How to fillet chain pickerel, perch and bullhead catfish


Earlier this summer, we got in some fishing with my brother and a very dear old friend up in Sullivan County, NY. It was extremely hot at the time, and the fishing was generally pretty rough. However, we ended one otherwise unsuccessful day with a bonanza of catches in a small, still pool that extended off of the Neversink River in Hasbrouck, NY. (Check out this great collection of photos from a Neversink River fly fishing trip).

Didn’t expect much since it was such a small “pond” (I believe “billabong” is a fairly accurate term for it), but we caught a bunch of decent sized chain pickerel and yellow perch, plus 1 bullhead catfish. Though it’s sometimes advisable to practice catch and release, I personally like to eat as many of the fish I catch as possible. No sense putting them through all that trauma and misery for nothing — unless of course they are endangered in the area you’re fishing in. Several of the pickerel we landed were big enough to keep, and there are no restrictions on taking perch or bullhead in New York State.

Pickerel and perch are considered “garbage fish” by some fishermen, and many folks describe them as tasting “gamey”. As far I’m concerned though, what they call “gamey” is just what most fish taste like, which I happen to find delicious. These fish can be filleted or just gutted. Fry them in butter with some onions (and garlic if you like), throw on some salt and pepper, and you have one of my favorite meals.

Hella D is an expert at filleting fish, but smaller fish can be pretty tough to fillet. Chain pickerel in particular are very difficult to fillet because of the “Y bones” on both sides of the fish. These bones are common to all members of the pike family (northern pike, chain pickerel and muskellunge). Pickerel being the smallest members of the family present the most difficulty.

Fortunately, nowadays you can find just about anything on YouTube, and we found several great videos on how to fillet pickerel, perch and bullheads. Here are our favorites. Many thanks to the uploaders for helping us out!

How to fillet chain pickerel

How to fillet perch

How to fillet bullhead catfish

Incidentally, fishing for perch and/or chain pickerel is a great way to introduce kids to the joys of fishing. Pickerel tend to live in shallow, weedy lakes (or ponds), and you can catch some very nice specimens just from the shore. They are also good fighters, making for exciting fishing. Perch are found just about everywhere and are usually very easy to catch.

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