Panfish Filleting Made Easy

We all know how succulent a mess of walleye or pike can be, and the filleting protocol that goes along with prepping them. It has become common practice to keep a few of these larger predators for a meal, but many anglers overlook the culinary treats that a panfish can provide.

That’s a shame, as panfish are prolific and easily caught, with high or non-existent limits in some places. If truth were told, “pannies” are my No. 1 choice when it comes to a plateful of fish. They may run small, but they pack a big punch in the taste department!

For the most part, panfish can be prepared like a walleye. Their small size dictates that the best tool for the job is a thin and flexible knife — one that can be worked with precision and accuracy. A 6-inch blade would be your best bet.

Panfish will take more cutting time than a walleye, but the thin and tasty flesh is well worth the extra effort in the kitchen.

The following images showcase a bluegill, yet perch, crappie, pumpkinseeds, and rock bass are all done in an identical way. All it takes is a bit of practice, and you too can appreciate the flavors and aroma that panfish can provide.

Step 1
Place the panfish on a cutting board, or a layer of a paper towels or newspaper. Pierce the skin just behind the gills, and proceed to run the knife down to the belly and up to the backbone. You will only be cutting down to the bones, or in essence, through one half of the fish.

Step 2
With the tip of the knife, work the blade down along the backbone about one-half inch in. You will begin this cut at the point you left off at in Step 1. Keep the blade angled slightly down, and use the backbone as your guide. Once you reach the same distance as the anal vent, you will begin Step 3.

Step 3
When reaching the approximate distance of the anal vent, you will want to push the point of the blade outwards and through the vent. Keep the blade pressed firmly against the backbone and spine, and use these as your guide. You will now work the knife down and along the bones, ending at the tail with a clean cut through.

Step 4
With the tip of the knife, start behind the head and work the fillet off the bones. Once you reach the rib cage, work over it. Do not cut through the rib cage. Take this process slow, and try to get as much meat away from the bones as possible. Once you have worked the fillet down to the belly, detach the fillet from the body of the fish by cutting along the belly. You will now have one fillet in your hand.

Step 5
Step 6

Steps 5 and 6
Place the fillet on a hard, flat surface with the skin side down. With the blade vertical, cut a quarter-inch in from the tail section until you reach the skin. At this point, turn the blade horizontal and slide the knife down the fillet, separating the meat from the skin.

Step 7
At this point you are almost done, however, the fillet in front of you is not 100 percent boneless. This can be achieved in one last easy step.

With your finger, rub along the middle area of the fillet. You will notice a row of bones that start at the head end and run approximately three-quarters of the way down. With the knife point, make an incision on the left and right hand side of these bones, and cut cleanly through the length of the fillet. You can then cut this thin strip of flesh and bones away.

Step 8
You now have a 100 percent boneless panfish fillet! Congratulations! Repeat Steps 1 through 7 for the remaining side of the fish.

When storing your fillets, place them in thick, freezer bags and completely cover the meat with water prior to freezing. This technique will eliminate freezer burn, and keep your fillets fresh and tasty. Fillets can last upwards of six months or more when prepared this way.

Please check your regulations for the appropriate storage and transportation protocol. Many places require a person to leave a “tag” of skin on the fish for identification purposes.

Take some time this season to experience the taste of “pannies.” I can guarantee you’ll be hooked the first time you take a bite!

Shop Sportsman’s Guide NOW for a great selection of Fillet Knives!

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4 Responses to “Panfish Filleting Made Easy”

  1. Dennis Fude

    Nice-but where’s Step 1 (doesn’t appear above)? Been fishing 50 years but step 7 is new to me.

    • Tom Kacheroski

      Hi Dennis … here’s Step 1: Place the panfish on a cutting board, or a layer of a paper towels or newspaper. Pierce the skin just behind the gills, and proceed to run the knife down to the belly and up to the backbone. You will only be cutting down to the bones, or in essence, through one half of the fish.

      Good luck on the water this season! Tom

  2. Johnny Dawsey

    Yes the filets are good. But the sweetest meat is found along the bones and especially the small fish cheeks that melt in your mouth. Some people even eat the tail when fried up crispy. A
    nd love it.

  3. Jeannine Lierman

    I have lots to learn before I get my very first fishing license this spring.