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How To Clean a Yellowtail

How To Clean a Yellowtail

The first step in cleaning any fish is choosing the right tools for the job. For cleaning yellowtail, I use a 9-inch Bubba Blade Flex Knife and a Victorinox 40513 6-inch Flexible Boning Knife. I also use a ceramic knife sharpener and a sharpening steel.

Always start off with a sharp knife. If the blade is really dull, you’re going to want to sharpen it before you get on the boat. If you’ve been maintaining your blade you can just tune it up with a ceramic sharpener. Everyone’s got their favorite sharpener and mine is a cheapo three dollar one from Harbor Freight. The advantage of this one is that it’s just ceramic rods molded into plastic so there’s nothing to rust and I can leave it on the boat.

Once you’ve sharpened your knife it’s time to start cleaning. I’ll always start with the belly of the fish facing me and my left hand holding the head. The first cut should run diagonally from the top to bottom of the fish just behind the pectoral fin.

Turning the knife, continue that cut along the center of the belly.

Once past the belly, continue along just above the anal fin all the way to the tail. Keep the knife shallow on the first pass as you are only cutting through the skin. You can make several more passes with the knife, until you’ve separated the meet from the bones as far as the spine.

The next step is to cut through the skin at the tail of the fish. Just slice down until you hit the spine.

Once finished with the belly side, turn the fish around so that the top of the fish is facing you.

Using the tip of your knife, cut through the skin above the dorsal fin of the fish.

Continue that cut all the way to the perpendicular cut you made at the tail.

As you did on the belly side of the fish, use your knife to go through and separate all of the meat from the bones all the way to the spine. This will take several passes in the thicker parts of the fish. You can use your left hand to lift the meat up so you can see what you’re doing.

Once you’ve done that, start at the cut that you made at the tail and use the knife to cut the meat free from the backbone while lifting the flesh with your left hand.

The rib bones on bigger yellows can be very hard to cut through. So when you get there, you’re going to want to have a good grasp on the knife and hit the bone low on the blade to break it.

Once through the rib bones, you’ll be left with a slab and you’re ready to flip the fish over and do the other side. I’ll normally just slab the fish on the boat, rinse them in saltwater and take them home for finishing.

This was a large yellow so I cut the slabs in half for easier processing. Here I’ve laid one of the pieces skin side down and am using the boning knife to slit along the center line of the meat.

Once you’ve cut all the way to the skin (do not cut through the skin), turn the blade and use it to separate the skin from the meat.

Once you’ve cut out one of the loins you can turn the piece around and repeat the process. When cutting the belly meat, I’ll treat it normally and then just cut out or pull out the rib bones.

The final step is to remove any red meat from the side. It may seem wasteful to cut off this much meat, but even the slightest bit of red can make it taste fishy.

Cleaning Yellowtail

The final result should look like this.

Cleaned Yellowtail

Before I start cutting, I’ll prep a bunch of vacuum seal bags with the date and species of fish. That way as I’m done cutting I can put them right into the bag to await sealing. Do not rinse your meat in fresh water. If they are damp or bloody you can clean them with a paper towel before bagging.

Yellowtail Meat

A big mistake that people make is in putting too much fish in each freezer bag.

I’ve found that breaking it down into two serving increments is best as it allows you to defrost as much or as little as you need at any time. If you’re like me and have a freezer full of fish, make sure and rotate your stock by the date you wrote on the bag so that none of it sits too long before being eaten.

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Erik Landesfeind is BD's Southern California Editor and has over 30 years of experience saltwater fishing for a range of species in both California and Mexican waters. Erik is also an active freelance writer and the author of the weekly column So Cal Scene, which BD publishes every Friday. In So Cal Scene, Erik keeps all of the BD readers up to date on what's biting in Southern California. Erik divides his fishing time on local boats, long-range trips and Mexico excursions. For the past eight years, Erik has been competing in the SWBA (Saltwater Bass Anglers) tournament series and has multiple tournament victories to his credit. His sponsors include Batson Enterprises / Rainshadow Rods, Robalo Boats, Tilly's Marine, Abu/Garcia, Penn Reels, Navionics, Raymarine, MC Swimbaits, Uni-Butter Fishing Scent and Bladerunner Tackle.