Cleaning Pike Made Easier
Inside the Outdoors, July 10, 2009

I remember when I brought home my first pike; it lay in the refrigerator for two weeks as I deliberated just how I was going to clean it. I had heard so many rumors that it is a boney fish and practically impossible to clean. As a consequence, many anglers return them to the waters and not even bring them home.

I was always told that the best eating fish was walleye. So when I pulled in my first legal-sized species from the Kinzua Dam, I had to give it a try. It was OK, but nothing I thought was exceptional. Up to that point, bluegill still topped the list. Then I landed a number of perch, and they began to edge their way to the top of my list. But it wasn’t until a customer came in my store and handed me a bottle of pickled pike did I find that my taste buds and flavored meat fell in love.

Many anglers may not be aware that there are an abundance of pike and musky in area waters. I have yet to catch the latter, but I really don’t care. It’s the pike I definitely will be going for. In the past a good friend used to take me on his boat to the Conemaugh Lake Dam where we would fish the river. It was there I nailed my first pike and others as well. From there I took home my first which I wrote about earlier.

Many fishermen who have cleaned bass or trout know that there is nothing to cleaning these fish. A matter of fact, some sportsmen will just gut them and then cook them as is. But it’s not that easy with a pike. Its bone structure is all together different and is much more challenging to clean unless proper procedures are known.

After a little trial and error, I worked out a plan. After gutting the fish, I decided to vertically cut one-inch thick steaks beginning at the top, knifing my way to the bottom of the torso of the fish. I would work from the head to the tail or vice-versa. In so doing, I cut through a minimal amount of bone. Then I baked the meat, adding onions surrounded with other veggies, or whatever I chose to compliment it. Here’s a little trick. When I ate it, I just pulled the bones out as I went along. That way, no meat was lost in the process.

I happened to log onto Gordy Johnson’s website of to find out how other people may prepare the flesh for eating. His filleting of pike was right to the point.

“Cut down to the backbone (not through it) just below the gill,” he began, “then slide the knife along the backbone to the tail leaving the fillet attached at the tail. Cut out the lower rib bones by letting the knife slide under the bones to the bottom of the fillet.” I guess that’s easy enough. He continued, “To remove Y-bones find the lateral line that runs through the center of the filet (it sort of bisects the upper and lower portion). Once found, run the tip of a very sharp knife down the center line on an angle toward the upper portion of the filet. You should feel the bones,” he noted. “Cut down to the skin but not through it.”

Moving right along, he explained, “Next, feel with your fingers along the upper portion of the filet; you should feel little ends of the bone that stick through the filet. These little bumps of bones are where you cut them from the backbone when you split the side. Take your knife (it has to be sharp) and cut the meat from the top side of that line of bones again toward the top of the fillet. The knife should literally slide along the bones. The closer you get to the head, the closer the bones run to the edge of the fillet and will result in less saved meat near the head. This cut literally works on top of the bones, while your center cut in the upward direction works under the bones.”

“When you have finished with the cut,” he said, “pick up that portion to that was cut out (between the cuts) and strip it back along the fillet from the head back to the tail. This section contains all of the Y-bones with the entrails. Then using the tail as your handle,” he instructed, “skin the fillet. You should have a skinny strip of meat that was on the upper portion of the fillet, and the lower portion. Flip the fish over and repeat the process. When you rinse the fillets, you can easily feel any missed bones.”

You may want to log onto the site where I got the information. There are wonderfully illustrated colored photos that may be of aid when cleaning a pike. It is

- Paul J. Volkmann
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