This sturgeon fishing video was shot on the lower Columbia River out of Astoria. We are sturgeon fishing in shallow water and had a typical day for that area during mid summer.
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.