freshwater fish to eat
Getty: Dan Totilca

Catch-and-Eat Bucket List: 10 Tasty Fish to Try


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There are so many freshwater fish to catch and eat, the options are almost endless. Some fish seem to get a better reputation than others (here's looking at you, rainbow trout!). There are many that swim under the radar that are worth considering. The following list has 10 palate-pleasing freshwater fish to add to your catch-and-eat bucket list.

1. Chinook or "King" Salmon

Fall Chinook Caught by Author

Fall Chinook Caught by Author

It is the king for a reason, as it's flaky and flavorful. The Chinook, or the king salmon, is a great table fare option. The spring run Chinook are especially delicious due to the extra fat they store for the journey upstream through low-water obstacles. You can also prepare them by simply smoking them, but don't count out salmon brines.

Native to the North Pacific Ocean, wild Chinook salmon often grow to 100 pounds, which equals a lot of meat in the freezer. These thick, meaty fish can be prepared in many different ways and aren't fussy. Toss them on the grill, sear them in a cast-iron pan, broil them in a hot oven, or cut them thinly and flash-sauté them in a hot frying pan. They're tasty every time.

2. "Wiper" Hybrid Bass

 

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These hybrids are a cross between the striped bass and the white bass. Sometimes as a wiper or white rock bass these fish are resilient to extreme temperatures and poorly oxygenated waters. A little beefier than a white bass, and a little more broad than the slender striper, the wiper has tender, flaky meat. Wipers can be prepared the same way as any bass species, including grilled, pan-fried, baked, and more. One classic way to prepare bass, which could therefore work for wiper, is to coat in a breadcrumb blend and fry in oil. While this may not necessarily be the healthiest way to prepare them, it still makes for a once-in-a-while dish.

3. Walleye

freshwater fish to eat

Getty: Piter1977

Walleye are a commonly sought-after freshwater fish among anglers. It is not difficult to see why once you've tasted its mild, juicy flesh. The best-kept secret with walleyes, though, is that they are the bearers of the elusive freshwater scallop, aka walleye cheeks. These little morsels of meat are a really tasty treat. They are a little firmer than the regular walleye filet with a little bit of a denser flavor. Don't waste this cut! Many people offer walleye cheeks as an appetizer. To get this bit of meat out, make a circle cut around the shape of the walleye cheek. Cook as you would any other filet of walleye.

4. Yellow Perch

Often called the "poor man's walleye," the yellow perch is equally delicious table fare, but is more of a tapas plate than a feast, and takes a little more care to prepare. They are quickly becoming popular favorite farmed fish for aquaculture, and top the list of underrated fish you should probably be eating. Yellow perch are common in many northern and eastern regions of the United States and much of Canada. They are fairly easy to catch, which is a good thing if an angler is looking to make a meal of them, because they typically don't grow particularly large.

5. Pickerel

Pickerel are bony with small amounts of meat. Cut the filets meticulously to remove any unwanted bones. The best time to have a pickerel dinner is after a day when you have caught a few of them. Individually they don't provide much meat so the more, the merrier. Just don't overdo it; pickerel is known to contain mercury. The highest concentrations are in the fat around the belly area, so avoid those areas the best you can.

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Pickerel can be cooked the same way as many other species. The flavor is quite fishy, so be generous with butter and seasonings.

6. Crappie

Crappie are picky eaters, which shines through in the flavors of their white, oily flesh. They live primarily in cold, clear freshwater lakes and rivers all across North America and feast on insects and crustaceans. Crappie's flavor is like a cross of bluegill and tilapia, but soft and flaky. Crappie is a very versatile fish. Fry them up, serve them in a stew, or bake them in a savory dish.

7. Mountain Whitefish

Although mountain whitefish does not possess the same pinkish-orange-reddish flesh as other fish in the salmonid family, it has surprisingly palatable qualities. Don't count it out. Mountain whitefish are native to the Midwest, the Pacific Northwest, and various regions of Canada. Whitefish live mostly in cold lakes. Their flavor and flesh resembles cod, with a high fat content that lends itself to a variety of recipes. This meat can be tasty when smoked or fried

8. Bluegill

Bluegill could be regarded as "the gateway drug" for young anglers. Probably one of the easiest fish to catch and one of the toughest to clean, it is a great fish to learn on. Like just about anything else pulled from the water, they taste good battered and fried, but there's a certain nostalgia to eating these fish. One of the most common panfish in the United States, and on this list, they make a tasty shore lunch when cooked over an open campfire.

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Bluegill can be found in many different habitats, from murky ponds to weed beds to sandy shallows. Anglers should take care when cleaning these fish to remove the small bones. Like other small panfish, it takes a few to make a meal.

9. White Bass

In the same way that yellow perch is the "poor man's walleye," the white bass is the poor man's striped bass. Hybrids of the two are commonly stocked for recreational anglers. White bass are also one of the more commonly farmed freshwater fish. The white bass does have a distinctive fishy taste, but can make a good meal when prepared properly. Try it as a southern-style fish fry, breaded and seasoned spicy. Or, go with a more New England-style fish fry and focus on a buttery breadcrumb coating.

10. Common Carp

A carp by any other name would still be as flaky and white? Carp have recently undergone a rebrand in many parts of the nation. Offered up as a mildly flavored, ethically sourced freshwater fish, carp is described as pure, light, and clean. Some say it's more savory than tilapia, and cleaner-tasting than catfish.

Choose Copi, the carp rebrand initiative said, "Copi's clean, mild flavor profile marries well with a range of seasonings. This wild-caught fish is a chef's ideal canvas for creativity--pan fry, steam, broil, bake, roast, deep fry, or grill. Copi is a fresh fish that can be ground for sliders, fish cakes, dumplings, and tacos."

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