How to Properly Clean & Fillet a Crappie Fish

Cleaning the crappie might sound like a lot of effort at first, but it can be learned quickly with practice.
man holding crappie

It should take you about 10 minutes to complete the task once you get the hang of how to fillet one. Go through our quick guide below!


The Best Way to Fillet a Crappie

man skinning crappie

Put it flat against the chopping surface

Holding the crappie by the head, make a cut down its side using your dominant hand. This will enable you to move more freely. As you get ready to make your first cut, grasp the fish by the head.

If you’re right-handed, the fish’s head should be to your left; if you’re left-handed, make sure it’s on your right.

If you don’t have access to a cutting board, look for another level surface on which to place the crappie, such as a smooth rock or the boat’s edge.

Cut just behind the gills vertically

Insert the knife’s tip between the rear of the gill plate and the pectoral fin. Make an incision in the gills at a slight angle toward the head. Continue cutting until you reach the backbone, but be careful not to cut it.

The spine should always be kept intact, since it will serve as a ruler when cutting.

Carving down the backbone will allow you to fillet the fish without having to remove the head or tail first.

Twist the knife horizontally in the cut

Twist the blade in the incision until the edge points toward the tail once you’ve made contact with the backbone. There will be no need to make any additional ill-conceived cuts if you perform this correctly.

The first cut is made to open up the fish and create a point of entry where you may subsequently remove the fillet.

To keep the edge as near to the skin as feasible, angle it downward.

Drag the knife from the backbone to the tail

four crappie fish laying down

If you’re unfamiliar with the technique, try it out on a fish filet first. Start at one end and drag the knife down the crappie’s entire length. Rather of sawing through the skin, simply push the blade and allow the flesh to come free. When you reach near the rear portion of the fish near its tail, stop cutting.

You should be able to feel the contours of each rib as you cut through if you’re cutting close enough to the backbone.

Cutting the loose flap with your other hand while keeping it held in place with your opposite hand can provide you with more power and stability.

Remove the skin from the flesh.

Remove the fillet from the brine and lay it flat against the cutting surface. Then, working from one end to the other, carefully slide the blade between the skin and flesh with each pass. The fillet should come away in one piece when finished.

To prevent the blade from digging into the flesh, maintain it at a 15-degree angle.

You may also decide to leave the skin on until after you’ve cooked the crappie. It crisps up nicely and has a pleasant flavor.

Pullout the ribcage

At the rear of the fillet, near the head, you’ll find the ribcage still joined. Trace around the ribs using the curved end of your knife, being careful not to waste any meat. The deboned fillet should have a “V” shape.

After peeling back the first fillet, look for the ribcage. If it’s hidden by flesh or other tissues, it might not be immediately apparent.

Don’t be concerned if there are a few or even one rib bones remaining; you may remove them with your knife, tweezers, or the tines of a fork.

crapping jumping from pond

Do it again on the opposite side

Turn the fish over and repeat the process, making a vertical cut behind the gills. You’ll be left with two fillets to cook or store for later after you’re finished.

Dispose the unused parts of the fish

Keep a trash can handy while you work so you’ll have somewhere to toss the discarded bones, skin, and innards.

Because fish emits an unpleasant odor when it decomposes, it’s best to store the unusable portions in a separate bag that you can close and knot before disposing of them.

Freshly caught fish is prone to bacteria, and if not removed promptly, it may become a health risk.


Final Thoughts

crappie freshly caught

As you can see, how to clean crappie isn’t as hard as it sounds. In fact, once you’ve done a few, they won’t take any time at all. The only frustration may come from the fish’s tendency to flake into pieces that fall apart before you’re finished with them.

Fortunately, there are a large number of crappie in the world, and they’re a common sport fish (practice makes perfect)! If you’re looking to elevate your fishing game, I recommend you check out our crappy fishing rod reviews for more information.