see the white line there, that’s the very dead center of the belly and it’s paper thin and that will just cut right off like that and there’s your one side.
When you flip it over this side is already started, there’s no guess work or flopping around. This is actually completely separated here, you just put your knife in and go right down the back there. You flip that side over then again just cut through that stomach liner and your fillet is off. You didn’t cut the head off, you didn’t have to gut it, everything (head, guts, backbone, etc) is still intact.
Rinse the table.
Ok, so then you flip this thing over and right where the fin is there, where the anal is, you just cut that off and you cut right down the edge of those diamonds and you cut that little belly strip off. There’s nothing there. By the time you skin each side you’re not wasting any meat, there’s just nothing there to save. The same thing here you just cut right down that diamond line, right past that fin and get rid of all that.
To skin it, we’re just going to go through it here like you would any other fish and remove the skin. Now there’s some tricks to it. You want to put some pressure on this. I’m pulling on this tail and I’m putting a lot of pressure on it. Almost as much pressure pulling on the skin as pushing on the knife and just kind of walk it through and it’ll come right off of there.
The way I like to do it is I leave the ribcage on this side because it supports this meat while you’re trimming the red meat. If you cut the ribs off first, this will concave and it makes it very hard to trim off.
What I’m going to do is pull on this, kind of straighten it out, but putting a little pressure on there. I’m using a very flexible knife that bends and where this bends at the bottom of the curve is where it’s going to cut and I’m going to push down on it. Again I’m going to keep the knife very flat. If you get it at an angle you’re going to cut into the meat and if you get it up you’re going to pop it up though, but if you keep it very flat and just give it little tiny see saw action and then control where the deepest part of the bend is, then you can walk that knife right down it and take that whole thing off, that little paper thin strip and it just goes from red to white on a paper thin strip. And I’m going to follow that edge and I’m just going to keep cutting down.
Kevin: Andy, why do you take the fat off?
Andy: The fat has a very strong fishy taste to it and it’s just overpowering and will just make it taste fishy. If you get this red off, and you don’t have to get every tiny speck off, but if you get the bulk of it off it improves the quality of the fish a 1000 times.
Then I also cut from the tail to the head. There is a bit of a grain to this meat and it seems to come off smoother and nicer if you’re going from tail to head, but the last little bit of the tail here, you have to spin it around and get that stuff. The hardest part is the tip of the tail, that red kind of ingrains pretty deep in there.
Now, we’re going to wedge this center line out and I’m going to keep my knife flat. You’re not going to cut into it like this because you’ll cut into it too deep. My handle is actually going to ride against the skin and I’m going to cut in there at about a 45 and I’m just going to walk it right down like that and I’m going to turn it over on this side and do the same thing.
And then sometimes you’ve got to cut through there a second time and then you wedge that out. You don’t want to cut too deep, you can always go back through and hit it a second time if you don’t cut deep enough but you don’t want to cut too deep on your first pass and end up wasting a lot of your good quality meat. So at this point I’m going to flip it over and take these ribs off. I’m going to switch places because I can only cut one way.
Again, the knife can only cut one way. I’m going the lay knife as flat as I can and I’m just going catch right under the rib and just pull it along the rib and just make a couple of lengthy cuts down here, and I’m actually putting a lot of pressure on that knife and the more pressure I put on it the shallower it cuts. If you don’t put enough pressure it it’ll either walk into the meat or pop up through, but the more pressure you put on it, it’ll actually stay flat. And that’s the ribs and then again the same thing here – I’m just going to walk that down and trim that off.
If it’s red, this is the front shoulder where that main pectoral fin is and you want to cut that little chunk of red off. Trim up any bits of remaining stomach liners. This is the fletching of off the dorsal fine but you end up with a nice fillet here.
If you want to hit any last little spots like you’ve got a little spot like this, the trick is to make that spot the highest spot so I’m going to put the fish in my hand and I’m going to curl it up and make that spot high and then I’m just going to shave that right of without gauging or taking anything off. I’m going to raise that, make that the highest spot in the meat and just peel it just like you’re peeling a potato.
That’s a pretty clean piece of meat and that’s how you fillet a sturgeon.
