Rapala R12 vs Bubba Lithium: Fillet Knife Shootout
We put the two top lithium-battery powered fillet knives head-to-head
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Battery-powered, electric fillet knives are one of the top fishing accessories to own, and two of the biggest names to choose from are Bubba and Rapala. I own both and use them regularly at home and on fishing trips. They’re very close in price and feature sets, so deciding between these two leading brands takes some careful consideration.
Rapala R12 vs Bubba Lithium: Battery Life
The Bubba and Rapala battery-powered fillet knives can clean dozens of fish without changing a battery.
On paper, the Bubba does seem to offer longer-lasting lithium batteries, rated at 3.2 Ah, versus the Rapala R12’s 2 Ah batteries. But, I needed to see if those specs held up.
To see just how long it would take to kill each battery, I turned on both knives and timed how long it took for them to stop. On a fully-charged 3.2 Ah battery (with no load, not cutting through fish flesh and bone), the Bubba’s battery lasted 2 hours and 16 minutes. The Rapala R12 lasted 1 hour and 52 minutes. So, the Bubba underperformed for its amp hour rating and the Rapala was right on track with its spec.
I didn’t run out of the juice provided by a single battery with either knife while cleaning the three limits of walleyes (18) and crappies (30). Or while testing them in late May on a visit to Devils Lake, North Dakota, where I kept a two-day possession limit of walleyes (10) and one-day limit of white bass (20).
It should be noted that both the Bubba and Rapala R12 come with two batteries, so if you do run down one battery, another is on hand—properly charged, of course.
Read Next: How to Fillet a Trout
Ergonomics and Overall Design
The Bubba Lithium Ion Cordless Electric Fillet Knife is designed to fit perfectly in your hand and features a non-slip grip handle. It’s even easy to hold when coated in fish slime.
Additionally, one thing I really like about the Bubba Lithium Ion Fillet Knife is its trigger guard to prevent cutting your finger(s) if the knife slips, as well as a safety lock.
Similarly, the Rapala R12 fits really well in the hand but does not feature a trigger guard, which I hope Rapala implements in the next generation. However, the Rapala Knife does have a lock button to prevent accidentally engaging the blades before you’re ready to fillet—a nice safety feature.
Both the Bubba and the Rapala blades are actually two blades in one that fit together with notches and knobs that create one mechanized, serrated blade surface. Neither are smooth, but feature small teeth that move to cut through skin, bone, and flesh.
In terms of included blade options, the Bubba has the Rapala beat. The Bubba includes four different blade styles: 7-inch; 9-inch E-FLEX; 9-inch E-STIFF; and 12-inch. E-STIFF blades reflect Bubba’s legendary tapered flex fillet knives. Bubba blades are constructed of high-carbon stainless steel and coated with titanium nitride, making them extremely corrosion-resistant, definitely a consideration for saltwater use.
Likewise, if you fish saltwater more than freshwater, the Bubba is probably your best choice given its inclusion of a 12-inch blade for filleting larger fish. The Rapala R12 will accept longer blades, but does not come with them in the retail kit and must be purchased separately. The Rapala R12 comes with just two blades: a 6-inch (perfect for cleaning panfish and smaller species) and a 7.5-inch blade, both PTFE coated (essentially Teflon).
One thing I liked better about the Bubba than the R12 is the Bubba 7-inch and 9-inch E-FLEX blades have a little more flex to them. But that’s a matter of personal preference: Some anglers like more flex, while others like stiff blades.
At least for me, what I like about a blade with more flexibility is it makes cutting the rib cages out of fillets easier as you have to slightly turn up the blade to remove only skin and bone. This part of the filleting process was easier with both Bubba’s 7- and 9-inch E-FLEX blades, especially when cleaning the walleyes we caught in Minnesota and North Dakota.
The solution? Have one angler cut the fillets off the fish with a Bubba or Rapala cordless fillet knife, and another angler remove the rib cages with another electric knife or standard, fixed blade, then remove the skin, and finally, “zipper” the fillets.
I didn’t think the Bubba’s 7-inch blade made a very good crappie, sunfish, perch, or white bass blade, as opposed to the 6-inch that comes in the Rapala R12 kit, which does a great job. The teeth on the Bubba are bigger with larger spaces between them which didn’t translate as well to cutting through panfish meat.
There is a solution to making the Bubba a better panfish knife: Buy a set of 7-inch Mr. Twister blades (which were designed for cleaning panfish), which fit into the slots of the Bubba handle perfectly.
Still, in my opinion, the 7-inch Mr. Twister blades don’t work quite as well as the 6-inch Rapala R12 blade—and I can say that after cleaning lots of crappies and white bass last month.
High school physics tells us that torque is basically the rate of change of angular momentum imparted on an isolated body. In an electric fillet knife that translates to how fast and powerful the motor pushes the blades through skin, flesh, and bone when angled into a dead fish.
The clear winner in terms of torque is the Rapala R12 Heavy-Duty Lithium Fillet Knife Combo. It definitely has more torque and cut through skin, bone, and flesh easier than the Bubba Lithium Ion Cordless Electric Fillet Knife.
Bones were little—if no—obstacle, and the entire filleting process was easier and quicker. Three of us tested both the Rapala R12 and Bubba on both walleyes up to 22 inches. My friend Alan, an avid outdoorsman in his late 70s who cleans lots of fish thought the Rapala had more torque and power than the Bubba. That power made it easier to cut through the bigger bones of the pike and through the rib cages of the 20-22 inch walleyes that were part of our limits. I found exactly the same to be true. Personally, if I was taking a saltwater fishing trip I would invest in a set of longer, 9-inch Rapala blades.
