Preparing and Filleting Elephant Fish
  |  First Published: April 2006

Those who haven’t seen an elephant fish in the flesh before will wonder how such a ‘mish-mash’ of body parts managed to survive the evolutionary process.

The result is one of the most interesting, if not bizarre, looking fish you’re likely to catch in Victorian waters. The angling elite pick on elephant fish on a fair bit. They’re ugly, they don’t fight and they’re ordinary on the table. I disagree! At least with the last bit.

Elephant fish can be a great offering, but to get the most out of them as a meal, preparation of the flesh must begin as soon as they’re landed. Here’s what I do.

Step 1

Before you touch a landed elephant fish get rid of the long spine that sticks up from the dorsal fin. Use a pair of pointy nose pliers and snap the spine off about half way down.

These spines will make a big man cry if he’s jabbed so play it safe. It would take nothing for one of these spines to go through the top of your shoe and into your foot as the fish thrashes around on the deck of the boat.

Step 2

Immediately after the spine is removed, dispatch the fish. I prefer dispatching all my fish with a small club. Two or three sharp blows to the back of the head does the trick. It’s quick, humane and doesn’t require quite the skill or precision of other dispatching methods like brain spiking.

Step 3

This step is imperative for preparing an elephant destined for the table. These fish are just full of blood. I can’t think of another fish that seems to produce as much of the red stuff as these blokes. It’s got to be removed quickly if you intend to eat the fish.

The quickest way is to completely gut the fish, removing all the internal organs. Then cut it behind the head with a horizontal slice, just below the base of the skull.

As with any fish, make sure you cut the bloodline out that runs down the spine.

If I intend to keep fishing in the one spot, I’ll do the same as what I do when bleeding gummies – put all the blood and entrails into a bucket and then tip the bucket over the side at the end of the session.

It’s not a great idea to put the internal organs of the fish you’re targeting into your berley trail.

Give the fish a quick wipe down and put it on ice immediately.

Step 4

When back at the cleaning tables remove all the fins from the fish. There seems to be a fairly sizeable joint around the pectoral fin so cut a small section out of the fillet to make sure it’s all removed.

Next, take a fillet off both sides. This is dead easy. Start at the head and run the knife down the length of the body along the spine.

When the fillets are off the fish, the frame can be disposed of.

Remove the rib cage by neatly cutting around its outside edge.

Step 5

Flip the fillet over and again with the sharp knife, run the blade between the flesh and the skin, trying to leave as little flesh on the skin as possible.

Step 6

Lastly, give the fillets a wash down in saltwater. Then wipe them down. There you have it, a couple of beautiful clean fillets ready for the table.


Elephant Fish Facts

Elephant fish are in fact a shark.

They have a cartilaginous skeleton and no scales.

Elephant fish spend most of their lives in deep offshore waters.

Spawning occurs between March and May in shallow estuary waters.

Elephant fish lay an egg like capsule when spawning.

The spines on elephant fish are not poisonous but are covered in bacteria and wounds can readily become infected.

Large schools of elephant fish enter Western Port via the eastern entrance.

Although found in many parts of Western Port, they are most prolific in the ‘elephant triangle’ between Tortoise Head, Newhaven and Corinella.

Elephant fish get their name from their trunk like nose that helps them to find food.

There is a daily bag limit of 3 elephant fish per angler and no minimum legal length.

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