A regular fillet knife is a kitchen knife that you have to maneuver by hand, whereas electric fillet knives have motorized handles that work automatically. You can power up electric knife blades with either batteries or electrical outlets. While electric fillet knives have replaceable blades, traditional knives only one have. Therefore, you can use the electric fillet knife to clean fish of different sizes but you can’t do the same with a traditional fillet knife.
Using electric knives for filleting is usually faster, but manual models allow you to be more gentle and precise.
Quick Summary of Manual and Electric Fillet Knife
A regular fillet knife or traditional filleting knife is a type of boning knife designed to clean and fillet fish. The blades usually measure 6 to 11 inches and are flexible to cut along the fish backbone and remove meat from the skin with minimal waste.
An electric fillet knife has a blade that is mounted into a motorized handle. It’s similar to a reciprocating saw, with oscillating blades that allow you to prep fish faster than using a traditional fillet knife. Electric knives come with interchangeable blades of different sizes and a trigger lock or safety guard for protection. It has two versions corded and cordless. Cordless electric fillet knives use a lithium-ion battery.
When comparing an electric knife with a manual fillet knife, it’s clear that these knives also share a few similarities. They have matching trailing point blade styles with straight or serrated edges and can perform other tasks like prepping turkey or slicing bread. Some anglers may even argue that it takes the same amount of time to clean fish with both knives. Nonetheless, it takes practice to match the speed ratio of an electric knife with a regular knife.
Differences Between Traditional and Electric Fillet Knives
The main differences between the knives give you a better understanding of which one is the better option. Choosing one ultimately depends on your preferences as an angler, workload, and fish size. Here’s how we evaluate electric vs regular fillet knives with those concerns in mind.
How it works or operates
As mentioned before, the electric fillet knife is similar to a reciprocating saw. It has a couple of blades mounted opposite to each other, attached to the handle. While active, the motorized handle pushes one blade forward and draws the other backward. The result is a constant cutting motion that pulls through fish skin and flesh.
Traditional fillet knives are like other kitchen knives you use manually. For filleting fish, you must slice the skin and meat bit by bit. It usually takes more time but the procedure is more delicate.
When it comes to performance, you have to value two things: convenience vs. efficiency.
An electric fillet knife is a more convenient option because it allows you to fillet fish faster. It takes approximately 40 seconds to fillet crappie, and you can only get better from there. Over time, you can increase working speed to fillet 20 crappies or more in less than 15 minutes. Since most fillet knives have batteries with more than 2 hours of running time, you can fillet over a hundred crappie on a single charge. That’s more than enough for the average angler and what commercial fishermen need.
Electric fillet knives also have replaceable blades, allowing you to adapt to the circumstances quickly. For example, you can go from filleting crappie to larger fish like salmon or catfish in the blink of an eye. This is not likely to happen on the same trip, but it’s nice to have the extra blades.
However, using an electric fillet knife requires time and practice. Until you get there, be ready to waste meat. And here’s when the manual fillet knives come into play.
You see, it may take around two minutes to fillet a crappie with a manual knife, but the cuts are cleaner. You always have control of the blade, and it’s easier to know when to stop if you hit the rib cage, bones, or spine. As a result, you’re more precise and efficient. Meat wastage ratio is less when compared to electric knives because you can cut around the bones instead of ripping through them carelessly.
The issue with traditional fillet knives is that you operate them by hand. That’s alright for a few fish, but prepping the same workload as with an electric knife is more tiresome or outright impossible.
Electric knives have many parts that could easily damage without proper care. The batteries may die sooner than expected, or the motor could burn out under heavy workloads. If you prep your fish on a boat, water is another problem that could turn the motorized handle useless.
The solution to these problems is to buy your electric fillet knives from a renowned brand. For instance, the Bubba cordless fillet knife is one of the best cordless fillet knives. The batteries last long, can hold a charge, and the high carbon stainless steel blades resist moisture and corrosion.
Regular fillet knives aren’t that intricate, but you still need to be careful while buying one.
The handles must be durable, preferably made of plastic or synthetic materials over wood. You should buy knife which comes with stainless steel over carbon steel. Stainless steel is better because it is more resistant to corrosion and holds its edge for a considerable amount of time.
