‘Fishing' For A Fillet Knife?
American Survival Guide|March 2021
The right tool can make unpleasant jobs more bearable.
By Dana Benner

My survival toolbox is full of items I need to keep my family and me fed and healthy. Knives of all sorts are part of that kit. Some of them include fillet knives, a style of knife that often isn’t what one thinks of for survival (and the focus of this article).

Some might say that any knife can be used to fillet a fish, and this is true to a point; but that’s like saying a rock can be used to drive a nail: Although a rock will do the job, the proper hammer will do the job better.

The same can be said when it comes to knives: Use the proper knife for the job at hand. The generally long, thin, flexible blade of a good fillet knife makes short work of a slippery fish.

Over the years, I’ve had, and used, many fillet knives. Some I really like; others, not so much. I still have, and regularly use, some of these knives.

This article will discuss what I consider my five favorite fillet knives.

Many people believe you have to spend a great deal of money for a quality knife. Honestly, my hands start to shake if I spend more than $50 on any knife (I get the same way when I have to pay that much for a pair of sneakers!). With that said, I’ve spent much more than that for certain knives—but that’s only after many hours of research that shows the price is justifiable.

What you’ll realize is that you don’t have to spend a ton of money to get a good, functional knife. You might or might not agree with my choices, but they’ve all served me well.


Many people believe that if a knife has a stainless steel blade, it doesn’t need care. That’s not true.

Keep it Clean

After each use, make sure to carefully wash your knife in warm, soapy water. Pay close attention to the area at which the blade meets the handle to ensure you remove any debris from nooks and crannies. Any bits of flesh, blood or scale can lead to bacteria that can be transferred directly to you or to the next fish you fillet. Bacteria will also make your knife stink! Thoroughly dry the knife and apply a light coat of vegetable oil to the blade.

Keep it Sharp

A sharp knife is not only a safe knife, it also makes your job much easier. Before I begin cleaning and filleting any fish, I make sure the blade is sharp. A sharp knife will fillet with very little effort, while a dull knife will require more pressure—and it could easily slip. If I’m cleaning many fish or cleaning tough-skinned fish with heavy scales (such as striped bass, drum or yellow perch), I’ll re-sharpen the blade often. If your knife holds an edge well, nothing more than a few swipes on a ceramic rod are (usually) required to keep it suitably sharp.


When I was a kid, my gear wasn’t always the “best,” but it was the best I could afford. My goal was to always have a Mitchell fishing reel and a tackle box full of Rapala lures. You must remember that this was a time when Rapala lures were hand carved from wood in Finland, as opposed to the mass-produced plastic lures manufactured in China that we have today. Back then, if your gear said “Rapala,” you were really something (or at least you thought you were).

While trout fishing at one of my favorite spots about 30 years ago, I found a Rapala Fish 'N Fillet knife in its original leather sheath just lying there on the bank. I tried to find the angler who might have lost it. However, I didn’t find them, so I took it home. The knife had obviously seen some use. The blade looked as if someone had sharpened it with a grinding wheel, and the sheath had seen better days. Even so, it was a Rapala! It was my main fillet knife for many years.

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