In most lakes where walleye and pike reside, the walleye are almost always the guest of honour at shorelunch. No doubt, it’s those nasty Y-bones that deter many anglers from discovering just how tasty pike really are. But it needn’t be that way, especially if you know how to properly fillet one. The best technique I know, I learned from a commercial fisherman nearly 20 years ago. Since then, I’ve been told by several people that there are better ways to do it, but their methods amount to nothing more than filleting the pike as you would a walleye, then picking out the bones afterwards. Better than my technique? No way. This works much, much better.
1. First, the back fillet. Set the pike on its belly (swimming position) and cut across the fish straight down to the backbone just behind the head. Turn the knife so that it’s lying flat atop the backbone, with the sharp edge facing the tail. Cut following the backbone until you reach the dorsal fin, then turn the knife and cut up to remove the back fillet. This should also serve to expose the tips of the Y-bones.
2. Now make a cut on each side of the fish behind the gill plate, from the backbone down to the belly. With the tip of the knife, gently separate the flesh from the outside of the Y-bones down to the belly on both sides, starting from the head and ending at the dorsal fin. You now have two more boneless fillets, but you’re not done yet.
3. There’s another set of Y-bones that runs vertically just below the dorsal fin; you’ll want to avoid this, too. Put the fish on its side and cut just behind the dorsal fin down to the backbone. Then turn the knife so the sharp edge is facing the tail and cut back along the backbone to the tail. Repeat on the other side and you now have a total of five beautiful, boneless fillets (and don’t leave behind the cheeks).
This method works best with pike about five pounds and over (but please, be sure to release the big bruisers). Once you’ve mastered this technique, it will change your mind about passing up pike in favour of more easily cleaned fish. All it takes is one crispy fillet.