Note: This is a review we did a few years ago for Military Times. The knives haven't changed appreciably and a couple new ones are now on the market that I'd like to test. Maybe it's time for a "re-do."
You stare into the sink, filled two-thirds with fish and mumble, “What was I thinking?”
Sure, that mess of fish represents a successful, great time on the water but now, as “they” say, “The work begins. You get to clean those fish.”
Some people opt to carefully, and often slowly, clean the fish whole. Others pull out a sharp fillet knife and work manually. For the really intensive chores where you’re cleaning a bucket load of finned fun, an electric fillet knife can help make shorter work of it.
A number of electric knives are on the market. Our panel of evaluators tested a few across a variety of fish species. The panel, all experienced anglers and fish cleaners, included Sgt 1st Class Justin Talbert and Staff Sgt. Dave White, both instructors at the U.S. Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal School Training Facility at Fort A.P. Hill, Va., commercial fisherman Bob Ackerman and avid recreational angler Daniel Josselyn.
Our Tested Products
We evaluated three brands and four models of knives, including Mr. Twister (Electric Fisherman and the saltwater capable Piranha models), a Rapala Heavy Duty, and a Berkley Deluxe. The manufacturers of American Angler knives, another popular brand, were emailed multiple times with offers to test and review their fillet knife with no response.
* The Mr. Twister Electric Fisherman is a longtime angler favorite. It is lightweight, has very sharp blades, a coiled, expandable 4-foot power cord, safety lock, heavy duty motor with a high-impact motor housing that’s nicely designed to allow the knife to sit squarely on the cutting surface when not in use. A two-year manufacturer’s warranty against defects in materials and workmanship from the date of original purchase. Plugs into any 110 volt outlet.
* The Mister Twister Piranha is designed for either freshwater or saltwater, although that doesn’t mean moisture of either type won’t potentially harm the motor. It has the same housing and power cord of its companion model. The key feature is cutting power of the 9-inch heavy duty stainless steel blades and the additional torque and speed of the motor. Mr. Twister advertises that the Piranha has 25 percent more torque and 15 percent more speed than most other electric knives. Power, speed and quality blades do make cutting through the thick scaly armor of some fish much easier.
* The Rapala Heavy Duty Electric Fillet Knife was the beast of the bunch when it came to power. Skilled fillet artists undoubtedly could use the knife to make fast work of a mess of fish. The aggressive 7.5-inch stainless steel blades had teeth like a barracuda, designed to slice easily through rib and backbones. This knife could be a favorite for people filleting larger fish, such as redfish, walleye, salmon or striped bass. It is designed for a comfortable, relaxed grip and, despite the power, the body is designed to promote airflow to keep the motor running cool while dampening vibration. It has an 8-foot power cord and plugs into any 110 volt outlet.
* The Berkley Deluxe Electric Fillet Knife comes in a special carrying case and includes both 6- and 8-inch stainless steel blades. The blades are released by depressing side buttons. Designed for versatility, the knife can operate off a 110 volt standard plug, 12 volt vehicle plug, or a 12 volt battery by using the clip adaptor. A 16-foot power cord gives you flexibility in terms of getting the knife from your power source to your fish cleaning station. The knife is warranted to be free from defects in materials or workmanship for one year from the date of purchase.
During the test, we filleted more than 150 fish, including catfish, crappie, bluegill, flyers, bass and pickerel. We assessed a number of factors with each panelist trying all the knives on multiple fish.
Evaluated attributes included the knife’s overall design, ergonomic comfort, perceived power in cutting through bone and scales, the trigger’s responsiveness and the ability to use it to manipulate blade oscillation (speed), blade design and flexibility, and how quickly the motor began to get hot.
Electric fillet knives can overheat when cleaning a lot of fish. We used a Raytek non-contact thermometer to measure temperatures of the motor housings as fish were being cleaned. For example, the Mister Twister Electric Fisherman model reached a surface temperature of 108 degrees Fahrenheit after filleting about 18 fish.
All small motors get hot, but the design of the housing/handle around the motor can help the knife from getting too hot to handle. No knife got too hot to handle while filleting up to 25 fish in the 1-3 pound range. After 20 fish, heat was perceptible in all models tested.
The only failure we experienced was with the Berkley knife. It worked fine after the first two trips, but as we prepared for the third and final test, the left-side blade would not lock into the unit. This would likely be a warranty issue.
A note about serrated fillet knife blades: Automatic dishwashers facilitate dulling of knife blades. While the tested blades are “dishwasher safe,” the electric filet knife manufacturers recommend not washing the blades in a dishwasher. Some electric knife enthusiasts also recommend spraying the knives with a cooking spray such as PAM or wiping them down with a vegetable oil before storing. Replacement blades typically cost $12-18 per set.