How to Clean Crappie

by Helen Sterling

Crappie are a freshwater game fish caught primarily in the spring when they move to shallow water to spawn. According to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, every state but Alaska has a population of crappie.

There are two methods of cleaning crappie. Filleting removes the skin and bones, leaving a pan-ready piece of boneless fish. Pan-dressing leaves the bones in and the skin intact, while removing the scales. The skin is edible and becomes crispy when fried. It’s optional if you want to remove the belly and back fins when pan-dressing.

Filleting a Crappie

  1. Lay the crappie on a cutting board, without scaling the fish. Hold the crappie securely by the head. Place the fillet knife or electric knife directly behind the gill cover and pectoral fin located on the side of the fish. Slice down until you feel the backbone beneath the knife blade. Do not sever the backbone.

  2. Cut the fillet from the body by keeping the knife in the vertical cut just made and turning the blade horizontally toward the tail of the crappie. Slice the flesh from the body of the fish, using the backbone as a guide. Keep the knife above the top and bottom fins of the crappie. Stop cutting before you reach the tail and leave the fillet attached to the body of the crappie by the skin.

  3. Pivot the fillet away from the body of the fish by the attached piece of skin, so the skin side is down and the flesh side is up. Slide the knife between the flesh of the fillet and the skin. Run the knife down the entire length of the fillet, being careful to leave as little flesh as possible on the skin. You now have one fillet.

  4. Lay the fillet on the cutting board and slide the knife down from the top of the ribs towards the edge of the fillet, running the knife between the ribs and the flesh, to remove the ribs. Discard the ribs.

  5. Turn the fish over and repeat the process on the other side. Rinse the fillets under running water and cook immediately or prepare for freezing.

Pan-Dressing a Crappie

  1. Place the fish on the cutting board. Hold the fish by the tail and scrape with a fish scaler or spoon towards the head, against the direction the scales grow, removing the scales. Turn the fish over and scale the other side.

  2. Remove the head by using a heavy kitchen knife to cut behind the gill cover and through the backbone. Include the small pectoral fins at the sides of the fish in the cut. Discard the fins and head, or freeze to make fish stock.

  3. Remove the entrails by slitting the belly of the crappie from the head to the anus, or vent. Reach inside the cavity of the fish and remove the contents. If desired, cut off the top and belly fins, or remove using a pair of pliers. Rinse the crappie under running water, remove any blood and remove any remaining scales.

Items you will need

  • Cutting board
  • Fillet knife or electric fillet knife
  • Fish scaler or kitchen spoon
  • Heavy sharp knife
  • Pliers, optional

About the Author

Located in south-central Wisconsin, Helen Sterling is a freelance writer who has been writing online since 2004. Sterling's background is in human resources where she has written and edited numerous policy and procedure manuals for both corporate and manufacturing companies. She publishes articles on crafts for various websites and enjoys making complex projects easy to understand. Sterling also owns a jewelry-design business.