Bluegill Sunfish maybe one of the smallest fish in North America but they are incredibly prolific breeders and also incredibly delicious I believe that bluegill have one of the best meats out of any freshwater fish. What they lack in size they more than makeup for in sheer flavor. I am a very big fan of the whole bluegill. The fins taste like fish bacon when deep-fried whole. Even so, there are a lot of people who would prefer not to eat the skin if given the choice. With that in mind, how to skin bluegill will certainly be a skill worth learning and remembering.
This is because this certainly won’t be the last time you catch one of these tasty little sunfish. There are a couple of ways to skin bluegill and cook them. The thing to remember is what your favorite way is. Nothing else matters. It can be deep-fried whole with a crunchy tail or made into fillets to bake in the oven. Let’s get into a lesson in fish cleaning for today.
But First, Understand The Bluegill Skin
Don’t get any wrong ideas. The skin on bluegill is absolutely delicious to me. Even so, I can accept that I like almost everything too. The skin is soft with a whole lot of scales. One problem is that they have a ton of scales for their size. The great thing about this though is that they are so small that it isn’t even an issue. If you have ever caught any crappie, you know exactly how the skin sits on the fish. It is tender in texture.
The bluegill is a sunfish just like the crappie and spotted bass. This means that you can count on it to be similar. Taking the scales off bluegill is one of the easiest things that you can do. All you have to do is use a spoon or a fish scaler to descale the entire fish easily. Since this post is not about that, we are going to move on with the skin itself. The best places to catch bluegill are in ponds, especially those with a thriving population of predator fish.
Bluegill when consumed will likely be wild-caught only as I cannot think of one place that sells them cleaned already. Because of this, always make sure to harvest your fish from a clean body of water that is free of pollutants. Although the bluegill is a little to small to harbor any very serious contaminants in the skin, the meat can still make you sick because of what it eats.
- Fillet Knife
- Cutting Board
- Whole Bluegill
Prepare The Fish
Freshness. It is the key to getting the best tasting meat from your gills. You have to make sure that you prepare your fish correctly before you start to clean it. It will taste better every single time regardless of what dish you decide to put it in. Always remember that cold temperatures keep the meat moist and juicy. Warmer temperatures cause it to get tough and dry out.
Ice works well. First, you’re going to need a healthy amount of fish. I suggest a limit if at all possible. If you can bring a buddy or two with you and each of you hit your limit, you should have more than enough fish for a really good meal. If you want to catch bluegill, there are quite a few things that you can try. Baits like bread and worms under a bobber will do it most of the time. Bluegill also hit miniature crankbaits and tiny plastic lures.
Humanely Dispatch Your Catch
Next is the part that no one wants to do but is required to do anyway. You must kill your bluegill. It’s always best to use the most humane method if possible. If it’s not possible, you can use the next best thing that suits you. I try to stay away from suffocation or clubbing as dispatching methods. Instead, I prefer to bring their body temperature down by using an ice pack or a cooler full of actual ice.
Since fish are cold-blooded, the lower temperatures will cause the blood of the fish to reach the temperature of the ice. At this level, it is lethal but also very humane. The fish just sleep and don’t wake up. I like this way the most because it keeps the fish juicy and tender. Alternatively, you can bleed the fish while they’re still alive. Just slice or rip a gill on either side. It has almost the same effect. The fish goes to sleep except for this time, your fillets are now blood-free. Although I don’t know about you, I just don’t have the time to bleed a lot of fish.
How To Skin Bluegill Using A Fillet Knife
As long as you have the right technique removing the skin is not that hard to do. With a high-quality knife, cut just through the skin behind the gill plate. Outline the fish with your knife by just piercing the skin all the way around. Turn the fish over and repeat for the other side. Insert your knife between the skin and the meat and try to get a good grip on it with your fingers. Please be careful too.
Pull this skin right off of the fish. Repeat this method for every single fish that you catch. This way is simple although it is not fast or fun. To change that, you could simply use a product like the Skinzit electric fish skinner. It actually does it in half the time and it takes almost no effort to do a lot of fish at one time.
Next, finally, take the time to care for your knife. The scales on bluegill are pretty hard on the edge. Use a sharpening steel or honing rod to take the burs off of your fillet knife. This will make your knife last much longer.
How To Gut Bluegill After Skinning
Now, it comes time to gut the fish. The easiest way is to just make a cut down the belly just below the meat. Butterfly your catch opening it up to expose the internal organs although you can use gloves for this next part, they are optional.
Run your fingers across the backbone and grab all of the organs before pulling them out. Make sure to grab everything. The stomach, liver, kidneys, heart, everything. At the size in question, you shouldn’t have any problems.
Filleting The Fish After It Has Been Prepared
Make your cut on one side of the dorsal fin and start to feel for that backbone. Once you hit the backbone, run the blade of the knife across it starting at the head and working your way to the tail. If your knife is good and sharp as it should be, the knife should get all of the meat on the fish for you. Go until you start to feel the ribs. Gently cut at the ribs and they should lead you around them.
Once you have done that, poke the knife through to the other side of the fillet and finish it off near the tail. Alternatively, you can leave the fillet on right near the tail and use the attached portion as a handle. Instead of
Clean Up With Clean Water
It is always important to remember to abide by the proper sanitary protocols when handling food especially raw fish. Although single bluegill will not dirty up your workstation too badly, it is worth mentioning that you will likely have a whole lot of them if you’re eating them to start with. Because of this, it is always best to maintain a sanitary workstation. Always rinse the blood off of your fish and wash your hands with soapy water.
Also, take this time right now to clean and sanitized your fillet knife, your cutting board, and your countertop. Get rid of all the scales and give it to all a good wipe down until spotless. It’s just less work later. You can also prevent yourself from cross-contaminating your kitchen. Cold water is best to wash the fish as it keeps the meat soft. Make the bluegill blood-free and make sure to grab all of the organs.
Dispose of the organs and make sure that you are ready for the next step. If you plan on deep frying your bluegill hole, this is also a great time to cut slits down the side of the fish so that the breading can get in deeper.
Store The Bluegill In A Suitable Container
If you want to store your fish in the freezer, wrap it in plastic wrap first and then aluminum foil. If you want to put it in the refrigerator, try using a glass bowl covered in plastic kitchen wrap. Typically speaking, your fish will stay good for about five days. For longer-term storage, you can cook the fillets or make your dish ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator instead.
These sunfish make one of the best fish sandwiches you will ever eat. In addition to that, they can create an almost unbeatable fish taco. Try deep-frying them whole and serve them alongside coleslaw and macaroni. Regardless of what method you used to store them, keeping a little moisture inside will prevent them from drying out. If I’m using a fridge, I like to store fillets inside of some water.
Cook And Enjoy Your Bluegill Fillets!
Well, that’s really it. Now, you can crunch into those delicious bluegill tails or make yourself a dang good fish sandwich. Now you know the process behind how to skin bluegill correctly and efficiently without losing any meat at all. We are interested in hearing if you have any good recipes that involve bluegill. What is your favorite? Drop a reply in a comment below to tell us your recipes! We want to hear them!