The Mighty Northern Pike

Here in Minnesota we have a large variety of fish to catch.  This year I stated that I was going to make an effort to target rough fish and try to prepare them in tasty ways.  My latest effort failed, I headed out to Crystal Lake with the intention of targeting the lakes bullhead population and came home with only one fish.  A nice 2 1/2 pound northern.  Although this takes me off track of my rough fish goal it gives me the opportunity to discuss my favorite of Minnesota's fish.

Everybody likes catching a Northern Pike, there is never any doubt when they strike.  They are not nibblers and don't play around, its all or nothing with these fish and they hit hard and usually put up a good fight.  Sometimes you will end up with one that just drags in but most of the time they are full of fight and a lot of fun to catch.

Eating them is where you usually lose people, they have a firm great tasting flesh but they are one of the more boney fish out there and that makes them difficult to clean.  Some people will pickle pike which helps soften the bones and makes them edible but a lot will not even try because it is too much effort.  I watched a guy fillet one once and when he was done he had five beautiful bone free fillets  and it didn't look that difficult, so I gave it a try and it seems to work pretty well.

The first thing I recommend doing before you clean any fish is be prepared.  Know before you go fishing if you intend on keeping and eating any of the fish you are going to catch.  If you are bring a cooler with ice to keep your fish in, if your boat has a live well that is great also.  Whatever you do just don't put them on a stringer.  Fish on a stringer usually die and once they are dead you are unable to perform a very crucial step I learned a long time ago.  You need to bleed your fish.  Years ago I was in Canada fishing and one of the guides would cut the throat of all the fish he caught and let them bleed out before filleting them.  I have done this with fish ever since and will say that the fish I clean always seem to have a cleaner flavor when I cook them.  After you bleed your fish immediately put them on ice until you are ready to clean them.

The first step in cleaning a Northern is to lay the fish out on his belly and cutting down behind the head follow the spine down to just in front of the dorsal fin.  There will be a line of bones down the middle of this fillet that can be easily removed by making a V cut on either side.

Lay the fish on its side and you will be able to see and feel a line of bones on either side of the spine.  Using the tip of your knife cut along this line of bones just on top of them and follow the bones all the way down to the belly of the fish.

If you do this on both sides of the fish you will get two perfectly boneless fillets.  

The last two fillets will be removed from the tail of the fish, starting even with the dorsal fill cut the  fillets the way you would normally fillet a fish.  There are no bones back here.

It takes some practice and is easier to do on bigger fish but is a very easy method to learn.  When you are all finished you should end up with fillet nice fillets from one fish.  I got six here because the first fillet I cut off the back I cut in half the long way when removing those bones.

Pike have a firm, sweet flesh that is ideal for frying and I love to eat them.  For this batch I used buttermilk and  a little corn meal mixed in with my flower to get a nice crunchy breading.

For the Flour mixture mix 1 cup all purpose flour and 1/2 cup of corn meal together.  Add to this 1 teaspoon of onion powder, 1 teaspoon of garlic powder  and a 1/2 teaspoon of ground white pepper.  Dip the fillets in buttermilk and coat with the flour mixture.  Fry in oil for until golden brown, set on a paper towel and season with salt.  I guarantee you will enjoy.