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How to Clean Panfish

Panfish lay on ice of lake in Michigan.
Panfish lay on ice of lake in Michigan. Allen

Let's put it right out on the table: Cleaning­ panfish is messy business. But don't let that put you off. There are few meals more sublime than freshly caught panfish -- assuming that fish is small enough to fit in a pan. Perch, crappies, bluegills and sunfish are among the most common and popular panfish.

The fishing community falls into two camps: those who scale panfish and those who don't. Some folks scale the fish, debone them and then prepare them with the skin ­on. Others simply fillet the fish, negating the need for removing scales. Still others prefer to leave the bones in; they simply scale and gut the fish and cook them. In the end, it comes down to personal preference.

­We'll cover all the steps -- removing scales, gutting, deboning and filleting -- so that you can choose the method that works for you.

Something to know before getting started: Fish are delicate, so once they're caught, take care when handling them. Roughness will lead to soft flesh (rather than firm), a strong flavor and that fishy smell everyone wrinkles their nose at.