Home How-To Filleting

How To Fillet Cobia And Other Large Fish

Cleaning fish

Capt. Scott Goodwin shares his method to clean cobia and most other large-bodied fish.

cleaning a cobia

First step is to make a cut behind the head/gills area. Cut downward until you touch the spine.

Where to start cleaning cobia

Then I move to the tail and start making an incision up the back. I’m only cutting an inch deep on this pass.

Use a sharp knife to make cuts

Cut along the back, just above the fins, until you reach your first cut by the gill. Your basically just cutting the skin at this point.

cleaning big fish

Now go back to the head and do the same shallow cut along the belly side. I leave the bottom of the belly intact and use that piece for strip baits.

tips for fish cleaning

Now cut the entire lower side until you meet the cut at the tail. You will have cut the skin 360 degrees.

Don't forget the finger hole

As I near the tip of the tail, I poke my knife all of the way across creating a loose flap. I push the knife through the skin a couple inches from the end to make a finger hole for later steps.

Cut a little at a time

Now continue cutting the meat free from the skeleton by letting your knife tip ride along the bones as a guide. Do this all the way around the fillet. The goal is to have the meat free, except for right on top of the spine. (Yes this pict was from the second side)

Filleting fish for food

Now flip the fish over and repeat. By leaving the opposite fillet on the fish, the carcass lays flat and makes cutting the second side much easier.

Cut both sides first

Follow the same line down the back and belly until the meat is only hanging by the center strip.

Take the meat off the spine

In this shot you can see the line I cut stays above the belly skin. I use it for strip baits later and there is hardly any meat at the bottom.

Prepare to remove the meat

Don’t forget the finger hole on this side and now its time to use it.

Cut the meat free from the bones

Using the finger hole to put upward pressure, cut the meat on top of the spine to seperate the meat from the last point of attachment.

How to fillet big fish

You will cut through some bones over the ribs, but they will be removed in the next steps.

Take the fillet off the carcass

Do this for both sides and then cut the belly flap free for future bait. Salt the belly and feeze for awesome strip baits.

Trim the rib bones out

Now cut the rib pocket away using an angle with your knife to save the meat on the underside. Some people like to cook the rib bones and I love to give them to those people.

Take the meat off the skin

On big fish, I skin the meat one chunk at a time. It takes some practice, but if you let your knife ride above the skin about an eighth of an inch or so, you will leave the red layer of fishy-tasting meat on the skin. I cut and trim the chunk of fish on top of the skin so the meat never touches the less-than-sterile cleaning table.

Trim the blood line off

Now flip the chunk of fish over and cut the red center meat out following the curved shape of the red. This will also remove the bones in the upper portion of the fillet.

Chill the meat

Now you are left with fully trimmed ready to eat chunks of meat. We toss them in a bucket of ice water to rinse and keep them cold while we continue to cut in the Florida heat. This is the same method I use for big dolphin (dorado), wahoo, tuna and more.

Here is a quick tip to keep track of which fish is which till you get home for processing.

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Capt. Scott Goodwin started fishing in the lakes of Kentucky where he grew up. A move to Florida, however, brought him into a whole new realm of fishing. After receiving a bachelor's degree in biology from Eckerd College, he decided that he liked catching fish more than studying them and thus began his career as a captain. Scott began working as a mate on a charter boat and worked his way up to captain. He has been fortunate to fish in some of the top locations on the globe, including Florida, Panama, Costa Rica, Mexico and the Bahamas. Scott has learned from some of the best captains in the sport and has more than 27 years experience as a professional fisherman. He openly shares his knowledge and fishing tips on BD. Scott is now the editor of BDOutdoors.