How to fillet pan fish

Its almost meat season

As your local lakes start to chill with the evening air cooling it is almost time to put some fresh Bluegill, Crappie, Saugeye or Walleye in your freezer.  I personally like to wait until the temperature cools and we get our first frost of the year. That is when I believe the meat taste the best.

We all know that catching these pan fish are the most fun, weather you are on the bank or in a boat. If you are new to fishing or have been fishing for some time but honestly don’t know how to fillet your catch, let Acirema Outdoors help you.

First and foremost, if you are not going to fillet your catch at the lake you will want to put them on ice for the drive home or until you have an opportunity to clean the fish.

We recommend having a designated table or area to clean your catch. You can use an old folding table or whatever you have around the house or you can purchase an actual folding processing table. Either way is fine. I personally like the processing table because you can hook a garden hose up to it and have fresh water.

The key to this is a sharp knife; you can use either a fillet knife or an electric fillet knife which ever you are most comfortable with. You can all so use newspaper to lay down on the table. You will want to have a bowl of water to put your fillets in and a trash bag or bucket to put the waste in.

Step 1

Lay the fish on the cutting surface if you are right handed lay the head of the fish to the right upside down (if you are left handed lay the head to the left) You will want to hold the fish and lay the knife just behind the side (pectoral) fin.

Slice downward to the back bone. Be careful not to cut into the backbone.

Step 2

Turn the blade toward the tail and continue cutting, making sure you stay on top of the back and belly fins. You may feel some resistance as you cut through the rib cage, but be careful not to cut into the backbone. It’s better to cut too shallow than to deep.

Continue your cut towards the tail until you have almost cut the fillet off but make sure you don’t cut it completely off.

Step 3

Now with the fillet barely still attached flip it away from the fish with your knife. Position your knife on the narrow portion of the fillet, while holding the fish slice between the meat and the skin. You will want to cut as close to the skin as possible to obtain the maximum amount of meat.

Once the fillet is removed place it on your paper with the rib cage still attached. 

You will now want to flip the fish over and repeat the process.

Step 4

Once you have a pile of fillets or you are finished cleaning all your catch. Take each fillet, and with the tip of your fillet knife, carefully cut out the rib cage.

To retrieve the most amount of meat, angle your knife and slice close to the rib cage.

Step 5

Put all of your fillets in a bowl of water and rinse. This is why I like the Folding fillet table with my garden hose hooked up to it. I can do all of this right at the table.

Acirema Outdoors Bonus TIP

A lot of folks would go ahead and prepare the fillets to eat at this point. I believe you should put the fillets in a bowl of salt water and put them in the refrigerator for at least 2 to 3 hours. Pull the fillets out and rinse thoroughly and put them back in a bowl of salt water and return to the refrigerator overnight.  

This will help take away any fishy taste the meat may have.

Step 6

You are now ready to either fry your catch up or bag them up for the freezer to prepare at a later date.

If you decide to freeze your fillets I have always found it seems to help to put a little water in the bag with the fillets.

In conclusion

This is the basic technique to fillet a fish and will work on any Blue Gill, Crappie, Saugeye or Walleye. Once you get comfortable you will be able to obtain the maximum amount of meat off of each fish. You can also use an electric fillet knife which if you have multiple amounts of fish will make this process go a lot quicker.

I hope these tips will help you with your next outing. If you have any extra steps you take please share a comment below so we can all learn from them.

Recommended Products


▸ Some affiliate links are used, which means that I earn a small commission if you click the link and make a purchase.