What to do with Pike Minnow

Pike Minnows are considered a trash fish, but gourmets are discovering a long-kept secret.

A Pike Minnow like this healthy 2.5 pound Pend Oreille Lake example have a very high protein content, if you can figure out a way to cook them.

In The Same Water

Pike Minnow, that’s the politically correct name, but it’s a Squawfish by colloquial standards and most fishers still call it that, with no intent to offend anyone. “That’s what it is,” they say, shrugging their shoulders over the political thing. You might not believe this but I like catching Pike Minnows–especially if they have any size to them. This two and a half-pounder being held up by Go Fish! Charters guide, Chad Landrum, is half the size of what they can grow to be.

Just about everyone considers this a trash fish. It’s a rather voracious eater, fends for itself along shoreline structure and runs easily over deeper water, generally near the surface. It spawns on the sandy shore beaches in June. I noticed a Pike Minnow spawning bed in the shallow water sand along our beach this spring. They do very well in the larger rivers like the Clark Fork and the Pend Oreille. In the Columbia they have a bounty because they eat salmon and steelhead fry coming down toward the ocean in their first year of life. A five pound Pike Minnow can eat a lot of young fish.

One friend says, “If you find the Squawfish, you’ve found the bass.” He’s referring to small mouth bass because they like the same structure and feed on the same things: smaller fish, crayfish and insect larva. When you see a big splash from a rising fish on flat water, it’s generally a Squawfish. They like to put on the show–kind of a competitive thing I imagine. You’ll find Pike Minnows competing with trout as well.

Generally speaking, no one will eat them. One of the universities in the area did a study a few years back (I think it was Washington State University) to determine if Pike Minnow meat could be utilized commercially. They are just too boney to cook in the fry pan or bake–worse than Pike, hence their comparison name. Yet the study reported Squawfish have some of the highest protein content of any freshwater fish, if I remember correctly from reading the study.

People eat Carp, why can’t they eat Pike Minnow? The study recommended this abundant fish might be used in Surimi, flavored to taste like crab. But that went nowhere because a producer has to label the contents of a food package in the U.S. and too many people, evidently, know that a Pike Minnow is trash fish. What a label–trash fish! Consumers won’t buy it. So they tried cat food and garden fertilizer. I rendered fresh-caught Pike Minnow to my cultivated ground several times in earlier days of gardening, but found it attracted neighborhood dogs and skunks. Oh well!

I won’t give you the recipe here, not yet. You’ll have to come back. I’ll show you a way to can Pike Minnow that makes for happy guests at the hors d’oeuvres tray. Canning, of course, renders all the bones to a semi-crunchy, highly digestible calcium in the “flavored Pike Minnow paste your eating with that cracker.”

“Yum, it’s good!” they exclaim, going back for more. Most evening guests have no clue what a Pike Minnow is, I guess. It certainly won’t kill them. It’s a just reward for not reading my blog. The fact remains, canned Pike Minnow paste–the way I prepare it–disappears from the cracker tray faster than any other fish condiment.

Yes, I eat Dandelions too.
~Dwayne Parsons     twitter.com@ifishwrite