I’ve been northern pike fishing ever since I was a young boy – even in my pre-teen years. These hard hitting fish are really fun to fight and catch, but in some places they have a reputation for not being the most delicious tasting of fish.
While there is some truth to this when comparing them to walleye and other really high quality eating fish, pike tastes delicious when cooked in a variety of ways.
Northern pike is a great tasting fish that can be prepared a variety of ways to further enhance its flavor. A bit on the fishy side, many camp cooks or chefs use lemon pepper, dill, or soak it in milk to to improve the flavor and make pike it’s most delicious.
So what’s the best way to prepare pike? Why does it have such a negative reputation among some anglers as a bad tasting fish? Read on to learn all you need to know about tasting, cooking, and enjoying the delicious pike.
Why Does Pike Have a Poor Reputation for Eating?
There are a couple of reasons for this poor eating reputation, but that doesn’t mean they’re good ones or impossible to work around.
The most common complaints about the taste of pike are:
- Pike is “slimy”
- Pike is extra fishy
- Pike is bony
We’ll deal with these potential issues further down.
Problem #1: Pike Is Slimy
This actually shouldn’t be true once you get down to the fillets. The protective layer of slime is on the surface, but if you cut with a dull fillet knife or don’t properly separate skin from fillet, the taste can be ruined by the slime.
Careful washing and cutting during the fillet phase will help minimize this, and the fillets themselves should also be thoroughly rinsed in cold water to wash away any leftover residue.
If this is done correctly the pike should taste delicious with no hint of sliminess.
Problem #2: Pike Is Extra Fishy
Pike does have a stronger fish flavor than some of the lighter, more classically “good eating” fish like walleye. Pike is one of the fishier tasting northern fish but there are several ways to deal with this if you don’t like especially “fishy fish.”
Spices and choosing a special technique for prepping the pike can help with these issues. Lemon pepper and dill are just some of the most popular with pike. There’s also the classic trout trick of soaking the fillets in milk, which helps draw out that taste.
Finally, pike is unusual in that you can freeze it and it tastes just as good (and many anglers swear better) than if you toss it in the frying pan right out of the lake.
Problem #3: Pike Is Bony
This is all about proper filleting. Pike can be a bit challenging because of avoiding the potential mercury build up in belly meat of giant sized pike, but especially the dreaded “Y-bone.”
This is the bone that gives most anglers issues but it can be worked around with a little knowledge, skill, and practice.
Deal with the Y-Bone
Pike is notorious for being bony. The problem is the Y-bone which can be a challenge to cut out if you don’t know what you’re doing. For many beginning anglers this is a killer situation as it can be frustrating to create tasty fillets that aren’t loaded with bones.
Learn from an experienced pike angler on how to remove this bone. If you do this, the complaint that pike is bony will completely fall flat. You’ll be able to prevent that problem, every single time.
This WikiHow on how to clean and fillet a northern pike is a pretty good. There are some anglers who think there are slightly better methods for removing the Y-bone but this will work in a pinch.
Multiple Great Ways to Prepare Pike
There are many ways to enjoy the deliciousness of pike, and I’m a big fan of many of these. Baked, fried, pickled, cayenne-infused – oh yeah, there are plenty of options for how to enjoy northern pike.
Some of the most common options for cooking northern pike that you can enjoy without too much issues are baking and fish fry. Both good options for cooking northern pike.
Good Pike Seasoning
If you’re going the baked fish route, the first thing I recommend is freezing the pike for at least a week after cleaning and washing before you thaw and prepare it. This tends to lead to a better cooking in my experience, and lets you display the firmer meatier taste pike can have over the often more lauded walleye.
If you don’t like overly fishy taste and need to cook this before freezing, soaking in milk can take out some of that overly fishy taste (an old trout trick – but it works for pike, too)!
When you bake consider lemon pepper, dill, butter, and black pepper your friends. Your favorite combinations of these are pretty amazing.
If you like some heat, cayenne pepper and some freshly squeezed lemon juice is pretty awesome and delivers a nice hit.
Also lots of dill, parsley, and butter make for a combination that seems absolutely made for northern pike!
Fish Fry Time!
You don’t need to get too fancy with pike to make a good fish fry. Basic corn meal or a Cajun corn meal blend with flour, pepper, or whatever you love is more than enough to get that deep fried fish taste you love.
The big thing is proper cleaning of the fillets early on. Do this and the pike can hold up on taste on its own for sure.
Don’t overcook pike! This is a fish that is best when you hit it just right, just at that barely cooked through point. Do that and you’ll love the flavor and mixtures that you can get.
For other ideas check out our post on pickling northern pike, this article on a killer northern pike chili, and more!
The Freezer Is Actually Your Friend
Since we lived in Iowa for so long, fishing for pike meant taking the family trip to Ontario for yearly week-long fishing trips on Lac de Mille Lacs in Ontario. With so many of us, and others in the Scout Troop, making this trip, and getting six pike to pack up and return home, we made an interesting discovery many other anglers have agreed with.
Northern pike often tastes better after being frozen for a time.
Why is this? We honestly have no idea.
But MANY of us actually have experienced this and it seems to be true. Pike out of the freezer that then thaws and is prepared makes for delicious fish. Better than I remember right out of the lake and at least catching up to the taste of the delicious walleye there.
Don’t be afraid to store northern pike over time. It freezes very well, holds it’s flavor, and turns out to be an absolutely delicious meal option.
While northern pike often gets a bad reputation because it takes a little bit more prep to compete with lake trout, walleye, and other renowned eating fish that are often found in the same environments where pike thrive. That said, pike is an amazing fish that can be prepared a wide array of different ways.
Follow some of the tips here, experiment to figure out how you prefer your pike to be prepared, and you can enjoy the best that this potentially delicious fish has to offer!