How To Undress A Bucket Of Crappies
With A Havalon Fillet Knife
by Steve Sorensen
When I needed a lesson in knifemanship, I figured my neighbor, pro fisherman Charlie Brant, was the best teacher. So I asked him to call me whenever he brought home a fresh catch. I had a Havalon Baracuta-Edge fillet knife I wanted him to field test.
“I have a bucket of crappies. If you come over now you can watch me get ’em ready to eat.”
“I’ll be right over.”
I handed Charlie the Havalon fillet knife and explained the principle behind it. “This is a folding fillet knife, and it’s deadly sharp – sharper than you or I could ever make a blade. That’s because the blade is made by a company that makes surgical scalpel blades. You don’t sharpen it – you just replace it.”
Charlie looked it over closely, then pressed the point of the knife against his cutting board. “Good flexibility. On panfish I go right through the ribs, and this oughta take the clothes off these crappies real nice.”
“You probably noticed it’s fairly stiff on the hinge end,” I said. “That’s because of the fitment that holds the quick-change blade.”
“That’s OK. That’s not really the business end. How’s the edge hold up?”
“You tell me, Charlie.” He was all set up, so he grabbed a fish, turned the knife over in his hand a few times, and began cutting.
Meat, Bones and Skin
“Look here. I just follow the back of the gill plate with the point of the knife. Then push the tip of the knife down through the back to the backbone, and follow the backbone right down to the tail. On small fish like these I cut right through the rib cage. After the slab meat is off, I can see better to trace around the ribs and peel them away. Saves more meat that way. Then I put the slab on the board, skin side down, and run the knife between the meat and the skin.”
In a matter of seconds, he had two pretty pieces of fish flesh. What was left was a skeleton with head still attached at one end and two pieces of skin clinging to the tail end. That, and whatever fish guts and scales don’t stay intact, are simply scraped into the garbage pail.
It took longer to say it that to do it, and he was on to the next fish. Charlie’s knack for this is impressive.
Not a Fisherman, but a Catcherman
“Where’d you catch ’em?” I asked.
“Lake Erie. I’m always amazed at the ice fishermen I see up there. Guys drill one hole through the ice and then act like they’re frozen to it. They don’t move even if they never catch anything. Me? I drill lots of holes. I drill ’em until I find fish. I call it prospecting. I stay busy so I never get cold, and eventually I catch fish. I never have a bad day on the ice.” Charlie is more than a fisherman; he’s a catcherman. He seldom comes home without fish to clean.
About half way through the bucket, Charlie said, “I’ve undressed at least 20 fish, and the edge is holding up real well. With other knives, about now I’d be hitting the whetstone or switching knives.”
As Charlie whittled away on fish after fish, he prattled on. “Perch, crappies, pumpkinseeds – they all make a nice fish sandwich. Did you know there are seven different varieties of pumpkinseed?”
“A few of these are perch. Lake Erie perch are even better than walleye, especially when the water is cold. Cold water equals great taste.”
Fish More and Sharpen Less
If I hadn’t seen him at work, I wouldn’t have believed he could work so fast. When he took the last fish from the bottom of the bucket, I asked a few questions. “Did this knife make the job faster, or slower?
“I wasn’t keeping track of the time. I guess it was about average. But if I hadn’t been running at the mouth it would have been faster.”
“Blame me for that. I came over to hear what you have to say. Did you feel the blade getting duller as you worked?”
“It wasn’t as sharp on the last fish as it was on the first fish, but even after a bucket of crappies it was still sharper than any other fillet knife I have. It slides through those ribs real nice.”
“That’s probably because the edge is created with more precision than hand sharpening can duplicate,” I said. “Final question. Do you want to keep the knife?”
“I have lots of knives, so I don’t need it. But this one will let me fish more and sharpen less.”
“So your answer is yes?”
“I didn’t want to ask, but I’d love to have it. Thanks.”
I pitched in to help with clean-up. “Use newspaper to soak up the slime,” Charlie said. “Then I sanitize the cutting board, and rinse out the sink. Done.”
“I don’t waste anything,” he added. “I use the eggs for chumming walleye, and I dump everything else back in the valley for the raccoons.”
“Yes, I’ve seen those scraps before. I’ve even seen tracks where deer were sniffing around them,” I added as I washed the open-frame knife under the faucet. Then I handed Charlie five extra blades and a brochure with an order form for more.
I never thought cleaning a mess of crappies could be so fast and easy. I was hoping Charlie would offer to let me take them home. Even a landlubber like me knows what to do with a fine kettle of fish. But then he said “That knife for these fish would be a great trade for me, but these fish are already called for. How ’bout I take you out to get your own?”
With Charlie Brant making that offer, that’s definitely a trade to my advantage.
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Charlie Brant has been a pro fisherman for 14 years and is a professional fishing guide on the Allegheny River in northwest Pennsylvania. He’s partnered with Red Childress in Allegheny Guide Service (www.alleghenyguideservice.com). They specialize in trophy trout, walleye, northern pike and muskie. He’s also an avid fisherman on Lake Erie and southwestern New York’s Lake Chautauqua. He’s ready to wet a line anywhere, anytime, and it doesn’t matter if the temperature is 0° or 100°. He’ll catch fish under virtually any conditions.
About Steve Sorensen
Outdoor writer and speaker Steve Sorensen has been a fan of knives since he cried about his dad not taking him hunting when he was six years old. His articles have been published in Deer & Deer Hunting Magazine, Sports Afield, and many other top magazines across the USA. Invite Steve to speak at your next sportsman’s event, and follow his writing on his website, www.EverydayHunter.com.
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