The fish we catch and keep to eat remain for most of us a vital part of ice fishing — a reward for our effort that goes beyond sport. About once a year, someone at In-Fisherman goes on pickle patrol. This season it was -In€‘Fisherman Managing Editor Rob Neumann and Ice-Fishing Guide Editor Jeff Simpson. I took strategic command of the operation from my bunker at the In-Fisherman office complex.
"Straighten up there, boys," I said, as the derelict duo stood before me, snowsuits on, boots buckled, hat earflaps flapping, and 5-gallon buckets brimming with tip-ups. "Find us a pike lake that's full of picklers and let's get pickling — that is, get out there and pick us a peck of pickler pike."
Small pike often are abundant — sometimes overabundant — and pickling is one way to take advantage of this bounty. Any fish can be pickled, though — suckers, burbot, and even walleyes and crappies. Bluegills are wonderful, too, and so are perch. It's just that small pike harbor lots of small bones that are hard for many people to deal with. Pickling takes care of the problem without having to get rid of the bones.
What we're really getting at here is Selective Harvest. For almost two decades, we've been promoting this conservation concept. We let a portion of the catch go, particularly those large fish that usually are less abundant than smaller fish of the same species. So, we release the 6-pound walleyes and 10-pound pike in favor of keeping smaller fish, the makings of exquisite meals. We also take home a mess of abundant panfish of a medium size — perch, bluegills, crappies, or white bass. Or the abundant pickler pike we were just discussing.
Selective Harvest helps to sustain good fishing for larger fish but allows us to continue a tradition of eating fish, which are nutritious and delicious. The final logic is that when fish are harvested wisely (selectively), they are a renewable resource. We can continue to enjoy fine fishing today, and continue to eat fish now and in the future.
Cooking In-Fisherman Style
As a fitting celebration of the conservation ethic we call Selective Harvest, available in time for the Holidays isIn-Fisherman Presents . . . Cooking Freshwater Fish. You'll find an ad for this beautiful and thoroughly instructive book in this
magazine — the perfect gift for family and friends.
In-Fisherman's Pickled Fish
By Chef John Bisson, Jr.
4 lbs. fish fillets
1 c. salt
4 c. water
4 c. white vinegar
1 c. white sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
5 tbsp. pickling spice
1 med. onion, sliced thin
All fish to be pickled should be frozen for three days at 0°F in order to insure parasites are killed. Thaw the fish and cut the fillets into 1/2-inch strips. In a large stainless-steel, crockery or plastic container, mix the salt and water and add the fish. Store in a refrigerator for at least two days — longer won't hurt. Drain, and cover the fish with white vinegar for another day.
For the brine, combine in a saucepan two cups of white vinegar, the sugar, and the pickling spice. Bring to a boil. Place in a refrigerator until cool. Alternate layers of fish and onion slices in a crockery pot or wide-mouthed gallon jar (or smaller jars), pour brine over the fish, cover, and refrigerate for two weeks. Yum!
The only thing between you and a totally boneless fillet are the pin bones. These are small rib bones that lie at the right angle to the main ribs, along the upper portion of the rib cage.
Make the initial cut at the angle just behind the pectoral fin. Cut with the scales, not through them. Include as much as possible of the loin, where the neck meets the back of the head.
Make a stomach cut past the anal fin.
Cut down to the backbone, lift the dorsal (back) portion of the fish slightly, and turn the knife blade toward the tail of the fish.
Making certain to use the butt section of the knife to cut through the rib cage, slide the knife along the backbone toward the tail. Lead with the butt of the knife, making sure to cut as close as possible to the backbone so little meat is wasted.
Remove the rib cage by leading with the butt or middle of the knife and finishing with the middle or tip of the knife. The knife blade should slip just below the ribs, cutting through the epipleural ribs in the process.
If the fish hasn't been scaled, remove the skin by sliding the blade of the knife between the skin and the fillet. Lead with the butt of the knife, beginning either at the head or tail end of the fillet.