The earliest memories I have of my parents cleaning fish are my mother scalding bullhead catfish and my father scaling bass and sunfish. Like my parents, most of my friends today gut and scale their pan- fish, cut off the heads, tails and fins and split the fish or fry them whole. The process takes time and results in a scaley, sloppy mess.
Fifty years ago I started experimenting with quicker and simpler ways of cleaning small fish. About that same time fish biologists began telling us not to return small sunfish and crappies to the water, as most waters became overstocked with both and the fish remained stunted. It seemed a shame to waste them; despite their size there were small portions of perfectly good meat on each and I wanted to make use of them somehow. I tried cleaning them several different ways with varying degrees of improvement.
One of my early methods was to skin the fish from the head back and then cut the flesh from the bones, leaving boneless fillets. This was an improvement over gutting, scaling and cutting off heads and fins, and over the standard fillet system, which leaves too many bones to deal with. But my new technique is the fastest, cleanest, easiest and most desirable of any listed above.
No more banishment to the backyard. With this system I can watch TV and clean fish in the comfort of my easy chair!
1. With the knife angled from the top of the gills to two inches short of the middle of the tail, cut through the scales toward the rib cage.
2. Before cutting the ribs, angle the knife through the dorsal, filleting the top half of the fish.
3. With the knife angled forward, cut from just behind the rib cage back, leaving the fillet attached at the tail.
4. Flip the fillet away from thhe fish, but leave it connected at the tail.
5. Press down on the tail with your fingers to hold the fish steady. Then cut the meat from the scales with one easy slice starting from the base of the tail.