Make sure the batteries are charged, or that you have additional batteries. Make sure that the camera is accessible and not hidden away in the bottom of some bag, cameras that are out to get used, get used. Even if you aren’t good at taking photos, you will eventually luck into a good one every now and then just because you’re taking a lot of them.
What this means is that in order to tell the dimensions and size of an object in a photo you must have something in the photo that has a known dimension that the viewer can relate the main content to. For example, if you have a 40 pound Chinook salmon laying on the floor of the boat without anything else in the photo then it’s going to look just like a 20 pound salmon or a 30 pound salmon. Take that same fish and hold it up in front of you and now all of a sudden you have created perspective. The viewer has something they can measure the fish against and realizes that “Wow! You caught a huge fish!”
Not many people realize this but the optical zoom function of your camera magnifies the subject by stacking more lenses together to magnify the scene and in doing so makes the image darker. The glass lenses while being extremely clear still have some opaqueness and when you add more lenses by zooming in your going to make the photo darker. Instead of zooming in step forwards and backwards to fill the frame with the subject. Allow a little bit of the background on the top and the sides to be present in the photo but don’t allow the background to be a major portion of the photo because it will draw the viewer’s attention away from the main subject.
This is when the fish has its best color and rigor hasn’t set in stiffening the fish and making it appear unnaturally shaped.Taking the picture at the end of the day next to the garage or kneeling down in the yard takes much away from what could have been a great photo if you had just taken a minute or so to capture it when the fish was fresh, the moment was recent, and the scenery was great.
The sun should be at the photographers back. Trying to take the photo with the sun shining into the lens of the camera will cause the subject to be dark and under exposed because the camera had to compensate for the extreme light in the background. Another great tip is to turn on the cameras flash when the sun is high overhead the flash eliminates or lessens the facial shadows that are created by ball caps etc. Also if the sun is high overhead try to take the picture in the shade, this can work great on the shore but isn’t always practical in a boat.
Give your eyes a few moments to adjust so you’re not squinting. By beeing able to see your eyes, this allows the viewer to have a more personal connection with the photo.
Nobody cares how strong you are, holding the fish with one hand doesn’t make the photo look cool, it actually makes the fish look lighter in weight and often times places the fish off to the side of the angler reducing the photos perspective, making the fish look smaller, and drawing the viewer’s eye away from the fish. Hold it with both hands, and hold it in front of you.
Don’t cover the fish’s face up with your hands, if you must hold the fish by its head try to keep your hands on the backside of the fish’s face out of site of the camera.
If you’re holding the fish vertical, then hold it vertical. If you’re holding the fish horizontal, then hold it horizontal. It’s simple, hold it straight up and down or hold it level. Don’t hold it at an angle, its either 90° or 180°. However it is okay to hold the fish tilted toward the camera as long as you maintain the horizontal or vertical plane, doing this can add depth to the photo allowing the viewer to get a better perspective of the fishes size.
The fish also needs to be held squarely, meaning no bellies and no backs. Square the fish up, if the fish is tilted back showing the belly, nobody sees the true dimensions and colors of the fish and the same holds true if it is tilted forward showing mostly its back. As a general rule of thumb, you should be able to see an equal amount of belly and back.
Act like the fish isn’t heavy … pretend it’s not slimy … and most of all hold on tight! It’s hard to smile while doing all of this but smiling is the most important part of all! If you’re not going to smile, then don’t even bother taking the photo. Look at it this way, the viewer sees someone holding a fish, smiling, and really looking like they are having a good time. The mental image that comes to their mind is “That looks like so much fun! What a great looking fish!” And maybe even “What am I doing here? I should be out fishing and catching one like that!” Alternatively when the viewer sees a photo of an angler holding a fish and not smiling, then depending on the viewer a non-smiling expression could be taken as a scowl, and either way the viewer is left with the impression that”I’m not having any fun … its just another fish, I’ve caught a million of them.” And potentially “Why did he even bother to take that picture, he’s not excited, probably just wants wants to brag.” So smile, it doesn’t take much effort and it really really makes an average picture look great!
It’s less likely that the subject will be blinking in multiple photos and this also allows you (at least on digital cameras) to preview the previous photo and to correct something that you may not have noticed before.
