Bluegill is a type of panfish that you can prepare quickly and fit in a pan to fry it. There are many ways to prepare bluegill. Most commonly, you can fillet them or pan-dress them before frying them. Personally, I like my panfish in fillets without a bone in sight. This is especially important for smaller fish, like bluegill and crappie, because their bones are really tiny and hard to see. And using electric knives makes it a breeze to fillet crappie, bluegill, and other panfish.
Filleting bluegill with an electric fillet knife is quick, but it requires utmost care to reduce meat wastage. The process consists of descaling the fish and separating the fillets by cutting through the bluegill using the backbone as a guide. Slice through the meat and skin to remove the skin, and scoop out the rib bones.
In this piece, I will guide you through the process of filleting bluegill with an electric knife to produce the most meat out of a relatively small fish. Let’s start with the tools you will need.
- Rapala R12 HD lithium ion fillet knife with a 6-inch blade is our preferred knife for this process. Since bluegill is small, you don’t need a large fillet knife.
- A scaling tool to remove the scales from the skin. Alternatively, a spoon or a fixed-blade pocket knife.
- A cutting board or a flat surface to clean the bluegill.
- A container with cold water and ice to preserve the meat after filleting fish.
- A bucket with a plastic bag and a lid to put away the leftovers.
Filleting and Cleaning Bluegill with an Electric Fillet Knife – Step by Step Guide
Filleting bluegill with an electric fillet knife produces boneless meat pieces that you can cook and eat in their entirety. Here’s how you can do it.
Step 1: Preparations
Place your cutting board on a firm base. If you’re at home, on the countertop near a sink is good. At outdoor locations, find a steady part of the boat or a fish cleaning station. Place the trash can or bucket and the container nearby. Wear a cut-resistant glove, too.
Step 2: Scale the Bluegill
Lay the bluegill over the cutting board, with the belly towards you and the tail on the side of your dominant hand. Hold it by the tail, and grab the scaling tool (fish scaler or spoon) with your dominant hand. Use the spoon to rub it from the tail toward the head of the fish. Repeat as many times until you remove all scales on both sides.
- If you don’t have a scaling tool, you can use a spoon or the dull spine of a fixed-blade knife.
- Filleting bluegill with an electric fillet knife doesn’t require you to scale the fish because you also remove the skin afterward. However, leaving the skin on the fillet and frying it adds flavor.
Step 3: Make a Cut under the Pectoral Fin, right behind the Gill Plate
Place the bluegill over the cutting board, with the belly toward you. In this case, you must hold the fish by the head with your non-dominant hand.
Use your fillet knife to cut an angle below the pectoral fin, right behind the gill plate. The blade must be at an angle toward the head. Cut into the fish until the blade makes contact with the backbone. Make sure to stop right when you feel the resistance of the backbone.
Step 4: Turn the Blade Around and Cut Toward the Tail
With the blade inserted in the cut you just made, turn the blade to the other side. The blade must lay parallel to the backbone, with the cutting edge toward the tail between the meat and the backbone.
Activate your electric fillet knife and cut toward the tail using the backbone as a guide to separate the fillet.
Repeat steps 3 and 4 on the other side of the fish.
Once you remove both fillets, throw the carcass in the trash can or bucket.
Step 5: Skin the Fillets (Optional)
Some people like their bluegill fillets without skin. You can remove the skin by slicing between the meat and the skin of the fillet. Cut with the knife horizontally to ensure minimal meat wastage. Repeat this process with the other fillet.
Other people prefer their bluegill fillets with the skin on. The skin adds a crispy texture and more flavor once you fry it. If this is your case, move on to the next step without skinning the fillets.
Step 6: Cut Out the Rib Cage and Rib Bones
Cutting out the rib bones requires care to prevent wasting the white meat beneath. Bluegills are usually small and there’s no excess meat that you can afford to throw away.
Lay the fillet with the rib bones facing you. Hold the meat with your non-dominant hand, and place the blade over the middle section of the fillet where the rib bones start. Turn on the electric knife and gently cut out the rib bones with the tip of your fillet knife in a scooping motion.
Note: While cutting out the rib bones, angle the blade slightly upward. This way, you’ll reduce meat wastage significantly.
Done with the filleting?
Now, Rinse the fillets with cold water, preferably. Once the fillets are clean, you can freeze them or cook them right away.
Tips for Avoiding Common Mistakes When Filleting
- Wear a protective fish cleaning glove before filleting panfish with the electric knife. It will protect your hands in case the blade slips or the fins poke your fingers. These scenarios can produce painful wounds.
- Let the sharp electric knife do the work. Use your hand only to guide the knife. Otherwise, you could rip through the meat inadvertently.
- Dispose of the fish’s carcass and leftovers quickly after cleaning the bluegill. It can get smelly quickly.
- If you want to preserve the fish for a longer time, soak it in lemon juice for approximately 30 seconds. The acidic juice of lemons delays spoilage.
How big should a bluegill be to fillet?
Bluegill must be 7 inches or bigger to be worth keeping and filleting. Keep in mind that some states regulate how big the panfish must be to catch them legally. This is because trapping bigger and older fish may endanger the fish’s existence in that specific area. Consult with your state’s wildlife department to avoid problems with the law.
Do you have to gut bluegill?
Yes, you must gut bluegill if you’re pan-dressing it. Gutting bluegill is easy and quick. First, descale the fish, and cut out its head. Secondly, slice the fish’s belly from the lower part of the gill towards the anus. Open the cavity with your hands, and use your fingers to remove the entrails. Rinse with water afterward.