The Ohio Way to Fillet Walleye

I learned how to fillet walleye when I went to Ohio State University
for dental school. I would run up to Lake Erie on weekends and pay
$35 to go on a half-day charter boat. (I would eat Top Ramen and
get paid doing my classmates’ lab work to save up money to go.)
I got to know the charter guys pretty good and they showed me
this technique.
Back there the water was at one time very polluted – remember
the Cuyahoga River, which actually caught on fire? – so this method
removes almost all of the dark, fatty meat where toxins accumulate,
and removes the pin bones. This leaves you with nice clean walleye
fillets that are totally boneless. I’ve tried this with perch, crappie and
bass – sorry, bass guys, but they’re good eating too – without success.
I don’t know why it seems to only work with walleye.
This method is very well known in the Midwest, but it doesn’t
seem that people in Washington know about this, or at least the
people that I’ve talked to have not heard of it. With this technique,
electric knives are the best way for getting really nice fillets.
The following directions describe key steps in the process while
the photos show the overall sequence of steps from start to finish:

 

step1

2-4

5

6-8

9-10

11-12

13

14

[1] Make a cut at the tail above and below the lateral line about 3
inches into the fillet. This will allow you to grab the sections.
[2] Grab the section of the fish that would be its back (as opposed to
belly section). Hold onto the lower sections.
[3] Pull the “back” section away. This part feels like you’re unzipping a large YKK zipper, and if you do it fast, it kind of sounds like one.

[4] The “back” section is removed and has no bones in it. Failed
attempts may have some pin bones near the “head” end of the
section that can be easily removed with a knife.
[5, 6, 7] Now grab the remaining two sections and “unzip” these.
This is a little technique-sensitive, but with a little practice you can
get all the pin bones and dark, fatty meat in one step.
[8] Next is the rib cage. Make a cut right behind the rib cage to
remove a boneless tail section.
[9] There is still a good amount of meat on the rib cage that we’ll
be dealing with next.
[10] A fillet glove is recommended here! Push down on the rib cage
to flatten the bones and make a cut to fillet the meat off the rib cage.
[11] There seems to be a really bony section in the forward part of
the rib cage that isn’t worth the effort. The meat is really thin in the
forward section and I just remove up to the portion that is shown.
[12] This shows all the parts of one fillet. Now repeat for the
other side.
[13] This is what one walleye looks like after all the steps. These
photos make it look time consuming, but in actuality this should
only take less than one or two minutes once proficient. Note that
on larger walleye, it’s worth the effort to remove the cheek meat.
[14] Kids love fish! They hate bones!

Story and Photos By,

Jerry Han

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