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Fillet knife face-off: How 4 electric models compared

Jun. 4, 2014 - 11:31AM   |  
From left, the Berkley Deluxe, Mister Twister Piranah, Rapala Heavy Duty and Mister Twister Electric Fisherman. Top, Sgt. 1st Class Justin Talbert and Staff Sgt. Dave White test the knives.
From left, the Berkley Deluxe, Mister Twister Piranah, Rapala Heavy Duty and Mister Twister Electric Fisherman. Top, Sgt. 1st Class Justin Talbert and Staff Sgt. Dave White test the knives. (Photos by Ken Perrotte)
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You stare into the sink, filled two-thirds with fish, and wonder, ‘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 intensive chores that require cleaning a bucket load of finned fun, an electric fillet knife can help make shorter work of it.

Our panel of evaluators tested a selection of knives on a few different 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 Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal School Training Facility at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, along with fellow Virginians commercial fisherman Bob Ackerman and avid recreational angler Daniel Josselyn.

The knives

We evaluated three brands and four models, including Mr. Twister’s Electric Fisherman and 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 and has very sharp blades, a coiled, expandable, 4-foot power cord, safety lock and a 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, plus 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 the 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 ribs 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 adapter. 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 under warranty to be free from defects in materials or workmanship for one year from the date of purchase.

The test

We filleted more than 150 fish, including catfish, crappie, bluegill, flyers, bass and pickerel. We assessed a number of factors — 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 — with each panelist trying all four knives on multiple fish.

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 reached a surface temperature of 108 degrees after filleting about 18 fish.

All small motors get hot, but the design of the housing/handle around the motor can help keep the knife from getting too hot to handle. No knife got too hot while filleting up to 25 fish in the 1- to 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 likely would 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 to $18 per set.

Product *Price Power Ergonomic design Blade design Blade release Trigger/ sensitivity Motor heating Overall value
Berkley Deluxe $49 C C B- C C+ B- C
Pro: Seemed to have slowest RPM of the group, making it more forgiving (less likely to slice through the spine) if you’re a novice or didn’t immediately have a proper cutting angle. Love the flexibility to use 110-volt outlet or battery. Nice long cord. Slightly textured grip is nice. Carrying case is a plus, especially the slots to store blades. Con: A little underpowered. Blades didn’t appear to lock in as tightly as other models tested. One blade would not lock at all prior to the third test event, resulting in “mission failure.” Not the most comfortable ergonomically. Note: Overall value rating refers to grade of performance up until the unit’s failure to lock a blade in place.
Mister Twister Piranha $48 B+ B+ A- A B B- B
Pro: Nice trigger safety. The longer blade lets you work farther away from the edge of the work table or cutting board. Good for fish with heavy, thick scales. Would do nicely in skinning larger fish such as striped bass or redfish. Power/RPMs ideally suited for fish in the 1- to 5-pound range. Con: Short, coiled power cord limits reach or may require extensions. Could be prone to kinking — but you’re also less likely to cut this type of cord.
Rapala Heavy Duty $62 A A- A B A- A A
Pro: Best grip and ergonomic feel (panel consensus). Appreciated the textured/rubberized handle. Very powerful with aggressive blades that lock in well. Slices through bigger fish with ease. Ample power cord length. “If I have to clean a lot of fish, this is the knife I’d want ... could easily do three fish a minute with practice.” No overheating issues. Love the trigger. Con: Requires greater filleting skills. So fast, it may not be the best knife for a novice. Somewhat large grip not suited for smaller hands.
Mister Twister Electric Fisherman $38 B B+ B A B C B
Pro: Nice design allowing the knife to rest flat on either side when not in use. Easiest blade release (both Mister Twister models). Blades lock in well. Once you get used to the blade and knife’s handling, it fillets very well. Con: Warmed up the fastest in the hand but didn’t overheat. Short, coiled power cord limits reach or may require extensions. Could be prone to kinking — but you’re also less likely to cut this type of cord.
* Prices listed are manufacturer’s suggested retail price. Actual retail prices may vary. For example, Mister Twister knives are often sold at Bass Pro Shops for $10-$15 below MSRP.

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