What would you say if I told you that there was an almost unlimited supply of fresh fish, easy to catch and delicious to eat, all within a half-hour drive of your home? Well, there is and anybody, who knows me very well, has been treated to Northern Pike in one form or another. I can honestly say that the majority of these folks have gone away with a new attitude about catching, cleaning and cooking pike. You simply can’t beat these scrappy fish for a huge variety of recipes and the abundance of the smaller fish in Northern Minnesota lakes is simply so great that they would be nearly impossible to over fish. With more new regulations aimed at protecting larger Northern Pike coming our way, it’s more important than ever to do everything we can to utilize this abundant supply of smaller fish and here are some great ideas that will help you do just that.
The Truth (according to me): Fresh Northern Pike are delicious! The real trouble is that they don’t freeze well. So the solution is to keep a small number of Pike on every outing with the intention of using them while they’re fresh. This applies to Pike that you will use for any recipe, don’t try to keep them in the freezer and you will be forever happy with the flavor.
The Truth (according to me): These small bones are easy to remove if you will simply take a closer look at where they are. Most folks have been told so many times that the Y-bones are a problem that they’re just afraid to dig in and learn how to remove it. There really is no "Y" in the Y-bone and with a little practice, you can remove this in a few seconds. Just remember this simple trick, the bone lays in the same direction as the grain of the meat. So just like working with wood, follow the grain and your knife will flow along the edge of the bone(s) with ease.
The Truth (according to me): There’s no reason (except for convenience) to remove the Y-bones. I think it’s really nice to remove them before frying, baking or boiling pike. But, for Pickling, canning or for fish cakes, there is no need to remove the bones at all. If you leave the bones in fish for frying, they can be easily removed before eating by splitting the upper section of the fried fillet halfway between the centerline and the top (back) of the fillet. Separate the pieces along this cut line and you’ll see all of the bones, remove them all at once and dig in.
The Truth (according to me): Northern Pike are Slimy. Sorry folks you can’t win ‘em all, but you can minimize the drama if you make a point of cleaning these fish while they are still fresh. Pike, like most other game fish will produce a build up of slime when they are placed in a cooler or if they’re allowed to die on a stringer or in a poorly aerated live well. You can beat the system by waiting until closer to the end of your trip before saving some Pike. Keep them last and clean them first is a super rule to go by. By the way, this is a huge contributing factor in Myth #1 and by remembering to keep fish fresh, you’ll be solving two problems at once.
The Truth (according to me): Small Pike are no fun to catch on heavy gear. Scale down to your lightweight spinning gear and fish them with light line using jig & minnow or live bait rigs. A six-foot spinning rod with six-pound test line will get you into a ton of action and it’s the perfect opportunity to introduce youngsters to sport fishing. I can still remember the thrill of catching my first Northern. I’ll bet that fish didn’t even weigh two pounds, but it was a thrill. It was my first "big fish" and most kids will feel the same way I did. Let the kids do the catching, keep a few for dinner and you’ll have a fishing partner for life.
The Truth (according to me): You can prevent ninety percent of all "bite-offs" by adding a very simple nylon leader. Use a heavy 17 to 20 pound test monofilament line, tie directly to your jig or live bait hook and connect it to you fishing line with a small swivel or snap-swivel. Most Pike won’t bite through the heavy mono line, but it will remain flexible enough to give your bait the "good action" you need to catch more fish. You can use steel leaders too. But if you notice that the leader is getting kinks or gets twisted, you’ll need to change it right away.
Okay, so there you are; six of my best arguments to try and convince you that using some of these smaller Pike can make great sense. Do yourself a favor and give these small Pike a try. You won’t be disappointed with the table quality and you’ll be doing your favorite lake a favor.