Best eating, worst eating fish

The whole business of butchering and eating dolphin (see my previous post—“Massacre”) lead some friends and me into discussion about taking and eating legit gamefish in general.

Look, everybody knows catch-and-release is a necessary fact of life today but it doesn’t preclude the thoughtful (and legal) taking of specific fish from environments that can tolerate careful harvest. Unfortunately, catch-release is elevated to near religious fanaticism among some folks. The advent of release tournament fishing, for instance, has caused a generation of anglers to gasp in horror over the taking of a large or smallmouth bass to eat (interesting that not so many walleye anglers feel that way). And recently out West, one of this country’s finest conservationists, fishing educator, angler and tackle shop owner who kept his trophy-of-a-lifetime brown trout, was treated in some circles to bodily threats, boycotts, and some of the ugliest comments I’ve seen.

Which brings us back to the joy of noshing on a fish-based dinner, and the best candidates for supplying the raw ingredients. This is tough. The only way I can narrow down my favorite eating (and worst eating) fish is to limit the selection first to freshwater species. I’ll get to saltwater fish later. Anyway, here are my choices for the six best and worst eating fish.


Small Brook Trout from wilderness water, gutted and grilled whole over a low campfire and eaten—skin and all—like cob corn.

Yellow Perch taken through the ice or from really cold water. Behead them, skin them, cut away the lower rib bones with a knife, the sauté or fry.

Wild Salmon (Pacific or Atlantic), preferably brushed with olive oil and grilled over a smoky alderwood fire. Larger, stronger flavored fish are great marinated in equal parts soy sauce, brown sugar and your favorite hooch, then grilled on the barbie.

Walleye in any of a dozen ways, broiled, fried, sautéed. Their lack of distinctive strong flavor lets you go wild with recipes and sauces.

Catfish, preferably smaller channel cats from a clean river. Always deep fried.

Crappie, fried or sautéed, depending on size.


Bowfin (a.k.a mudfish or grindle). A long time back somebody served me a piece of one as a cruel joke. Gag.

Carp. Unless its smoked and from northern waters.

Sturgeon. Even smoked these things are like rubber. Especially larger ones. Give me their eggs.

Suckers. Flesh is questionable for my taste, and there are way too many bones.

Shad (American). Flesh is sweet but the rats nest of bones makes it hardly worthwhile.

Hatchery trout from marginal put-and-take water. Otherwise I love trout.

OK, anybody have candidates for either of these lists?