If you’re an American angler who enjoys putting your catch on the table, you’ll want to explore some of these culinary options.
Looking to put something new on your hook and on the menu? Here’s a list of a few fresh fish everyone should try at least once in an effort to expand their horizons and their palate. Bon appetit!
Chinook or “King” Salmon
Although it’s an anadromous salmonid, this is top of the list for a reason. So flaky, so delicious, and the Spring run Chinook are probably the best table fare on the planet due to the extra fat they store for the journey upstream through low water obstacles. Personally, I like them best with a simple smoke, and don’t overthink your salmon brines, it’s all about the process.
If Chinook are King Salmon, then Coho are the Queen of the salmonids. They have their own unique flavor and the color of the meat is brighter than their cousin species and maintains a unique color through the cooking process. Best served with lemon, butter, and dill.
Steelhead are slightly lesser table fare to those who are avid anglers of salmonids, however they’re worthy of being at the top of the list when it comes to freshwater fish. Like their anadromous salmon counterparts, their ocean diet makes them a tasty treat when they return to the rivers. Although they are essentially a rainbow trout that has spent a majority of their life in saltwater, they are still much higher quality table fare than their lifelong freshwater kin, which can be attributed to their diet in the salt.
These top the list in terms of warm water species. Typically, the brooder females are spared, and the smaller males are released into grease if ya know what I mean…
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 topped the list of underrated fish you should probably be eating.
Although yellow perch are a popular favorite, crappie are my personal favorite panfish. They have flaky filets and their picky diet shines through the flavors in their oily flesh.
As far as catfish species go, the channel cat is typically a chosen favorite by anglers and commercial fishermen alike. They’re easy to catch, and you can create your own bait with simple ingredients from the grocery store. They grow fast, and the 1-2lb range fish are the best quality table fare. A hybrid channel cat is typically the species grown by commercial farmers.
As a general rule, I would advise against eating “bait,” but smelt are an exception to this rule. Typically netted and not caught by hook and line, they are a popular favorite “baitfish” fit for table fare.
Many salmon and steelhead anglers mistake this species for a “trash fish” without knowing it’s actually in the salmonid family. Although it does not possess the same pinkish-orange-reddish flesh, it has surprisingly palatable qualities.
“The Gateway Drug” for young anglers, this is the foundation where most of us got their start fishing. Probably the easiest fish to catch and one of the toughest to clean. Like just about anything else, they taste good battered and fried, but there’s a certain nostalgia to eating these fish that everyone should take part in at least once. While they aren’t top notch table fare, they really aren’t that bad. If I only had to pick two fish for this list, it’d be king salmon and bluegill, to capture both spectrums of salmonids and warmwater species.
If you didn’t get your start with bluegill, it probably came from this species. One of the most popular farmed fish, they’re readily available at any grocery store, and there’s probably a hatchery that stocks a body of water near you. Given the proper attention it deserves, trout can be top quality table fare.
As far as bass go, this species makes for prime table fare. With large, flaky filets of white meat, this one takes the cake.
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 common farmed freshwater fish.
The only reason Tilapia belongs here is that everyone should try it at least once. This is the most basic freshwater farmed fish on the market, and even though the conditions it’s normally raised in are pretty poor, this common table fare fish is a good basis of comparison for those who have tried everything else. If you can catch and eat your own, more power to you.
“Wiper” Hybrid Bass
Perhaps the best of both worlds is the white bass x striped bass hybrid. A little beefier than a white bass, and a little more broad than the slender striper.
Although notorious known for being bony fish, if you take the care to remove the “Y” bones, these are palatable table fare.
Along with possessing the same “Y” bones as the Northern Pike, Gar have additional armor, making it difficult to reach the meat. However, by carefully cleaning them, you can open their armor, where tasty morsels are revealed.
Similar in appearance to carp, Wide Open Spaces writer Craig Phillips chose this species for his “Trash Fish or Treasure: 4 Fish You Should Stop Hating” list, because it’s actually one of the most common commercial fish sold in the United States.
A freshwater version of the revered red drum or redfish, this close cousin is much smaller, but often overlooked as table fare.
Carp are not exactly the creme de la creme, but they are edible, and one of the most widely consumed fish worldwide. Once you’ve removed the mud vein and scored out the tastiest bits, it will hold it’s own when battered and fried.
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