How to Fillet a Walleye: Learn from an Expert

Last Updated: January 20, 2022

Cleaning and Filleting fish is something that many learn to do at a very young age, as many anglers have been fishing since they were kids. Still, many people did not grow up with fishing being a significant part of their lives, and only later in life garner interest in it.

If you are just getting started in the walleye fishing world and want to know how to effectively and quickly clean a walleye, this is the post for you.

Post Catch Care

caught walleye by boat

So you caught a few walleye, and you can’t wait to bring them home for dinner. Well, we need to take a few steps after catching them.

Author Note: Bleeding the fish out is a good idea if you plan to bring the fish home for dinner. Bleeding a fish is done by using a knife to cut the artery that runs along the bottom of the fish between the gills, the “throat,” if you will.

Bleeding the walleye serves two purposes. It prevents the fish from suffering; even though there’s a debate on whether fish can feel pain, it’s still a good idea to ensure a quick end, and this goes for any animal that we sportsmen harvest.

The second reason to bleed out a fish is that it will result in cleaner fillets.

There will be less blood in the fish and fillet, and it also prevents the fish from thrashing around and damaging and bruising the meat.

Bleeding out a fish can also improve the taste, and this is very noticeable for walleye that have been caught in rivers, as they may have a very muddy taste if they die and lay around in a cooler or on a stringer for hours, but more on that later.

Filleting Walleye

Filleting a walleye efficiently and with minimal waste in meat will take practice, but it will become pretty straightforward after gaining some experience.

Start with the walleye laying on its’ side and the belly facing you. The head should be facing to the right if you are right-hand dominant and to the left if you are left-hand dominant.

Starting just behind the pectoral fin, cut down with the blade vertical so that the handle is at the belly and the blade’s tip is towards the fishs’ back.

Once you hit the backbone of the walleye, you will want to turn the fillet knife 90 degrees so that it follows the spine, cutting through all of the ribs and applying downward pressure to the blade.

The Knife will flex a little as you apply pressure on the back of the blade and help assure that the blade is close to the spine, allowing you to get as much meat as possible. Continue cutting all the way down to the tail.

Author Note: If you have done the fillet work correctly, the ribcage should come off with the fillet. Now simply flip the fish over and repeat for the other side.

Removing the Ribcage

cleaning a walleye

Removing the ribcage can be done with two different methods. You can either start with the skin side of the fish up, and slide the fillet knife under the ribs and follow them all the way to the other end of the ribcage until it can be removed, or with the skin side up, and slip the fillet knife over the ribs.

Removing the ribcage with the skin up allows you to flatten the ribcage, which may be easier for some people.

At the end of the day, you will prefer to do it one way or the other, and one way isn’t better than the other, but you might potentially save a small amount of meat if you do this with the skin facing up. Again, this comes down to personal preference.

Removing the Blood Line

The bloodline is also referred to as the mud vein, and in my opinion, when this is removed, it will result in a better-tasting fillet when comparing it to fillets eaten with the mud vein still in it. It also removes all bones still in the fillet.

The mud vein runs the length of a fillet and is also the walleyes’ lateral line.

This area has a large amount of blood in it because it is part of the fishes’ circulatory system. The mud vein also has a concentration of nerves due to being the lateral line, which the fish uses to detect vibrations in the water.

It’s pretty easy to see the mud vein, as it is dark red and runs down the center of the fillet from head to tail. To remove the mud vein, simply cut a slit along one side, and the fillet can be peeled in half simply by using your hands.

Once one side of the fillet is removed, simply cut a slit on the other side of the mud vein and repeat the process. After you are done, simply throw the mud vein in the trash.

This part of the fish is where the muddy/fishy taste comes from in fillets, and due to the high level of blood in this part of the fillet, it contains the most contaminants.

Don’t Forget the Cheek Meat!

Many anglers don’t bother with the cheek meat, but it’s some of the best meat on the entire fish, and this small piece of meat is a delicacy for many anglers.

In my opinion, it’s the “fillet-mignon” of walleye and pike, and it’s simple to cut out.

Top Tip: The cheek meat is behind the fish’s eye, and you can see the circular cheek of the fish. Simply cut down and along the cheek towards the eye.

The cheek socket is shallow and bowl-shaped, and all you have to do is follow the bottom of the socket and scoop out that morsel of goodness.

Salt-water Bath (Optional)

walleye fillets in bowl

Many anglers like to soak the fillets in a salt bath, which can help pull out any blood or contaminants that are still present in the fillets and clean them up nicely.

You will notice after giving the fillets a short soaking in cold saltwater that the fillets will have virtually no dark meat and will look exceptionally clean.

How to Fillet a Walleye FAQs

walleye ready for filleting

Are Walleyes Easy to Fillet?

Filleting a walleye will take some practice, especially if you are unfamiliar with filleting fish. The task will become pretty straightforward once you get some practice and experience in filleting walleyes.

How do You Bleed a Walleye

Bleeding a walleye is done by using a knife to cut the “throat of the walleye,” or the area just behind the head of the fish in-between the gills.

Bleeding the walleye gives you clean fillets, kills the fish quickly, and helps remove contaminants, making your fillets taste better.

Are there Bones in a Walleye Fillet?

Yes, there are bones in a walleye fillet, but we go over how to remove the bones from a fillet in this post. The ribcage is one set of bones that need to be removed from a fillet, along with the mud line that runs down the center of each fillet.

How do You Debone a Walleye Fillet?

Above we explained how to remove the “mud line” from a walleye, and apart from the ribcage removal process that we explained earlier, the mud line is the only part of the fillet with bones.

After removing the mud line from the center of the fillet, you should have a completely boneless fillet.

What should I do after Filleting?

If you don’t plan on eating your catch immediately after filleting, you should freeze your fillets for later consumption.

Prepping fillets for the freezer is as simple as putting them in a Zip-lock style bag and putting them in the freezer.

Top Tip: Another good option is to vacuum seal your fillets. Be sure to drain any excess water before doing so.

Final Thoughts

If you have never filleted a walleye or other fish before, you might do a poor job on the first few attempts.

After some time and practice, you will become proficient doing it, and you will be rewarded with nice clean fillets that are ready for the deep fryer.

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