Additional Features and Warranty
For convenience, both the Bubba and the Rapala feature on-board LED power gauges to monitor battery status.
As for stand-out features, the Rapala R12 has a built-in LED light for filleting in low-light conditions—definitely a smart, common-sense design. Even when filleting fish in areas with overhead lighting, I found using the onboard LED light helpful.
In terms of warranty, the Rapala R12 is covered by a two-year warranty. The Bubba Lithium Ion comes with a limited lifetime warranty that states, “Bubba Blade will repair or replace with a new item (at their option) any Bubba Blade product that is defective.”
Electric vs. Non-Electric Fillet Knife
For years I cleaned fish with original wood-handled Rapala Fillet Knives passed down from my father and uncles. For over three decades I cleaned 90 percent of my fish using the “Canadian Method” of filleting fish where you follow the backbone down in one fell swoop, thus eliminating having to cut out ribs as a separate step. Then you simply place the knife under the skin at the tail and pull the skin back while the knife slides under the meat and you pull the skin off. The only thing that’s left is “zippering” the fillets and packaging appropriately for transport.
Along the way, I tried lots of different electric flilet knives, but none really impressed me. So, I was stuck in my ways with non-electric, fixed-blade knives until Northern Minnesota guide, Brian “Bro” Brosdahl, showed me how quickly and precisely he could fillet four limits of walleyes with a Bubba Lithium Ion Cordless Electric Fillet Knife.
Of course, there were a couple extra steps: First, you cut off each fillet (with rib cages intact) and then follow up with another step of removing the rib cages and then the skin—as well as “zippering” the fillets to remove the walleyes’ tiny y-bones.
The nice thing about Bro’s system is if you’re fishing with lots of anglers keeping fish, you can really burn through a lot of fish fast with an electric knife—and then have another angler (or anglers)—removing rib cages, skin, and zippering the fillets for rinsing and state/province regulation-appropriate packaging for transport.
So, I ordered a Bubba like Bro’s as soon as I got home, and used it until the end of this past winter when I picked up a Rapala R12, which I had heard from trusted anglers was even better than the Bubba.
Bubba vs Rapala R12: The Bottom Line
Here’s the final word on the Bubba Lithium Ion Cordless Electric Fillet Knife and Rapala R12 Heavy-Duty Lithium Fillet Knife Combo. They’re both great cordless fillet knives, but they have their strengths and weaknesses.
Best All Water: Bubba Lithium Ion Cordless Electric Fillet Knife
- Price: $190
- 8.5-inch handle with non-slip contoured grip
- Ergonomic trigger with safety guard
- LED battery life indicator
- Includes four blades
- Limited lifetime warranty
I recommend the Bubba Lithium Ion Cordless Electric Fillet Knife if you want a knife that will satisfy filleting both freshwater and saltwater species. The Bubba is slightly lower in cost (MSRP: $189.99) and you get four blades versus the two included in the Rapala R12 kit. Personally, I liked the flex in the Bubba blades over the Rapala, but found that they’re not ideal for filleting smaller fish like crappies, perch, and bluegills given the larger teeth and spaces between the teeth.
Although it’s slower and has less torque than the Rapala R12, the Bubba’s longer blade kit makes it great for saltwater and larger freshwater fish.
I’ve owned my Bubba since the winter of 2020 and it still operates as well as the day I bought it. Plus, I know if something goes wrong, Bubba’s warranty will ensure a replacement free-of-charge.
Let me add this: The Bubba also made a great turkey carving knife with its 12-inch blade last Thanksgiving. Similarly, I used the Rapala R12 to carve a 15-pound ham on Easter and it also did a spectacular job.
Best for Freshwater: Rapala R12 Heavy-Duty Lithium Fillet Knife Combo
- Price: $195
- LED light for filleting in low light conditions
- Two PTFE coated blades, 6 and 7.5 inches
- Rapid charging base; battery charge time of 1 hour
- Includes two batteries
- Two year warranty
- On-board LED power gauge to monitor battery status
If you want the best all-around cordless freshwater fillet knife—with blades for panfish to walleyes and pike—then the Rapala R12 Heavy-Duty Lithium Fillet Knife Combo is my pick. Additionally, if you want to invest in the most powerful and quickest cordless knife on the market, my experience is the Rapala R12 is your best bet. It’s a few dollars more than the Bubba Lithium Ion—and you might need to invest in additional blades for larger fish—but it has the most torque and cuts through freshwater fish like butter.
The other really cool thing about investing in a Rapala R12 Heavy-Duty Lithium Fillet Knife Combo is you’re buying into a system of Rapala products that all utilize the same R12 battery, kind of like the fishing equivalent of Milwaukee Tools and their host of problem-solving products.
For example, the same Rapala R12 Lithium battery used in the fillet knife also works in a handy aerator with 35 hours or runtime. I’ve been using one for about six months to keep minnows lively on fishing trips. Yes, you can say goodbye to costly D batteries once and for all.
A Rapala R12 battery also powers a handy spot-light lantern for night fishing, camping, etc. My guess is you’ll see even more R12 products emerge over the upcoming year, too. That said, I’m even more happy with my decision to give the Rapala R12 Heavy-Duty Lithium Fillet Knife Combo a shot.