How To Fillet a Bass (Large and Smallmouth)

Photo Credit – cook_wabantu

Bass fillet makes delicious and nutritious meals. They are versatile, and you can combine them with various dishes. However, the process to fillet a bass can be tedious for a newbie.

To fillet a bass, remove the scales, gut the fish, and cut out the fish fillets. You would need the right set of tools such as a fillet knife, gloves, trash can, vacuum sealer, and chopping board. You can enjoy your bass fillet deep-fried, pan-fried, or baked.

In this article, we’ll share with you the tools you’ll need to fillet a bass, how to fillet a bass, why gutting and descaling your fish is essential, size considerations, and some delicious bass fillet recipes.

Have the Right Set of Tools

Every handyman needs his tools, and the right tools will help you get the perfect bass fillet. Imagine following the guide step by step and getting halfway through only to realize that you don’t have the right tools for the job. 

Yeah, that could increase how long this process would take. Here are the tools you’ll need to fillet a bass:

Fillet Knife

These flexible knives let you feel every move as you shed your fish of bone and skin. It allows for precise cuts so you can swiftly remove the fleshy fish without damaging it. Your fillet knife should be longer than the fish or about 8 to 10 inches (20.32 cm to 25.4 cm) long.  

You would also appreciate a knife with a firm grip. This solid grip allows you to direct your knife as you cut through your fish confidently. The choice between a plastic or wood grip depends on you; go with whatever you’re most comfortable with. 

A sharp knife will make the process much more comfortable. You can cut through the fish swiftly without creating much mess. Consider sharpening your fillet knife routinely to ensure it’s sharp and ready for duty when you are. 


You’ll need some extra protection for your hands which is why cut-resistant gloves are a must-have. First, they’ll help you hold on to the slimy, slippery fish. You’ll also need protection from the fish’s fins and scales, giving you scrapes or cuts. 

Cutting Board

You’ll need a sturdy board to place your fish on while cutting. A cutting board also helps you keep the cutting area clean since you can wash it immediately after use. That way, you can keep other ingredients you might cut on the board from contaminants.

If you find yourself having to fillet fish frequently, you might want to invest in a cleaning station or unique tables meant for cutting fish. 

Vacuum Sealer

If you want to preserve your fish fillets for longer, you would need a vacuum sealer. This equipment would remove air and help keep your fish freshness, texture, and taste.

If you only want to store these in the fridge for s few days, your ziplock bag would work just fine. Ensure you keep it refrigerated till ready to use. 

Trash Can

Creating fish fillets will produce lots of waste that includes fish guts, skin, bones, and heads. You would want a waste bag or trash can close by to toss them in as you work. This way, you can keep your workspace clean at all times. 

Running Water

You would want to fillet your bad’s where you have fresh running water. Heads up, preparing fish fillets can get quite messy. If you have running water, you can clean yourself, your equipment, and your fish.  

The next section of this guide will give you step-by-step instructions to help you create the vest Bass fillet possible. If you haven’t done this before, don’t worry, we’ll make things as simple as possible. 

Scale the Fish 

The first step to creating a perfect bass fillet is removing the scales. You’ll need a scaler for this, but you could use your fillet knife or butter knife to get the job done. 

Fish scales might host bacteria and give your fillet an extra fishy smell, so removing scales is an essential first step.   

Scaling your fish doesn’t require too much expertise, but it could take a while to master beginners. Now that you have your instruments together, you’ll need to choose a location. Most anglers would prefer to do this on the lake right after getting their catch out of water. However, you would need to verify that your state’s laws permit this before scaling your fish at the lake.

If you can’t do this in the lake, you could find an open space in your yard to scale your fish. The scales can create quite a mess as you try to remove them, so you’ll need to ensure you have running water available for clean-up. As a last resort, you could scale your bass in your kitchen. 

To scale your bass, hold down your fish’s head against the cutting board with your gloved hand. Hold your knife or scaler in your dominant hand and use it to work against the scales. The process would be more straightforward if you start from the bass tail and work your way to the head.  

The friction from the knife would cause the scales to start flying off. It doesn’t matter if your knife is sharp or blunt during this process; it just needs to be an instrument you’re comfortable with. You might experience some resistance around the gills and neck. You’ll need only apply extra pressure to this trouble area to get the scales off. 

