Northern pike are one of the best tasting fish in North American freshwaters, but many anglers avoid keeping them for a meal, because they have heard rumors that they are difficult to clean.

The root of the northern pike myth centers on the “Y” bones.  Many anglers believe they are impossible to remove, making the fish uneatable. This myth has persisted for generations, yet it has little basis in fact.

It is true that there is a trick to cleaning northern pike to properly remove the “Y” bones, but once you learn how, it is easy and well worth the effort.

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Here are the basics of how to successfully clean a northern pike. For best results, use a northern that is at least 4 pounds in weight.

Step 1

Select a sharp fillet knife, measuring at least 6 inches in length.  Place the northern pike on a cutting board and lay it on its side with the belly facing toward you. If you are right handed, the fish’s left side should be facing up and if you are left handed, the right side should be facing up.


Make a cut from just behind the gills to the backbone. When you reach the backbone, cut along the backbone to the tail, stopping about 2-3 inches before the tail.


Flip the section you have just cut toward the tail, so the meat is facing up and the skin is toward the cutting board. Starting from the tail end, run your knife between the meat and skin, toward the opposite end, until the fillet is free from the skin.

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Flip the northern pike over and repeat steps two and three.


Run the fillets under water to rinse off any blood or other unwanted material; then rinse your knife and cutting board.


Place the fillet on the cutting board with the belly edge facing away from you. At the midway point of the fillet, run your knife along the edge of the rib bones and carefully cut them away, toward the belly.

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Flip the fillet over, so the belly edge is now facing toward you.  At the midway point of the fillet, find the edge of the “Y” bones and make a cut directly underneath the bones, along the length of the fillet. Next,  make another cut, straight down, one-half inch deep, about one inch further away from you. Now cut this long strip out of the fillet and all of the “Y” bones should come with it.

You now have a bone-free northern pike fillet, ready for the frying pan.

Photo credit: Flickr