With the right materials, regular knives can last just as long and resist harsher conditions than an electric fillet knife.
Electric fillet knives are more expensive than regular models. The basic Rapala corded electric fillet knife is $60.99, whereas higher-end cordless models like the Bubba electric fillet knife kit with four blades and two batteries are $189.99.
However, the regular Bubba fillet knife with a 9-inch tapered blade is $55.96. You also have higher-end options like the Wusthof 7-inch at $135.00 if you’re willing to invest in it.
Nonetheless, one of the reasons to buy a regular knife over an electric one is to save some money. There’s no point in spending a large sum on a manual fillet knife if you can afford an electric model.
Ease of use
Electric fillet knives are not easy to use at first, and you may waste a little fish meat before you get used to them. You must learn at which angle to cut, how fast to guide the knife, and how to proceed if the blades start rocking the spine or bones. Fortunately, these knives have safety mechanisms that make it easier and safer for you to use them. While it takes time, learning how to use electric knives pays off.
Regular fillet knives are like any other kitchen knife. They’re easier to maneuver even if you don’t have experience. Plus, you can carry it around in a sheath and not worry about where to keep many blades or batteries.
Electric fillet knives are not waterproof and have motorized parts that require utmost care. As a result, you must always be aware of where to put the knife and attachments.
Nonetheless, the real problem is sharpening the blades.
Many anglers prefer to buy new blades instead of going through the hassle of sharpening dull ones. If the blades have straight edges, any sharpening stone can do the trick.
However, most of the electric knives from Bubba, Rapala, American Angler, or Bass Pro come with serrated blades that require specific sharpening tools.
On the other hand, regular fillet knives are easier to maintain and sharpen if the blades get dull. So, these offer more peace of mind if you don’t want to deal with any of that while you’re fishing. You can clean these knives using a cloth to wipe the blade, whereas electric knives require more attention to the joints.
Pros and Cons of Each Type
Electric Fillet Knife
- Replaceable blades for small, medium, and large sizes of fish.
- Faster at cleaning a considerable number of fish.
- Large handles to get a full grip and don’t slip.
- Safety mechanisms that lock the blade in place.
- Usually comes with a case to keep all attachments.
- It relies on a power source to operate, be it batteries or a cord.
- Limited battery running time or workspace if there’s no electrical outlet nearby.
- More prone to damage by exposure to water.
- The motorized handles can heat up after a few minutes of operation.
- The batteries and motor may burn out following months of regular use.
Traditional Fillet Knife
- Easier to handle and makes more delicate cuts.
- Higher water resistance.
- Lightweight construction.
- Relatively easier to sharpen.
- More portable to carry around.
- Cleaning fish takes more time.
- You need more than one knife if you want to clean different-sized fish.
Should You Buy Both?
Electric fillet knives are faster, require less effort, and the different blade sizes allow you to fillet almost any fish. However, we also recommend carrying a small traditional fillet knife as a backup.
Manual fillet knives are more sensitive, a quality that you need for delicate work. While the electric knife may cut through rib bones and meat alike, a regular fillet knife allows you to feel the bones and work your way around them.
As a result, you get to save more meat and remove dangerous bones with more precision. You can achieve similar results with an electric knife, but it takes practice. This is why most anglers prefer using both knives to complement where the other fails.
For example, using an electric fillet knife and a manual fillet knife is more beneficial while filleting larger fish.
There’s no issue cutting through crappie rib bones with electric knives, but some striped bass weighs over 11 pounds and have stronger bones. In this case, the optimal approach is to use a manual knife to separate the meat from the bones.
The same goes for removing pin bones with minimal meat waste. If you’re filleting salmon or northern pike, you’ll have to waste some meat to get the pin bones out with an electric knife. Instead, a manual knife provides more accuracy for cutting out the pin bones section with less meat wasted.
So, that’s about it. Get a new electric fillet knife to prep fish faster and easier, but also bring a regular fillet knife with a fixed blade to make the cuts that electric knives can’t. Plus, if the batteries die out or there’s a power outage, you’ll still have a backup and fully functional knife.