Here's an easy, four-step process for cleaning bluegill. Once you master it, you can clean a bluegill in a minute or less. Before you begin, be sure that all surfaces and knives are clean. Work on a newspaper for easy disposal of the parts of the fish that you won't use. Fresh fish are slippery, so allow your catch to air dry before you begin cleaning. One more helpful hint: If you have arthritis, consider using an electric knife, particularly if it's been a good fishing day and you have several dozen fish to clean.
- Begin by slicing the fish from behind the gills to the backbone. Don't slice through. If you angle the knife toward the head, you won't waste any of the fillet.
- Move the knife along the spine, again being careful not to cut through. Slice all the way to the fish's tail, but don't remove the skin yet.
- Lay out the fish with the skin side down. Use a fillet knife to slice all the way down the fillet. If you keep the knife blade along the skin, you won't waste any of the fillet. After you cut away the skin, only the fillet remains.
- Now use a clean fillet knife to get under the ribs, top to bottom, keeping the knife right under the bones, so as not to lose any of the meat.
If you're going to freeze the fillets, rinse them, place them in a freezer-safe plastic bag, and add water under the fillets until they are submerged. This tactic keeps them from getting freezer burn [source: Hustad, Prowse].
Because bluegill are small, you might want to think of them more as fish chips than a regular meal. But sit back and enjoy them -- you earned it after all your hard work.