Traveling Trails Less Traveled. By Buckshot Anderson

For January 21st, 2011 Edition.

From time to time I’ve commented about specific communications I receive from readers spanning a variety of outdoor subjects. Recently I received an email from a reader in Wausau inquiring how to prepare a northern pike and eliminate the “Y” bone problem without removing the “Y” bones from the fillets.

Now I know on the surface that statement seems to mirror the impossible dream, but rest assured it is not. What the reader was asking for was information regarding a technique of cleaning northern pike my dad “discovered” many years ago when living off the land was the traditional way of life up north.

Most folks that enjoy dining on freshly caught native fish admit they favor the flavor of pike but live in fear of swallowing one of those nasty Y bones, of which members of the pike family are known for. Years ago when dad began plying his trade as a fishing guide few non-native anglers kept pike because of the bone problem. As a side note to the pikes unpopularity years ago some folks deplored the “slimy, stinky snakes” and tossed them back in the water or sometimes killed them and tossed them overboard! What a waste of fine cuisine!

Dad, like most area guides during that era, would keep the pike they caught and added them to their families food supply. To keep their clients guessing why anyone would keep a snake the guides created some unique excuses for doing so. Mike Froelich of Sayner told his clients he fed pike to his cats. Dad told his clients he used them for fertilizer in our vegetable garden, even though most years we didn’t bother to attempt creating a vegetable garden.

The most common method of eliminating the Y bone problem in pike is to remove the strip of flesh that contains the Y bones. This solves the problem but also wastes a fairly nice sized portion of the fillet. Families that lived by the ancient creed of “waste not – want not” created various ways of preparing pike to avoid wasting any edible portions.

One popular method was smoking the pike, then picking out the bones as you nibbled on the tasty finished product. Another fail-safe method was to run the flesh through a meat grinder, Y bones and all, mix the ground pike with left-over mashed potatoes and make potato/pike patties by frying the mixture. Pickling pike was another way of converting the Y bones to soft, harmless morsels.

Dad began experimenting with various other ways of saving all the flesh from the pike and deep-frying them, as this was the most common way to prepare fish back in the good old days. And what follows is dad’s “secret technique.”

First let me say that this technique will only work well on pike that range in size from about sixteen inches to twenty-two inches in length because once they exceed twenty-two inches the Y bones are too thick for this procedure to work well. Keeping in mind pike of this size are also the tastiest!

Step one: Hone your fillet knife to its utmost sharpest or use an electric fillet knife.

Step two: Remove the belly “butterfly” fins.

Step three: Fillet the editable portions off the spine leaving the skin attached to both fillets. (During this step some anglers cut around the ribs and leave them attached to the spine, others slice through the ribs bones and remove them from the fillet later. Your choice but I do the later as it is quicker once you master the technique.)

Step four: This is the “secret part” and must be done with care and some precision. The Y bones are located along the lateral line of the fillet from where the “neck” of the pike is to where the anal opening is located. Beyond that, which is the tail section, there are no bones. Lay the fillet skin side down on the cleaning board. Cut across the fillet where the Y bones are located starting at the neck. Cut all the way through the flesh to the skin. You will feel and actually hear the Y bones being severed. Do not cut across the section where the ribs once were, as you need to keep this area intact to prevent the fillet from being reduced to “fingers” after the process is completed. Continue MAKING CUTS ABOUT ¼ INCH APART OR CLOSER until you no longer feel your knife severing bones.

Step five: Remove the skin as usual and cut the finished product into frying size pieces. Lightly flour each piece and deep fry in hot oil until the fish is golden brown. The hot oil will bubble up between each cut and dehydrate the short sections of the Y bones making them crispy, harmless and undetectable! And oooohhhh, its soooooo good!

Over the years I’ve taken great delight in preparing deep fried pike at my shore lunches for folks who have never eaten pike or express their dislike of that species. After lunch nearly everyone becomes a convert.

One of my most memorable shore lunches when I substituted pike for walleye took place during July of 1964. I was fishing with a new client that day, the Honorable Charles Halleck of Indiana, who at the time was the Republican Minority Leader of the U.S. House of Representative, and his wife.

Noontime found us invading the island on Big St. Germain Lake for a traditional shore lunch. Our stringer contained a mixture of walleye and pike, the pike being mine as Charlie early on declared he hated the snakes but I was welcome to take them home with me at day’s end.

After toting our lunch box and cooking gear ashore Charlie and his wife spread their rain coats on the ground in a shady spot under an elm tree and began preparing themselves a before lunch cocktail. Charlie instructed me to “clean up a couple of walleye and take your time cooking lunch.”

Once back at the shoreline I removed two medium sized pike from our stringer and filleted them as outlined in my instructions. While my clients continued to enjoy the peace and quiet, plus a cocktail or two, I took my good-natured time peeling the potatoes, opening a can of beans and frying a pound of bacon for appetizers. By the time the crisp bacon vanished the fries had browned, the beans were bubbling and the pike fillets were fried Charlie and his wife were hungry as bears after a winter of hibernation!

Mouthful after mouthful of delicious pike was consumed amidst raves such as, “this is the best (bleep-bleep) walleye I ever ate!” coming from the guy who hated pike.

After everything was consumed I made a confession. “Mr. Halleck – I have a confession to make. I didn’t clean and cook walleye – you and your wife just ate two northern pike.”

At first Charlie refused to believe me because, “They couldn’t have been northern as I didn’t find any bones in the fillets.” But I already knew my clients wouldn’t find any bones.

I once again retreated to the lakeshore and retrieved the two northern pike carcasses as proof of what I had cooked. Congressman Halleck became hostile.

“I told you to cook walleye! So (bleep-bleep) why didn’t you do what I asked?”

Mrs. Halleck came to my defense. “Charlie – stop it! You just told Buckshot that was the best fish you ever ate.”

Mr. Halleck instantly mellowed out and apologized for his outburst and then asked “how the (bleep) did you get rid of those (bleeping) Y bones?”

Well, all’s well that ends well. Charlie caught a legal musky in the afternoon, gave me a generous tip at days end and we continued to fish together annually for the next seventeen years.

And I like to think fried northern pike helped cement our lengthy relationship!

Mr. Leon "Buckshot" Anderson is one of the few old time hunting and fishing guides left in Northern Wisconsin.   Buckshot is a personal friend of the family and has known and worked with my grandfather, Howard "Pop" Dean,  both of whom are members of the fresh water fishing hall of fame, Legendary Guide.   Buckshot has authored 7 books on the great outdoors. All of his books can be purchased directly from him, at a discount, by email:  or by mail to: 2220 Deadman's Gulch Road, St. Germain, WI 54558.

Books by Leon "Buckshot" Anderson Click Here

Yes; Deadman's Gulch is the correct name, I have been on that road many times. Sincerely David D. Cruger

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