Once you’re sure you’ve gotten all the scales off, time to hose it down. The water pressure should remove any scales loosely hanging on the fish. If you find that you missed some scales, get your knife and get back to work. You will get better tasting fish if you ensure you remove all the scales. 

Gut Your Bass

Your fish has lots of organs, but you won’t be needing them if you want to fillet your bass. Gutting your bass is an essential step, and you don’t want to skip it if you want the best quality fillets.

You might need a refresher on normal fish anatomy to guide you through this process. Use your sharp knife to make an incision along your fish’s belly. Start from the anal pore and ascend to just below the bass jaw. Be careful while making your incision not to cut up any of the fish’s organs. 

Scoop out all the fish organs. Once again, be careful not to burst any of the organs as this can affect the taste and could introduce microorganisms to the fish. You might need to use your knife to cut out the organs. Toss these organs into the trash can beside you because you won’t be needing them.

After removing the organs, you’ll need to wash the fish’s insides under cold running water. The water should reach the inner cavities and remove any residual liquid left by the organs. 

Remove the Fillet

You’ll make your first cut at the fish’s neck right behind the fins and gills. Ensure the cut goes in deep to the center bones but don’t cut through bones. 

Once you feel the center bone stopping your knife, flip it and angle the blade towards the tail. As your knife mixes towards the tail, you might need to lift the fillet; however, don’t cut through the tail.  

If you want to keep the skin on, you can separate the fillet here. However, if you don’t want to keep your skin, you can flip the meat over and slide your fillet knife between the fish flesh and skin to separate them. If you can, you might want to use a less sharp knife for this step, especially if you’ve not had much experience. That’s because if the blade is too sharp, it could cut right through the skin, further complicating the removal process. 

Repeat the same action on the other side for the same results. If you don’t get a perfect fillet on your first try, don’t worry; you’ll get better with practice. 

If the instruction isn’t explicit enough, here’s a YouTube video from Phil Crocket on how to fillet a bass:

Does the Bass Size Matter (Large and Smallmouth)?

Honestly, you’ll get similar results following the outlined steps to fillet your bass, whether it’s smallmouth bass or largemouth bass. 

You might need to change the size of your knife to match your fish size. You would need a smaller knife for smallmouth bass and a large spoon for largemouth bass. Some advice that the knife blade is longer than your fish can be hard to achieve for some larger fish like a large striped bass. 

If you’re working with largemouth bass, consider leaving the fillet still attached to the fish after cutting it. The attached fillet will help balance your fish and keep it in place when you flip it over to work on the other side.  

You might also appreciate having a larger cutting board or working surface if you’re working with a largemouth bass instead of a smallmouth bass. Consider getting a wider cutting board that can fit most of your fish, so the process is more straightforward. 

Why You Should Gut Your Bass

Gutting your bass is a step in your bass fillet process; you don’t want to skip. Your bass has lots of organs, each containing a unique mixture of liquids and smells that you probably don’t want in your food. 

Furthermore, some organs in the gut contain specific bacteria. If you gut your fish right, your food should be protected from potential contamination by bacteria such as escherichia coli and salmonellae.

Besides the potential health risks associated with leaving your fish guts in, these organs might burst, releasing their unique blend of liquids and smells to the fish flesh. These liquids could discolor the fish or cause changes in its taste, texture, and smell and render it unfit for eating. 

For best results, gut your fish as soon as possible once you get it out of the water and proceed to store it below 40°F (4.44°C). 

Why You Should Descale Your Bass 

Removing the scales in your bass is one of the first steps involved in creating excellent bass fillets.  

This process is pretty straightforward, and you should get it done in a few minutes. However, it does require some elbow grease and can get quite messy. 

Descaling your bass is necessary because of the bacteria that could be hiding beneath it. Removing these scales could help prevent contamination of your fish meat. 

If you leave the scales on your fish, it could make your fish taste super fishy. If you don’t want that particularly fishy taste, descaling your fish is a step you don’t want to skip. 

How To Cook Bass Fillet

After you’ve gotten your bass fillets, the next step is preparing a delicious meal with them. Many innovative recipes call for your skillfully prepared bass fillet from baking to frying, and you might want to try them out. Here are some of my favorites.

Pan-Fried Bass

The spice and herb mix creates a unique taste with your bass fillets. This recipe will help you to create a quick meal you might find yourself making again. 

