Standing in the fresh waters of Shoreham beach, John 'Bear' Willis takes us through the secrets and handy tricks to turn the catch of the day into a perfectly prepared fillet for the dinner plate.

Although it may be no secret, the first thing is to find a flat surface to work on and a very sharp and flexible filleting knife (and a scaler for larger fish). It’s always best to clean your catch and to keep on ice as quickly as possible to ensure the highest eating quality. Once your workspace is prepared, the dirty work begins.


Here, we are dealing with flathead, trevally, whiting and pinky snapper, which are all small-scale species that can be easily scaled using the back edge of the knife. The scales are removed by rubbing the knife firmly across the body, moving from tail to head. Watch out for the areas near the fins and gills, as the scales here are particularly hard to remove.


Gutting is dirty business, but the more care you take here the better the end result. Find the anus of the fish (located on the lower part of the body in front of the anal fin) and put the point of the knife shallowly into the cavity. Cut the skin open, pulling toward the gills, usually through the middle of the pelvic fins. Also, be careful to only make a shallow cut to avoid spilling the stomach contents everywhere.


If your hands aren’t dirty enough already, it’s time to roll your sleeves up and dig in. Cut the fish across the gills and pull it open remove all the guts and the gill rakers. Make sure to remove the stomach contents entirely – you can usually rub the guts out with your fingers in saltwater – and give it a good scrub to take out any blood, which makes the fish sour.


The last step before we achieve perfect preparation is to fillet and skin the fish. To do this, cut down through the gills, running the knife along the backbone (you should be able to feel the ridges of the backbone as you go), stopping just short of the tail. Turn the fillet over so that the skin is on the cutting board and cut slightly into the flesh near the tail. Keeping the knife horizontal and parallel with the cutting board, run it along the inside of the skin. With a sharp knife, this should effortlessly remove the skin and scales altogether. The last easy steps involve cutting the ribcage out and, hey presto, the perfect, skinless fillet!


As featured in issue #70 of Camper Trailer Australia.