How to Eat A Northern Pike

Y Bone Picking 101 - Page 1
Instructor: Joe Baltich, C.N.P.E.
Red Rock University Online
Red Rock Wilderness Store

There's absolutely no mystery in figuring out how to eat a northern pike fillet. Northern pike caught in cold water are delicious fish with more body and taste than a lot of different species out there.  I must admit that big northerns caught in muddy waters can sometimes taste like mud, but overall all I think this is a rarity for northern Minnesota waters.  Hopefully, I'll take away some of the excitement of "choking on your first  Y bone" with the pics and discussion on the following pages.  No need for all of those fancy, wasteful, time consuming,  pike de-boning techniques discussed by all the "experts" and "guides" out there.  All you have to do is know a little bit about the anatomy of a northern pike to easily remove the bones in about 1 minute AFTER the fish is cooked. When you learn this same technique that my dad taught me when I was about 6 years old, you'll wish you'd have kept some of those 2.5 lb. northerns you threw back over the years.  When I was guiding and the walleyes were spotty for shore lunch, I taught this technique to many "I-am-amazed-at-how-good-these-northerns-taste" clients and produced LOTS of converts.   In NE Minnesota waters (at least), they actually have more flavor than benign, tasteless walleye fillets. Plus they accept seasonings better as well.  Go ahead - admit it: about all you really taste in any fresh walleye fillet is the breading - the meat has relatively no taste. Walleyes are also a favorite because there are no bones in the fillets so you can eat them in a more dignified manner with a knife and fork like you would dine on a steak. On the other hand, If you cut a northern fillet crossways with a knife, you'll end up making 8 sharp, little, pointy bones out of four.  So put the knife back in the drawer.  I'm gonna lay out the only way to eat northern pike with just a fork and and your fingers - much like chicken.  In fact, think of it as chicken of the sea (lake).  Northern Pike eaters aren't afraid to touch their fish like those wimpy walleye guys.

So if this page helps you understand how much good fish you've been throwing back or worse yet, wasting by killing northern pike as "junk" fish or just filleting out the tail section and throwing the rest away (believe me, it happens ALL the time with "expert" guides all over the place), my work here has been worthwhile.  Enjoy!

First step:  Know your fillets

Here you see two northern pike fillets from a 2 lb. fish.  Every fish comes with a "lateral line"  on both fillets that I've indicated with the yellow dotted line in both halves of the fish.  In a properly filleted northern with the rib bones removed, you'll have fillets that look like this picture.  Notice the "Belly Fin Notches".  These notches along with the belly meat that curls when cooked, will tell you the orientation of the fillet. See pictures 5 and 5a at How to fillet a northern pike to view this fin, A thoroughly cooked fish will break right along the lateral line easily with a fork.  A fish that's cooked rare (bad - very bad) will not cleave apart easily on the lateral line and it will look "glassy".  Put that one back in the frying pan for a bit longer.

Here's what they look like breaded.  I used Chef Roberts breading and it was excellent!  You can also make a good breading by putting in a plastic bag: pancake flour (you don't need a lot to do a bunch of fish), add a pinch of salt, a few good shakes of Mrs. Dash, a pinch of cayenne pepper for a little zing and maybe a touch of black pepper.  Shake it all up, drop the just-washed-and-a-bit-wet fillets into the bag, shake and fry in hot oil.  I also use Chef Roberts Fish Fry oil.  A little in the pan and fry both sides of fillets till golden brown.  You can use corn oil, too.

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Last Revised -January 04,2004

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