Remember the subject can’t see themselves and don’t realize that many of these things aren’t happening. Definitely make sure that you thank the subject when they put all of this together and do it right, making great pictures isn’t easy at first and when they do it right make sure you let them know! “Hey that’s going to make a great picture! Good job!” A little praise goes a long ways toward getting them to take the time to pose again.
When I talk about working harder at fishing, it’s not always intuitive what this means, but let me give you some ideas.
Get to the dock earlier.
Leave the dock later.
Work your rod like a maniac, keeping it in the zone and fishing effectively. Make fishing the primary priority and relaxing secondary.
Keep your bait fresh by changing it way more often than you think you should.
Talk to other fishermen.
Fish more days out of the year.
Fish with new people.
Fish with fishing guides.
Study the charts.
Know the tide table.
Try new things, be willing to change.
Try old things again, be willing to change but don’t forget the things that have worked before.
Take note of changing patterns from year to year and from day to day.
Stay focused and driven, but remember it’s supposed to be fun.
Working harder gets increased results. Some folks like to talk about working smarter as well. Some folks have the ability to work smarter and some don’t. I have known a lot of folks over the years that are lacking in the smarts department but still hands down out produce the geniuses because they are just willing to put in more effort day in and day out.
Working hard isn’t always fun and working hard is almost never easy, but if you want to catch more fish and have more success then there is definitely a way to make it happen. Start today, make it a habit and a lifestyle, and the next thing you know it’s no longer work it’s just the way you are.
Fishing where the sturgeon are may seem like an obvious statement, yet I can’t tell you how many times I see anglers fishing in areas that just don’t hold sturgeon or aren’t holding sturgeon at that particular time. Sturgeon are a very mobile fish, they move on the tides, they move to follow food, and they move to stay comfortable. These fish move a lot and they aren’t always moving where you expect them to be moving!
One of the best tools that an angler can have when pursuing sturgeon is a very good high end digital fish finder, such as the new Lowrance HDS series or a digital Humminbird or Furuno. It not only pays to have one of these units, but it pays even higher dividends if you really know how to use it. Read the manual, go out on the water and practice with it (not while fishing), and then read the manual again. These units are complex but they aren’t impossible to use, and a little bit of practice and reading goes a long ways!
Another tried and true approach to finding sturgeon, especially sturgeon that are willing to bite, is fishing in water that has adequate flow. As a general rule of thumb, big sturgeon are found in big fast-moving water. If you go to Bonneville your going to find that the big fish are in the fast water and the little fish are in the slower moving side areas and eddies. If your on the Willamette fish closer to the center of the river, the middle of the river has more flow. Big sturgeon like to eat big food and it takes a pretty good amount of current to move big food!
Keeping your sturgeon bait fresh … again pretty simple stuff, but it doesn’t matter if I’m salmon fishing, steelhead fishing, or sturgeon fishing, I see anglers trying to use their bait for way too long. I can understand the mindset that causes this behavior, it’s one of two things or a combination of both; “Well the fish aren’t biting right now, so my baits fine” or trying to conserve on bait because it’s expensive. The end result is the same,you’re not as likely to catch sturgeon on old milked out bait, as you are on fresh bait, or fresh out of the package bait.
Three things make sturgeon bait fish well; guts , blood, and slime coat. If the guts are missing from your sand shrimp or smelt/anchovy then the majority of its sturgeon attracting ability is gone. The same thing goes for the blood, a huge amount of the blood is in the guts and gills, when the blood is gone then the bait isn’t bait anymore it’s just a little fish on your hook.
The third thing really only applies to smelt and anchovies, and this is the slime coat. The slime coat is the outer protective coating that each fishes skin and scales are covered with. This slime coat is their first line of defense against infection from parasites and other nasty things that want to hurt them. When we smell a fish after touching or being close to it, it’s the slime coat that we smell, it’s this same slime coat that allows other fish to smell it when it’s used as bait. When the slime coat is gone, the bait doesn’t feel slimy anymore; it just feels like wet bait. Freezer burnt sturgeon bait and bait that has been soaked too long on the end of the line have both lost their slime coat, and should be changed out.