Here are the things you’ll need:

  • 4 largemouth bass fillets, skin removed
  • 1 cup flour
  • Salt
  • 1 tbsp garlic, sliced thin
  • Pepper
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup fresh oregano, basil, chervil, parsley, and other herbs
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Here are the steps:

  1. Sprinkle your bass fillets with salt and pepper.
  2. Place your pan on your grill to heat it up.
  3. Add in your olive oil to heat.
  4. Coat the fish fillets with flour, shake the excess off.
  5. Place the coated fish fillet on your hot pan.
  6. Flip the fillet over when golden brown or three minutes later.
  7. Remove the fish from the pan.
  8. Add the butter to the pan.
  9. Fry the chopped garlic till golden brown.
  10. Put in the herbs.
  11. Turn off the heat. 
  12. Add the lemon juice and sprinkle salt and pepper. 
  13. Serve your fish fillet with the lemon garlic herb butter.
  14. Enjoy your meal.

Simple Oven-Baked Sea Bass

This recipe will create a fresh tasting bass dish. It would take you only a few minutes to prepare.

  • 1 lb (0.45kg) sea bass (cleaned and scaled)
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped 
  • 2 tsp fresh coarse ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp fresh parsley or Italian seasoning
  • 2 lemon wedges
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1⁄3 cup white wine vinegar or 1⁄3 cup white wine

After putting everything you’ll need together, you’ll want to follow these simple steps:

  1. Preheat your oven to 450°F (232.22°C).
  2. Mix garlic, olive oil, black pepper, and salt in a small bowl or cup. 
  3. Cover your fish fillets in the garlic mixture you made in the previous step. 
  4. Pour wine on your fish fillet mixture. 
  5. Bake your fillet in your oven for 15 minutes. 
  6. Sprinkle Italian seasoning or fresh parsley on the fish and return to the oven for five more minutes. 
  7. Sprinkle remaining pan juices on your fish and add lemon garnish. 
  8. Serve and enjoy your meal. 

Deep-Fried Bass

Bass is so versatile, and you can enjoy it deep-fried with lemon wedges. Your deep-fried bass would go well with many side dishes, including fries, coleslaw, and even tomatoes.

Here are the things you’ll need to whip up your deep-fried bass:

  • 4 lbs (1.81kg) freshwater bass fillets
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • Lemon wedges
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • Fresh parsley sprigs
  • Peanut oil

Here are the steps you can follow to make your deep-fried bass in a few minutes:

  1. Rinse fish with water and pat dry.
  2. Sprinkle salt to taste.
  3. Cover your fish fillet with cornmeal and shake off the excess.
  4. Dip the coated fish fillet into deep hot oil at about 375°F (190.56°C). 
  5. Fry for about three minutes or till golden brown. 
  6. Remove from heat and drain the excess oils on paper towels. 
  7. Serve your fish with your desired side dish and enjoy.

Honey & Orange Roast Bass With Lentils

If you’d like a gluten-free, low-calorie way to enjoy your bass fillet, then this recipe is a must-try. You might appreciate how this recipe lets you keep the skin on for some extra nutrition. The best part is that you’re done in 30 minutes or less.

Here is everything you’ll need:

  • 2 large bass fillets (skin-on)
  • 2 tsp clear honey
  • zest and juice ½ orange
  • 2 tsp wholegrain mustard
  • 0.55 lbs (250g) pouch ready-to-eat puy lentils
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 0.22lbs (100g) watercress
  • little bunch dill, chopped
  • small bunch parsley, chopped

These steps should lead you to a delicious treat:

  1. Preheat your oven to 356°F to 392°F (180°C to 200°C).
  2. Place your bass fillet in a foil with the skin facing down. 
  3. Mix orange zest, honey, mustard, seasoning, and olive oil in a cup or small bowl. 
  4. Cover your fish fillet in the foil with the orange zest mixture you made. 
  5. Twist-up the foil to create individual fish wraps.
  6. Place the fish wraps in the oven for ten minutes. 
  7. Warm-up your lentils.
  8. Mix lentils with watercress, herbs, orange juice, seasoning, and remaining oil.
  9. Serve the lentils topped with your baked bass fillet, and enjoy.


To create the best bass fillet, you’ll need the right set of tools, including your fillet knife, cutting board, gloves, and trash can. 

The process of creating the bass fillet might require some practice to master. It typically involves scaling and gutting the bass and cutting out the fillet.

After making your bass fillet, we shared some fantastic recipes you could try. 


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