How To Fillet A Sheepshead Boneless, Skinless and Easy | Great Days Outdoors

Captain Patric Garmeson is a professional fishing guide, owner of “Ugly Fishing” and is the current Alabama state record holder for sheepshead.  He is located in Dauphin Island, Alabama. Garmeson has always had a passion for sheepshead and a long-time dream to hold the Alabama state record.  That came to pass in 2019 when he caught a 13 pound, 14 ounce sheepshead (see the June 2019 issue of Great Days Outdoors Magazine for details). In his quest for that record fish, he has processed those catches into countless sheepshead fillets and is here to share his expertise.

A Sheepshead is Like a big Saltwater Bream with a Bad Attitude.  

Having a compressed body shape and five or six vertical bars over a grey background, a sheepshead looks and acts like an ‘escapee or convict’ from fish prison   Strong jaws allow it to crunch and feast on shrimp, sand fleas, clams, crabs and other crustaceans. Ironically, a sheepshead has small “human like” front teeth, which makes it a notorious bait thief so small hooks work best for connecting.  Maybe that larceny is why it has prison stripes.

Like any big, flat, wide, dense and strong fish, when a sheepshead turns that impressive girth against you, you are in for a tug of war.  It is kind of like catching a bluegill on a 6 weight fly rod.

Be advised that a sheepshead has heavy, sharp dorsal spines and very hard scales, so, when you are cleaning, it is prudent to wear gloves, at least on your fish holding “non-cutting hand”, as a wet, slippery, tough scaled fish can cause knife slips and maybe cutting accidents.  It also might not hurt, when processing your sheepshead fillets, to have a serrated fillet knife in your blade arsenal to cut through those tough scales and rib cage so as not to dull the edges of your finer cutlery.


Step One

Work your knife point between the scales to avoid cutting through them.

sheepshead fillet step 1

With your hand holding the head of the fish, start your cut just behind the gills and dorsal down to the bottom of the fish. Work the knife between the scales to avoid dulling the blade.

Step Two

Use your knife blade to cut just above the dorsal to outline the fillet.  


After cutting downward, turn your knife blade to point towards the tail and follow the backbone down the length of the fish.  As a guide, along the backbone there is a “membrane” or line that runs down the side of the dorsal fin that you can follow.

Step Three

Cutting your way down the backbone find the rib cage with the knife point.

Using the point follow the structure and “scrape” down the rib cage to capture all of the meat that you can to produce good sheepshead fillets. 

Step Four

Push the knife through the fish just behind the vent to finish outlining.

how to fillet a sheepshead step 4


Step Five

Cut your way along the top of the rib cage.

sheepshead fillets step 5

Here you are separating the fillet from the body of the fish.  Take your time and use some finesse and care working through the body for nice sheepshead fillets. Work down and then work back, pushing the knife as close to the bones as possible to capture as much flesh as possible.


Step Six

Cut your boneless filet off the top of the skin.    

sheepshead fillets step 6

Lay your knife blade flat and cut and work horizontally to separate the flesh from the skin.

While some will say that this method leaves the rib cage and therefore wastes meat, I can assure you that there is very little usable meat on a sheepshead’s rib cage. If you want to use these parts, you are better off cooking the fish whole. This method insures tha maximum boneless skinless yield for a sheepshead fillet in the easiest and fastest method possible.

Be sure to come down and check out more great fish cleaning tutorials at the Great Days Outdoors KILLERDOCK Fish Cleaning Station, which is just one of the many spectator attractions at the 86th Annual Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo (ADSFR) scheduled for July 19-21, 2019 in Dauphin Island, Alabama. and IF you’d like to see a full tutorial video of How to Fillet a sheepshead in action, just click HERE

The ADSFR was founded in 1929.  The three day tournament attracts over 3,000 anglers and 75,000 spectators seeking almost a million dollars in prizes and cash. A project of the Mobile Jaycees, the ADSFR has donated over $275,000 to the University of South Alabama Department of Marine Sciences and annually funds academic scholarships.  For information and to find local outlets for tickets call the Mobile Jaycee Office at (251) 471-0025 or online at

Tickets available at

Important Contact Information

Captain Patrick Garmeson is a  professional fisherman who provides guided fishing excursions in the Mobile Bay area.  For more information contact Ugly Fishing at (251) 747-1554 or online at


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