Cleaning spiny rays


Active Member
A lot of people seem to have questions about how to clean or fillet the fish once they catch them. The comment I hear so often from trout fishermen is that panfish are too hard to clean and there is little meat on them. It's true that cleaning trout is about as easy as opening a velcro zipper but with the right tool panfish are easy too.

You need a fillet board with a stainless steel clip on it. Just Google fillet board and you will see numerous examples from about $10 to $50. I bought one about 25 years ago made out of plastic. I know I have cleaned way more than 1,000 fish on it over the years and it still shows little sign of wear. Jut clip the nose or the tail of the fish on the board depending on which side you are filleting and using a dead sharp knife remove the fillet. No need to scale, once all the fillets have been removed lay the meat on a flat surface skin side down and run the knife between the skin and meat.

I like to put my fillets in salted ice water as I peel the skin off. A few minutes is enough, you just want to keep the meat fresh and crisp. I remove them from the saltwater and pat dry with paper towels.

At this point they are ready to batter and fry or be stored in the fridge for a day or two. Or frozen if you want. To store them or freeze them lay out a long sheet of waxed paper (not plastic wrap) and place the fillets on the paper without touching each other. Do one row than roll the paper over the fish and do another, etc,etc. The idea is that no piece of fish touches another. When this is done you will have a tidy roll of fillets. To freeze, wrap the whole roll with another sheet of waxed paper then with freezer paper, tape it closed and date the package.

Both our Christmas and New Years day dinners this year were crappies that were caught in October. They seemed as fresh and sweet as newly caught.

The fillet board is key here, it takes the misery out of the process and makes it all pretty simple. Many of the boards are wood, others are plastic. The day I bought mine they had no wood boards so I took the plastic which I thought at the time was pretty cheesy. But it has worked very well although it needed more mass. I attached it to a piece of 2x6 and mounted some baby buggy bumpers on the bottom so it doesn't scoot around.

Panfish-free, plentiful and delicious. Master the cleaning technique and you will enjoy the resource for years to come.



Active Member
Ive -
Great information!

I would add just a couple things - a thin blade knife with a reasonably long blade is a asset

A also like to de-bone all the fillets - really important if feeding kids. On the larger fish (walleye, ling cod, big panfish) it is worth while to fillet over the rib bones and then cut a "V" out of the fillet to remove the "y bones". On the smaller fish I trim the fillets to remove both rib and "y" bones. Only takes a few seconds to insure that you have boneless pieces of meat.

Tight lines


New Member
gut them, scale them, season, stuff inside of them if you want, and roast in the oven.

Done. Simple, sexy, and delicious!
I second the electric carving knife. I use to fly through around 100 bluegill pretty quick. (12 to 14 oz. size) Ended up with a dish pan full of fillets.

Big E

Active Member
+1 for the electric fillet knife...makes short work of a pail full of panfish. Never really bothered with the board, just used a fork. Adding in the clipping/unclipping would be too much time wasted. At the midpoint of the ice fishing season I could do quite a few perch a minute without waste. When doing 50+ fish, its all about speed without waste.

While you wouldn't think an electric fillet knife would make much difference, I was impressed with its speed and accuracy.

Never did the salted ice water. What purpose does the salt serve? I've always just used water or milk.

Upton O

Blind hog fisherman
I learned the electric knife trick while in grad school for fisheries. We drained a bass/crappie research pond and worked up the data on all of the fish. My major professor gave me half of the crappie, about 200 pounds of 11-14" fish. I grabbed a fellow student who brought his electric knife and we went to work. The neat thing (this is sick) was my buddy had lost his right hand in an electrical accident after high school and he used a "hook". We put a piece of wood down, and he'd nail the head of the crappie with his hook and filet away, prettiest job of filet I've ever seen. We each ended up with maybe 30 lbs of filets which we passed out to other students and our neighbors. I worked my ass of in grad school but there were some really fun times, too. Go Tigers, beat the Tide.