Redfin pickerel, often referred to as redfin pike in the Southern state where they are most commonly found, are one of the smallest members of the pike family. Although they are aggressive pound for, um, well ounce for ounce, these fish don’t have a reputation for becoming monsters. Because of that they are often overlooked by modern anglers, many of who assume these smallish fish are too small to eat.
Redfin pickerel can be a delicious meal. Their meat is described as white and flaky, a bit more similar to that of a perch or walleye as compared to a northern. However, redfins do have a reputation for being a bit bony and are small, a combination that take them off many anglers’ to-fish list.
Despite this there has been somewhat of a resurgence in redfin pickerel fishing in certain areas of Georgia and North Carolina, in particular.
The tastiness that comes from an old timer filleting, preparing, and throwing a dozen fish into the deep fryer certainly could be helping to play a part of that!
Are Redfin Pike Big Enough to Eat?
The small ones, no absolutely not. And the majority of redfin pickerel/pike are going to be too small because even full sized adults don’t get that large. Yes, this is a fish from the pike family where the state record for it will often be smaller than the largest panfish caught in the state.
The biggest redfin pickerel in a state tend to be in the 10-12 inch range are are rarely above 11 ounces. In fact, many state records are around 11 ounces with the world record is a mere 2 lbs 10 oz. Plenty of state records for croppie and bluegill that are bigger than that.
But that may bring up a good point: panfish are small but they are widely viewed as great eating by sports anglers who will catch a mess of them and have a fish fry.
Those old-timers who followed out of the way creeks in the woods to muddy brackish fishing holes where they knew they could get a mess of fish to feed the family – they see those fish the same way.
A single average sized adult redfin pickerel won’t be more than a bit of a snack. At best. But a mess of average or slightly large (for those pickerel) they can make for some really great eating.
Mercury/Toxin Concerns with Redfin Pickerel
This is a concern that seems to come up with every fish in the pike family. In part because even these small redtail pike are going to be top of the food chain in the places they tend to thrive. Anytime you have a lot of mercury and other toxins in the water this is a legitimate concern.
We wrote an article blog post answering the question of Should I Worry About Mercury in Northern Pike?
Is is a catch-22 with Redfin Pickerel. They don’t get large in size, but they are voracious predators who mostly eat other fish. On top of this, they are often found in waterways that have had lax environmental regulations or recorded issues with toxins being released into the water in the past.
This isn’t true of all areas where you find these small pike cousins, but it is true of enough that you need to do research before fishing any given area.
That being said, if there aren’t specific warnings in an area then you are likely good to go. Virtually all fish can have some degree of toxins, but unless you’re eating contaminated fish every single day, every meal, for long periods of time you should be fine.
Unless the signs tell you to not even try it.
Because of the smaller size of redfin pike you’re likely better off. Especially compared to fish like carp or catfish which can be notorious for living in dirty polluted water AND vacuuming up everything.
Are Redfins Bony?
Yes. Unfortunately, they do share this trait with their cousins in the Esox family. Like pike, muskies, and chain pickerel, redfin pickerel tend to be bony. Because they’re smaller, there are also less solutions to dealing with the boniness. To many anglers who have eaten this fish, the taste is good enough to make it worth it.
So yes, redfin pickerel are bony so that’s just something you kind of have to accept if you want to taste them.
How Do Redfin Pike Taste?
Generally redfin pickerel are a bit different. Their fillets have a reputation for being white, flaky, and tasty with a slight sweet taste to it.
There is actually quite little opinion from many anglers now on how redfin pike tastes. This is mostly because there aren’t nearly as many anglers chasing it. This was a fish that was really popular with many older anglers in the 70’s and 80’s but sadly that hasn’t seemed to pass on to nearly as many.
From that group of elder anglers, and those older fishermen now who learned from them, many of them in the South swear that redfin pickerel is some of the absolute best eating of any freshwater fish in the south.
And a tasty fish that you can catch in large batches? Sounds like a winner to me.
How Do You Cook Redfin Pickerel?
That’s the thousand dollar question if you want to give it a shot, isn’t it? One thing to realize off the bat is that although this pickerel is small and known for being a bit bony, there are ways to get around the bones. Or at least minimize it.
The deep fryer is a popular option, and if you have a good batter that really is the way to go. A whole lot of egg and breading and frying them all up into something super delicious.
Any method you have for pulling a few extra bones out will do wonders. You’re not likely to get all of them, and since these fish are smaller working around the Y-bone like you can with a pike or big chain pickerel isn’t as likely, but then the frying gets it done.
You can bake as well but since the fillets are smaller this doesn’t always create as much of a meal as you like. Think of a “mess of fish in a bucket” and that’s what you’re looking at when fishing for redfin pike.
And that sounds like a big fryer job to me!
An Old Tradition During a New Time?
Is the redfin pickerel getting something of a resurgence among Southern anglers? While it’s not necessarily a big movement, one of the nice things about online fishing is learning how things used to be done. Remembering old stories about fishing or how things had been done.
So is there a resurgence for eating the delicious redfin pickerel?
While it’s a nice thought, the honest truth is that there really isn’t. There may be a few more than a decade ago when this type of fishing was dying out in many places but there isn’t a major resurgence in redfin pickerel fishing.
Well not yet. We’re hoping to help change that.
One really great story on the passion of old school redfin pike can be found HERE.
It’s a great read.
As more anglers through the Southern regions see what this cousin of the piker has to offer and get some great meals, hopefully the tradition of grabbing a bunch of these fish for a fish fry will wake up once again.
While it makes “common sense” that such a small fish with a reputation for boniness might not be a good eat – you’d be wrong. Redfin pickerel are renowned for being amazingly tasty. While they can be hard to track down (stomping through the woods to isolated areas of creek) – to anglers who know how delicious a bucketful of them can absolutely be worth it for this tasty pike cousin!
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