Don’t be this guy, “My bait looks just fine, I don’t need to change it.” I hear this all the time from my customers, many of whom have their own boat and are avid fishermen, and every time I smile and say “It’s not how it looks, it’s how it smells.” At least half of the sturgeon baits fish catching ability lies in the way it smells, and for you salmon fisherman out there, the herring’s flash and vibration attracts the fish but it is the smell of freshly baited herring that seals the deal.
Again don’t be that guy, change your bait often! Change your bait twice as often as you think you should, and if you want to catch even more fish then change your bait three times as often as you think you should! This is super effective and it’s not a secret, it’s just work, and yes, extra bait money.
Sturgeon fishing on anchor is not the same as salmon fishing on anchor. The old adage of “Well they have to come through here sooner or later”, which is often applied to salmon fishing, simply does not hold true with sturgeon. If you’re not catching sturgeon for at least 45 minutes, then you need to move. Don’t sit there with all the other boats that are around you, (who are also not catching anything) and announce that “well the sturgeon must just not be biting”. Wrong. The sturgeon are biting somewhere, and they are biting for somebody, make that somebody you.
Even if you don’t know where to move to, still get up and move. Anything is better than staying where the sturgeon aren’t, at a minimum you will learn some new locations or be able to eliminate some locations.
Red hooks stay sharp the longest, but they don’t stay red, the red gets worn away and you see a goldish silver plating. Black hooks work almost as well as red hooks and they retain their black coloring. Personally I prefer black hooks over red hooks when sturgeon fishing.
Sturgeon leader material doesn’t have to be Dacron. Dacron has long been the de facto standard for sturgeon leaders, the only problem with Dacron besides being moderately expensive, is it just doesn’t last. Dacron has a tendency to fray under normal use, and has a strong tendency to fray when rubbing up against the head of a large sturgeon. In the last year I have switched from Dacron leaders to leaders made from braided line such as Tuff Line, Power Pro, or Sufix. I only use 120 to 130 pound braided line. After switching to nothing but braid for my sturgeon leaders, I have found that these leaders outlast the hooks, which is a new problem, typically the Dacron would get fuzzy and require a whole new set up to be tied long before the sturgeon hooks ever got dull.
Sturgeon can be very light biters, and if they’ve been pressured hard then they know that the resistance they feel when they pull on the bait means they’re in for a quick ride to the surface. You don’t want sturgeon to feel resistance when they are biting the bait. Using a really stiff rod hinders you in two ways, it keeps you from seeing the light bites, and it makes the sturgeon spit out your bait because they feel the rod.
Sturgeon fishing in some areas such as the Columbia below Bonneville Dam require a heavy sturgeon rod, but a heavy rod doesn’t have to have a really stiff tip. If you’re going to fish Bonneville, find a rod with lots of backbone but with a tip that has similar flexibility to your salmon rod. If you’re sturgeon fishing other areas such as the Willamette or the main stem Columbia then use your medium action salmon rod.
Just one quick note on being a good sportsman, these light tipped medium action rods can definitely land big 8, 9 and 10 foot sturgeon, but it’s extremely hard and very unfair to the sturgeon to try to do so while remaining on anchor in all but the slowest water current. There is a reason you have a buoy ball on your anchor line and it’s not just to help you pull in your anchor; throw the rope, drift out, fight that big sturgeon quickly, and then come back to your anchor. Getting these big sturgeon in as quickly as you can is what is best for the sturgeon’s health and best for the longevity of our sturgeon fishery.
When sturgeon fishing, some people don’t know how long they should fight big sturgeon, a good time frame of should be less than 30 minutes anywhere outside of Bonneville. Bonneville sturgeon fishing requires heavy lead in deep fast-moving water and this can make landing those big sturgeon in 30 minutes much harder. However it can definitely be done, my rule at Bonneville is to not fight a sturgeon over an hour. If you can’t pressure a sturgeon hard enough to get him in an adequate amount of time then you need to hand the rod off to someone else and take turns fighting him.
WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE
600 Capitol Way North, Olympia, WA 98501-1091
March 02, 2010
Contact: Pat Pattillo, (360) 902-2705