It has to be one of the toughest skills to learn as a fisherman, getting those annoying y-bones out cleanly from a Northern Pike filet. Speaking for myself, I have not conquered the skill, so I have called upon a master fisherman to provide some expertise. Realizing there are several ways to filet a fish, this just happens to be the way I was taught. The instructions below will be a paraphrase and combination of two styles.
Personally, I like a very sharp knife with a thin blade. I have two Rapala knives and I prefer the thinner blade which seems to be sharper and much more flexible. Some people prefer a blade not as sharp, this is really a personal preference.
1. Filet the fish as you normally would, taking the ribs out and leaving the skin on. Hold your knife vertically and take a quick swipe of the filet to expose the remaining bones. Important to remember that pike bones angle upwards toward the spine of the fish.
2. You will see two lines on the fish, one solid white and one broken (these are the tips of the y-bones), approximately 1/4 to 3/4 of an inch apart. Between the solid white line and the y-bones cut vertically 1/8 to 1/4 inch deep from the head of the filet to the start of the anal fin.
3. Just outside of the broken line (y-bones), cut 1/8 to 1/4 inch deep from the head of the filet to the start of the anal fin. Go easy here, you don’t want to cut through the bones.
4. Going back to the y-bone line cut you just made cut 1/2 inch horizontally following the bones to their end. There is a gentle twisting motion to the knife as you follow the y-bones, slicing gently.
5. Now go back and cut again, making 1/2 cuts until you get to the end. Do not slice through the skin or come out the end of the filet, remembering that the bones should end about 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch from the skin.
6. On the solid line slice horizontally on the underside of the y-bones working from head to tail. Again, use that twisting motion as you follow the y-bones. You will see your blade through the opening side of the previous cuts as you work. Continue this until all the y-bones have been removed.
As with everything, this takes practice to become proficient. While I am still working on this skill my filets are looking less like something the dog has chewed on and something more worthy of the fry pan.
In the canoe pack I like to provide extra protection to my good knives, filet or otherwise. A good, hard case will do two things for you; 1. it will help keep those expensive knives from dulling or bending while in the pack. And 2. the hard case will keep the very sharp blades from exiting the canvas utensil roll or side of my Duluth Pack while bumping across a portage.
Enjoy, and fish on!