Paul Kirtley

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Video northern pike fillet

On a recent winter camping trip in Canada (more on this in a later post) I was shown a really great way of filleting a pike.

If you’ve ever filleted a pike, or otherwise prepared a pike for eating, you’ll know these fish contain awkward Y-shaped bones that are hard to remove from the flesh.

The Three-Fillet Method For A Pike

In the past, when preparing a pike I have usually used the method of taking three bone-free strips off the fish, one from from the top and one from each side, avoiding the Y-bones and leaving them on the fish. I was shown this “three-fillet” method many years ago and I’m sure it is known to many. It’s quick and easy. But it can be quite wasteful, however, particularly on a bigger pike.

Pike three fillet method - top strip.
The so-called three-fillet method for a pike takes a strip from the top of the fish. Photo: Ray Goodwin.
In the three-fillet method, a strip is taken from each side of the fish, making sure to cut above the Y-bones. This leaves quite a lot of flesh on the carcass, which is discarded. Photo: Ray Goodwin.
Pike three fillet method - side strips
The two side strips from the three-fillet method. They are quite thin compared to the size of the fish they started on. Photo: Ray Goodwin.

Is Pike Worth Eating, Though?

There is a misguided belief that pike is not good eating. Quite the contrary. All you need is some oil or butter, a bit of salt and pepper, along with a fry pan. Plus, the fish has given its life so you can eat. So, it’s worth making as much use of the fish’s flesh as possible.

An approach you can take to making the most of a pike is the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall approach, boiling a pike to make a terrine or jellied pike, as he does in one of the early episodes of River Cottage, and shown in the original River Cottage Cookbook. This is a nice method of using the whole fish if you have a country kitchen and the relevant implements but it’s not field expedient and certainly not practical for a summer canoe trip or a winter hot-tenting trip.

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Ice Fishing For Pike

While in Canada, I was on a trip with Lure of the North, participating in their Life On The Trapline course. Jesse Hutchinson was our instructor and he was teaching us much about trapping (again, more on this at a later date). Jesse is also a prodigious fisherman.

Mid-week, we spent an afternoon ice fishing. David, one of the other guys on the course, caught a decent-sized pike.

David and a decent-sized pike he had caught moments before while ice fishing. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

David’s acquisition of a northern pike provided a great opportunity for Jesse to later show us a superior method of filleting a pike.

The Best Way To Fillet A Pike (I have seen)

This method more carefully dismantles the fish than the three-fillet method, and tidily removes the Y-bones in the process. As a result, there is minimal waste of flesh. This is good ethically, as well as nutritionally.

Jesse showed us this method of filleting a pike using his bush knife and the underside of a toboggan, which he had brought into the Snowtrekker tent to use as his cutting board. It wasn’t the most level set-up but Jesse did a tidy job regardless. We sat on comfy boughs of balsam fir while we watched the demonstration, illuminating his workspace with our headlamps.

In this method, no top strip is taken. Rather, two side fillets are taken that are thicker than in the three-fillet method.

Then a series of neat and carefully-placed cuts allows each side fillet to be dismantled, with the Y-bones finally being removed, with only a small amount of flesh wasted.

Taking large fillets off a northern pike
In the method Jesse showed us, thicker side-fillets are taken from the fish. You can see this fillet contains bones, though. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
Tidying one of the fillets. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
Making cuts so that Y-bones can be removed from pike fish flesh.
Carefully placed cuts later allow the Y-bones to be removed. Photo: Paul Kirtley.
The method results with the Y-bones being removed, attached to only a thin strip of flesh. This is the only wastage. All the other meat is used from the fish and it is bone free! Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Watch A Video Of Jesse’s Pike Filleting Method

It was hard to capture every step of the process on a phone camera in a dark tent, as well as take in all the details that Jesse was describing.

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Fortunately for all of us, Jesse has a video of the method, including all the techniques, on his YouTube channel, which is embedded below. It’s certainly worth 12 minutes of your time.

If you enjoyed this video, give Jesse a thumbs-up, and maybe even subscribe.

Plus let me know what you think of this article, any thoughts or observations you might have, in the comments section below.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>