last updated on : 09.08.2012
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HOW TO: spacer BLUEGILL / SUNFISH / PANFISH FILLETING
Copyright:  Mike Sillett

Contents:

1. Intro
2. Equipment
3. Procedure

Click here if you prefer to view on MOBILE device.

photo of bluegill fillets.

1. Intro

Like anything else, the more you do something the easier it gets. And with bluegills you can get a lot of practice because they are very easy to catch. You can catch them on practically anything so you don't need fancy gear or a bunch of bait.

I chose to write this up because I know, without a doubt, that there are scores of people that would partake of this under-utilized resource if they knew how to fillet.
Also, this tutorial on filleting bluegills works equally well on walleye, other sunfish, perch, bass, crappie and trout so once there is enough practice under your belt with these you will be ready to fillet the others very quickly and neatly.

If you ask anyone that eats bluegills regularly you will invariably get a favorable response. They are a great tasting fish - no matter what size they are.

I have been doing bluegill fillets for so long that it practically happens without any thought at all. And, because the catching and filleting is so easy, I usually get a few bluegills anytime I want a good fish sandwich or have a craving for faux shrimp cocktail.


2. Equipment

Fillet knife ( don't substitute. If you don't own one - buy one. I use a Rapala )
A fillet board or cutting board of some sort.


3. Procedure

First off let me say that it does not matter whether the bluegill is gutted or not. In the filleting process the innards are not messed with.
Go catch three bluegills for practice.

Now to the filleting:

I am right handed so the procedure shown is as if you were standing there, right behind me, while I am doing the filleting.

Make the first cut right behind the gill plate keeping the cut behind / under the pectoral fin that is there.
You do not want to cut off the head so you will need to be able to feel that the knife blade, after making the slight cut, has reached no farther than the side of the vertebrae.

photo demonstrating the first cut during the filleting process.
The first cut is right behind the gill plate and under the pectoral fin.

After that first cut has been made it's time to turn the knifeblade so that you will be heading towards the tailfin.
As you make the turn with the knifeblade and start the cut you will arrive at the first rib bone real fast.
Don't cut through the rib bone. This is where you will slighly withdraw the knife blade keeping only the tip embedded. You want to use the tip of the blade to to feel the bones. With a fillet knife you will feel that.

photo demonstrating the cut made along the top of the ribcage.
Slide the knife along the backbone keeping the tip bumbing over the ribs as you go toward the rear of fish.

Slide the tip of the knife along the top of the rib bones, at the same time keeping the side of the knife blade in contact with the vertebrae, that is, parallel to it, as you cut your way toward the rear of the fish.

When you feel the last rib bone has just been passed over by the tip of the knife it is time to shove the knife blade all the way through the fish, the tip of the knife exiting near, but to the rear of, the anal cavity. Once the knife tip is through continue cutting toward the tailfin keeping contact with the vertebrae.

photo showing where the knife tip is to be pushed through during the bluegill filleting process.
Once the last rib has been passed plunge the knife all the way through.
Keep the knife at an angle so the tip exits just to the rear of the anal cavity..

When you get to the tailfin cut through the skin. At that point the fillet is only attached at the ribs.

Go back to where the rib cage is and using the tip of the knifeblade make little slices along the ribs while at the same time lifting the side of the fish a bit more with each slice. As you slice and lift you will get to the point where the meat will separate from the rib bones. Carve along the rib bones quickly, there's not much meat anyway unless it is a big bluegill, and then sever the attachment by cutting through the skin and flesh at the bottom of the belly.

Here is one side of the fish.

photo of a fillet side removed from the fish.
To remove the skin make a careful cut about where my finger is.
Then turn the blade so that the slicing motion is made toward the right.

Only thing to do now is remove the skin.

Place the knife edge near where the fillet was attached at the tailfin and carefully slice your way toward the right keeping the knife almost parallel with the skin. You don't want to cut into the skin. This is actually the easiest part of filleting but it does require a deft touch.
That comes with practice.

photo showing the skin removal step.
The skin removal in progress.
It is easy to do but does take a light hand so that the skin is not cut through.

Do the other side the same way. Then rinse the fillets quickly in a bit of water.

photo of bluegill fillets removed and ready to cook.
Two fillets. Rinse them and then pat dry.

Lay the fillets on a paper towel and pat dry with another towel.

photo of bluegill fillets drying on paper towel.
These are ready for Freddie

Even though they are small they add up. And there is nothing preventing you from attaching several fillets together before cooking if you believe they are too small.

photo of a couple of bluegill fillets joined together prior to cooking.
Those little skewers used to keep stuffing in a turkey work great for joining small/thin fillets.

 


BLUEGILL / SUNFISH / PANFISH FILLETING

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