How to Fillet a Northern Pike Perfectly

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Northern pike are fun fish to catch but difficult to fillet. Unlike their highly edible cousin the walleye pike, Northern have an extra row of bones called "Y-bones;" while they are simple to remove, their removal requires extra care.

Things You'll Need

  • Sharp fillet knife
  • Cutting board
  • Level work area
  • Water
  • Lay the fish flat on the cutting board.

  • Slice the fish just behind the pectoral fin and gills, cutting all the way to the spine. Be sure not to cut through the spine; the goal is to end up with the edge of your fillet knife resting against the spine of the fish.

  • Turn the knife toward the fish's tail and begin cutting along the spine. The tip of the knife should protrude just shy of center on the top of the fish, while the base of the knife should be just shy of the center of its belly. Stop slicing the fish about 1 inch before the tail.

  • Flip the filleted half of the fish over the end of the tail so the skin is down. Cut at the base of the tail through the meat to the skin (but be sure not to cut through the skin). Holding the tail firmly in your non-knife hand, pull the tail away from the knife and cut the skin away from the meat.

  • Flip the entire carcass over and repeat the process for the other fillet. Now you should have two nearly identical fish fillets. Use the tip of your knife to remove the anal fins from both fillets, cutting out a triangle of meat around the fins to ensure all of the bones are removed. Your two fillets should still have the belly bones and "Y-bones" but are now otherwise boneless.

  • Use your fingertips to find the edge of the belly bones; these will be on the inside side of the fillet and curve around the area which used to contain the guts of the animal. Working slowly and carefully, simply cut between the line of belly bones and the meat of the fillet. It is possible to remove all the belly bones in a single, paper-thin piece of meat (though this result will be difficult to achieve for beginners). Repeat this process on the other fillet.

  • Lay the fillet out flat on the cutting board. Run your index finger along the center line of the fillet from tail to head to find the line of Y-bones. With very little pressure on your knife, begin slicing down the length of your fillet above this row of bones. Feel for any resistance; if you encounter the Y-bones with your knife, simply move the knife further from the line of bones and begin your slice again. Be very gentle, as the Y-bones are very fragile and are easily cut -- you don't want small fragments of bone in your fillet. Now repeat this process on the underside of the row of Y-bones. This strip will run approximately half the length of your fillet, and once removed will leave your fillet with a swallowtail look.

Tips & Warnings

  • It is best to begin this process with a live fish; dead and frozen pike won't fillet as easily.
  • To make cooking easier, it is recommended that these thin strips of meat left at the tail end of your fillet be cut off and cooked separately from the rest of the fillet.
  • Photo Credit Hemera Technologies/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images
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