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Sheepshead Cleaning: Proper Way To Fillet A Sheepshead

Sheepshead Cleaning: Proper Way to Fillet

Cleaning Sheepshead Is Always A Pain, Knowing How To Do it Will Save You Time

Sheepsheads are one of the best-eating fish that you can catch inshore. There are so many different ways you can prepare sheepshead that will have your family begging for more. Long before you can even think about cooking it, you have to fillet it. The only problem with this is, it is so boney that it creates a headache for many anglers. Knowing a few techniques can save you a headache and time. It is because of how difficult it is to clean that so many anglers throw them back. Why on earth would you want to waste your time on a fish that has human-like teeth, way too many bones, and a porcupine spine? Not to mention their rib cage is like an armored truck. I swear a bullet couldn't even penetrate it.  I kid I kid, but seriously all these bones will dull you fillet knife out real quick. If you make it through all this you may think of celebrating because you have successfully cleaned a sheepshead and should have enough meat for dinner, unless you caught more than one fish then you get to do it all again.

Cleaning Sheepshead Fish: Complete Guide Step By Step

Step 1: Along the back dorsal fin of the sheepshead there is a slit that you can work your knife in. 

The Slit of the dorsal fin to gain knife access

 Along The Dorsal Fin There Is A Slit That Will Allow For Knife Access 


Cut along the backbone of the fish freeing the fillet for the rib cage. Carefully work your knife all the way up to its head. In the head of the sheepshead, there is a chunk of meat you do not want to forget about.

Cut All the way into the sheepshead head for meat

Making The Cut Into The Sheepshead Head To Free Mean From Rib Cage

Continue cutting along the dorsal fin down to the tail. Once you have removed the meat from the tail section you should be able to push your fillet knife through and free the tail meat.

Freeing The Tail Meat Of The Sheepshead

Freeing The Tail Meat From The Sheephead Caracas

Step 2: Continue cutting the meat away from the bones all the way until you reach the rib cage.

Removing Fillet From Bones Until You Reach The Rib Cage

Removing Fillet From Bones Until You Reach The Rib Cage

Continue to remove the meat from around the rib cage. It literally should peel off with a good fillet knife.

Removing Meat From Around Rib Cage

Removing The Fillet From Around The Rib Cage

The thing to remember is to take your time. You want to preserve all the meat the sheepshead has to offer. When you begin to remove the meat from the head you will feel a bone. Cut along this bone to free the sheepshead head meat.

Cutting Around The Bone In The Sheepshead Head

Cut Along The Bone In Sheepshead Head To Free Head Meat

Step 3: Make a vertical cut behind the sheepshead head. Carefully hold your knife at a 45-degree angle to allow for it to cut under the sheepshead scales. Once you have successfully begun cutting into the fish, cut all the way to the sheepshead backbone. Extend the cut down to about the level of its eye.

Freeing Sheepshead Filelt

Freeing The Sheepshead Fillet From The Fish

This should free the sheepshead fillet from the fish leaving you the head meat and fillet as well as the fish to be filleted on the other side.

Sheepshead Fillet

Fillet Of Sheepshead With Skin

If you inspect the carcass you can see that the fillet meat comes off nicely and perfectly right around the rib cage. You should never have to cut into a sheepshead rib cage. That is one of the quickest ways to dull your knife.

Sheepshead Caracus Showing The rib cage left intact

Never Cut Into Sheepshead Rib Cage When Cleaning

Step 4: Like all fish fillets you will have to skin the sheepshead fillet. On one end carefully hold the fillet and cut down to the skin. Carefully run your fillet knife down the skin freeing the meat from the fillet.

Seperating Skin From Fillet

Remove The Skin From The Fillet 

After finishing this, it should leave you with a nice boneless sheepshead fillet. The only other thing you will have to do is repeat steps 1-4 on the other side of the fish. Sheepsheads are not like other species of fish. They only yield about 20% of meat compared to other fish like reds that produce 45%. Knowing the right techniques for filleting them will preserve this wonderful tasting meat and a huge headache.

 If you have any questions, comments or concerns, please feel free to leave us a comment below or email us at We would love to hear your sheepshead cleaning experiences. We would also love to see all of your sheepsheads catches so make sure you send us all your great catches to be featured on our social media pages. Check out our other blogs that can improve how good of a sheepshead angler you are and help you catch more fiddler crabs for sheepshead fishing. Since you are cleaning sheepshead, check out our great sheepshead recipes the whole family will love. Don't forget to get stocked with our sheepshead jigs for your next fishing trip. Good luck cleaning your sheepshead, remember, if your reading this at least you caught a fish today! 

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