How to Clean a Northern Pike

How to Clean a Northern Pike
Though Northern pike are delicious, many people do not eat them because they have a reputation for being hard to clean. This reputation stems from the fact that Northerns have Y-bones, located halfway between the centerline and top of the fillet, that must be removed. There are ways to easily fillet a Northern and remove it Y-bones so you can enjoy eating this yummy fish.


Difficulty: Moderate

Things You’ll Need:
  • Fillet knife
  • Bucket
  • Newspaper
  • Garbage bags
  • Large freezer bags
Step 1
Place your Northern on its side, and begin a 45-degree angle cut just behind the gills and front side fin. Cut down to the backbone and then turn your knife sideways to cut along the spine all the way down to the tail. This cut should be as close to the backbone as possible without going through it.
Step 2
Lay the fillet scale-side down, and cut under the ribs parallel to the fillet. As you cut the ribs free from the fillet, keep the knife as close to the ribs as possible to avoid removing excess meat.
Step 3
Look for a line of faint white dots between the centerline and top of the fillet; these are the Y-bones. Locate the Y-bones with your fingertips by feeling for a line of small, spiny bumps running the length of what should be the thickest part of the fillet.
Step 4
Make a cut above the Y-bones on the side closest to the top of your fillet. As you cut down, follow the curve of the bones, which you should be able to feel with the tip of your knife.
Step 5
Make an upward cut along the side closest to your fillet's centerline, working the tip of the knife along the bones as you cut. As you do this, you will begin to feel the bones peel away from the whole fillet.
Step 6
Grab hold of the thin strip of Y-bones that you have cut from your fillet, and pull on it. The bones, held together by a thin strip of flesh, should come free when you do this.
Step 7
Remove the skin from your fillet with your knife. Use long, parallel knife strokes, starting at the tail end of the fillet, to cut the skin free.
Step 8
Rinse your fillet in water, and store it in a large freezer bag. Wrap the remains of the cleaned fish in newspaper, and discard them.

Tips & Warnings

Always use a sharp fillet knife when cleaning fish. A sharp knife not only makes cleaning fish easier, it is also safer.
A pair of filleting gloves can provide added grip and protect your hands.
Always use extreme caution when working with a sharp fillet knife.

Article Written By Richard Hansen

Richard Hansen grew up and currently resides in Minnesota. He graduated from Dartmouth College and has traveled extensively in Africa and South America, including the Amazon jungle. He has worked as a wilderness guide in Yellowstone and northern Minnesota, and written for Fur-Fish-Game, Dartmouth Alumni Magazine and

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