The Best Fish Scaler for your Catch

The Best Fish Scaler for your Catch

Catching, cutting and cooking are all the fun parts of sportsmen and women’s fishing, but the scaling part, not so much. Thankfully, there are many tools available to make the process not quite so bad. However you’ll need to know the best fish scaler from the ones that make you want to scream. There are different factors that might make one scaler the best scaler over another. But it takes some questioning to determine which scaler is the best for you. Scaling 50 fish is a much different task than scaling 5 to 10. And scaling a sturgeon if a far cry from a perch. We’ll get into details about what to look for in a fish scaler and our recommendations.

The Best Fish Scalers for your Catch

Understanding the Many Different Types of Scalers and Choosing the Best Scaler for You

Understanding the best tool means understanding your fish scales and skin types. There are four main types of fish scales and they each have slightly different structures.

  • PlacoidSharks and rays
  • Cosmoid – lungfish and fossil fishes
  • Ganoid – birchirs, bowfin, paddlefishes, gars and sturgeons
  • Leptoid a.k.a. Cycloid and Ctenoid – bony fishes



Placoid scales are similar in structure to teeth and are actually modified teeth which don’t grow with the fish but instead multiply in numbers. Interesting how shark’s actual teeth also replace themselves throughout a shark’s life.


Cosmoid scales are rare in later developed fish. Found only on the primitive lungfish and lobefins. Cosmoid cells evolved from placoid cells that had fused together. These scales grow with the fish and can get quite large. These scales are made from a form of dentine which is very different than the later evolved Leptoid fish scales, which have no dentine.


Ganoid scales are commonly found on gars and birchirs. The scales are flat and do not overlap. They do, however, fit together like a puzzle. Ganoid scales are modified Cosmoid scales, but they differ in shape and lock together instead of overlapping. Ganoid scales do grow with the fish and can also get quite large.


Cycloid and Ctenoid scales, also called Leptoid scales, are found on later evolved bony fish. As the fish grows, they add scales in concentric layers. Cycloid and Ctenoid scales are almost the same except for their shape. Most bony fish have cycloid scales which are round. Salmon are a good example of fish with Cycloid scales.

Most scales of these types of fish don’t fall off or shed throughout their life and they continue to add concentric circles, so you can usually age one of these types of fish by counting the growth rings. There are a few fish with cycloid scales that do shed them. These are called deciduous scales, but this trait is not as common.

Ctenoid scales have a toothy outer edge. This creates more of a spiny ridge to the scales edges. Bass and crappie are examples of ctenoid scaled fish. Most sportsmen will need the best fish scaler for this type of fish.

The Contenders

Now that you know a little more about the main different types of scales. Let’s talk about getting those scales off with as little mess and pain as possible.

First, it must be stated that many fisherman and woman’s favorite scaler, bar none, is the standard knife of your choice. It can be a butter knife, hunting knife or just about the first knife you lay hands on in the kitchen knife. If it’s too sharp simply turn it around and scrape upwards in the opposite direction of the scales and, voila, a time tested, tried and true fish scaler that is always ready to go.

There are just a couple problems with the illustrious knife. If you are working on particularly large fish with large scales, a knife can leave your fingers exposed to getting those nasty tips of the fingers fish scale cuts. Like a papercut but smelly. And what about the mess? The knife works great but can send large scales flying. The worst issue with the knife is hand fatigue though. A knife is great for no more than 10 pan size fish but if you and the friends had a large haul and you lost straws at who cleans the fish, a knife won’t cut it.


Drum Scalers are used widely for scaling larger quantity of fish. Most are best suited for small to medium size fish but there are some drums made to accommodate larger fish. The idea is that you can scale all your fish in the span of 10-30 minutes with little effort on your part.

There are some people who think the meat gets too beat up in the drums. The degree though, on meat damage, is finding the perfect timing that adequately removes the scales but just to the point of done and not a moment longer.

There are many different brands of drums on the market ranging from homemade to high end. The best plan is to go with a high-end manufactured drum. They usually use materials that are easier on the flesh of the fish while still removing the skin. Of course, if you’re brave, try out one of the DIY versions found on-line.

One last note on electric drums. They don’t work well in freezing temperatures. So, as great as they are in some places, they’re not so great in others.

Electric Scalers

Electric scalers are any electric rotating or gyrating brushes, combs, or rakes that de-scales the fish with minimal energy output by you. All the action is performed by the scaler itself. There is a wide range of scalers that fall into this category, technically the drum scaler can be labeled as electrical or manual but for the simplification of the article, drums have been separated into their own category.

Manual scalers

The wonderful knife falls into this category, as do many hard to beat older tools and methods. It’s nice to scale at least the first fish the old-fashioned way. To actually feel the scales come off the fish. And there’s some fun manual options perfect just for that. There’s not much better than the simplicity of scaling and cleaning that single or double catch of the day, waterside, over the fire and everything manual. Somehow that fish always tastes the best.

