It is surprising how many fishermen look at pike with a certain level of disdain.
Some point to them being slimy. Well you are out fishing, removing weeds from hooks and putting earthworms, leeches and frozen minnows of hooks, a bit of pike slime does not seem that big of thing.
Others are not a fan of the dreaded 'Y' bones which stay even after a regular fillet.
Again I think you need to be careful eating fish you catch because of bones so knowing they are there, makes them easier to find.
Ultimately pike are the best fighters among local fish, maybe rivaled by the occasional Qu'Appelle Valley channel catfish, or the even less-liked carp. As a fisherman I like the fight. I like the tugs on the line, the threat the pike might win, breaking the line and going free.
But when fishing is good, you can catch a lot of pike, and as good as they are fried in butter, you might want to look for some alternate ways to prepare your pike.
So my son and I decided to buy a smoker. Well I decided and he agreed to split the cost.
Since this was to be a first-time venture into smoking we opted to keep the initial costs low. There are some fancy smokers available, some that you plug in, some with more control over temperatures, and of course that adds to the cost.
But as first-timers we went for one which uses charcoal as a heat source.
It came in pieces in a box, and without instructions in terms of how pieces were to go together. Fortunately we got it figured out, and more easily than expected. We even ended up with a couple of screws and nuts left over. Still instructions would have been nice.
It would have been better had the manufacturer included a basic 'recipe' guide for how the smoker works, and how to prepare what you are smoking. Yes smoking different meats requires somewhat different preparations, but there are a few basics which would have been a help to beginners.
So it was off to the Internet. Search 'how to smoke fish' and you quickly learn everybody seems to do it just a bit differently. In terms of the brine you marinate the fish in before smoking, there are literally hundreds of concoctions. That is truly the exciting part of this adventure.
Days before we put the first pike onto smoke I was thinking up potential recipes with ingredients such as molasses, hot sauces, spiced rum and fruit juices. No two batches need be exactly alike making every time you smoke a new taste experience.
We went with a pretty basic marinate the first time out.
The flavour is also influenced by the smoke and that varies depending on what wood chips are used.
Maple was our first choice, but again there are several commercially available types to try.
The brine was easy to mix and we tossed in some pike fillets and waited overnight (six to eight hours in the brine is all it takes). The time is another area I think you can tinker with, extending it if you wanted a stronger flavour. I'm also thinking if you score the fish with a knife the absorption will be quicker.
Our first try was with pike fillets. I'd like to try it skin on, but had none to try with so skinned it was.
The toughest part of the process was honestly getting the charcoal burning well. The stuff makes a great heat source once they get to the red hot / white stage, but getting them there, well let's just say my son and I found lighter fluid, and copious amounts of it, to be our friend. But we got it going hot, added the chips, laid the marinated fillets on the grill, closed it up and crossed our fingers, keeping an eye on things for the four hours suggested for smoking.
That meant adding more charcoal and wood chips and keeping an eye on the thermometer to keep it as close to 160 Fahrenheit (71 Celsius).
It was an agonizing four hours. The instruction we found online were pretty simple, but … I will admit I held a high expectation of disappointment was likely when we opened the smoker.
Once the smoke blew away the pieces looked liked smoked fish,
But the success of any experiment comes in analyzing the results. For smoking pike that means taste-testing.
We grab a piece. It's hot, but we tear into it and take a chunk, and then another, and soon my son and I had probably eaten most of one of the three pike in the smoker.
It was tasty. It had the smoky flavour you strive for.
Yes the thinner tail pieces on the lower rack were a bit drier, but that just meant they were a bit more like jerky. In the future thinner pieces go to the top rack.
We had also pushed the time a bit, doubting that it could be done. Next time it's three hours, maybe a tad less.
It was not perfect perhaps but it was good enough we are already planning the next batch, and honestly many, many pike will find their way to the smoker.