The Electric Drum Fish Scalers

Open Country TD-6065-13 Tumble Drumm Sportsman Automatic Fish Scaler works best with small to medium fish. It truly is simple. You can add up to 50 pan fish, add water, turn on the unit and set the time. That’s it. The materials used does a good job at protecting the flesh from over tumbling and damage. The unit itself is solidly made and weighs 18 pounds. The one con for this scaler is that it can be a bear to clean and its water needs are high.

Electric Handheld Fish Scalers

Bear Paw EFS Electric Fish Scaler works with fish of all sizes. It has a powerful motor and takes the scales right off. It is a little messy and it is best used outdoors. The Bear Paw EFS is one of the most versatile electric scalers on the market. It has a 1.5 amp motor with a rotating speed of 3000 rpm. Cleaning is easy thanks to its Teflon coating. No worries about rust either since it’s saltwater resistant.

Bear paw Heavy Duty is corded for extra power but it is still a small enough unit to be easily manageable. This one is ideal for large fish but might be a little too much power on smaller, more tender fish. A nice benefit of this unit is that the head on the tool deflects all the scales downward helping to make the process a little cleaner than is typical.

Fine Dragon Portable is wireless and completely portable. Operation time is about 2.5 hours without needing to be charged. For a cordless variety, it still has plenty of torque to handle a few stringers of fish.

The Best Manual Fish Scalers

Westmark Fish Scaler is a heavy duty, yet small, hand held scaler with a wide special blade which works nicely! The weight, durability, and shape coupled with the hood really take scales off easily and without the scales flying everywhere. The handle is comfortable in the palm too. This is one of the best choice for a fish scaler.

Yoshihiro Fish Scaler (Urokotori) Japanese Sushi Chef Fish Scaler is near perfection. The wood handle is comfortable and the four in line rows of teeth do a very nice job with scaling a fish. Mess control is pretty good too. It would be nice if the wood on the handle was sealed for sanitizing and longevity but all in all, this one is one of the better fish scalers to be had.

cj fish scaler

CJ’s Ultimate Fish Scaler is just fun. It works great too! The whole idea is that it’s an old school bottle cap scaler. The wood that the caps are screwed to is extra sturdy and has a great size and weight to really make the most out of the steel bottle caps. It’s easy. It’s very mobile. It’s a cinch to clean up. And it’s just fun.

So Now What?

As you’ve seen, there’s no one answer to what is the perfect fish scaler. The answer is, “which one is right for you?” Here are some things to consider before buying.

  • How easy is it to use?
    • Only you know your own level of “learning tolerance” when it comes to scaling fish. Is this something you just don’t have patience for? If so, skip the gadget type electrical scalers. Stick with a manual option or the large capacity high-end drum if you have that size need.
  • Do you want electric or manual?
    • Again, with electrical, if you don’t want to read the instructions then move on. However, if you like to feel the buzz of a power tool and you like keeping up with new things, then the electrical options can be both efficient and fun. With the electrical scalers, make sure you don’t mind a little higher level of cleaning needs for the tool. Otherwise, go back to manual or high-end drum.
  • How much do you hate clean up?
    • Always check out the cleaning instructions on any unit you are considering before buying the tool. There’s nothing worse than getting home, getting busy, loving the product only to find out at the end that cleaning the tool was a beast of a job.
  • How often will it see use?
    • Again, this is a “be honest with yourself,” question. If this is something you will use all the time, then a learning curve might be worth the sit down and read instruction time since you’ll soon become quite accustomed to the scaler’s handling. However, if you must re-read and re-train yourself as to how to operate or clean the scaler every six months when you use it, a manual scaler might be best for you.
  • How durable is it and does that even matter to you?
    • This question also goes back to how much will you actually be using the scaler. If the tool is going to be used daily or weekly, then it would be suggested that you go with a more durable scaler. There are some electrical scalers that work amazingly well but they are finicky to operate and break easily. That quality of scaling is completely lost in the hands of a serious daily fishman. A sushi chef, however, might find it divine.

The final advice on buying the best fish scaler in the world is, “Buy the best scaler for you.” Do you usually fish for perch or brim? Or are you more a bass or crappie fisherman or woman? How lucky are you on most days? If your hauling in 30 fish at a time, then you have much different needs than if you only catch 5.

There are two factors to consider most when buying a fish scaler. Those are: fun and efficiency. And this is serious stuff! Scaling a fish can either be quick, easy, and enjoyable or laborious and awful. If all else fails, remember the trusted knife. Always ready, easy to clean. It doesn’t matter if it’s your hunting knife or a pairing knife. If it’s sharp, turn it around and use the dull side. You’ll find it works wonders every time.