Northern Pike were illegally introduced to the Bitterroot River and every other drainage west of the Divide. The large toothed river monsters prey on anything they can swallow; native ducklings, frogs, snakes and fish may all be on their menu. Because they are so hard on our native aquatic critters, we fish for them in the rivers and ponds and consume their delicious white meat. We release the trout. Over the past few years, I’ve experimented with different ways to prepare my invasive harvest. I prefer my pike smoked.
Before I smoke my pike filets, I soak them in a brine for an extended period of time. The longer the fish soaks, the saltier it will become; twelve hours works just fine for me.
Brining fish helps add moisture, preserves the meat and infuses more flavor. To make my brine I add 1 cup of salt, 1 cup of brown sugar, and a bunch of random spices to one gallon of water. Once the fish has soaked in the brine for twelve hours, I wash off the filets using cold water, place them on racks, and cover them in garlic powder, pepper, cayenne pepper and alpine touch. After the filets have been spiced up, I turn on a fan and point it toward the meat until its “wet looking” texture no longer glistens. This process of drying the outside of the meat is called pellicle. It helps to trap the infused flavors and moisture in the meat. At this point, the fish is ready to be smoked.
To smoke the pike, I use hickory or apple woodchips; birch, alder or any other kind of fruiting tree will also work. Chips must be soaked in water for at least an hour before use. Once the chips are soaked, I place them in a metal box that has holes on its surface. Then I place the metal box on an electric coil in the bottom of my smoker. The intensity of the coil’s heat output will alter the temperature of the smoker and the amount of smoke released from the metal box. Once the chips begin to smoke, I put the racks of prepared fish in the smoker, adjust the heat to 200°- 230° and let the pike smoke for roughly two hours. After a couple hours, the smoked filets will have a nice caramel colored crisp outside. This means they are done and are ready for consumption.
This is how I smoke pike, whitefish and kokanee. Since I started smoking fish, I’ve looked up hundreds of recipes and strategies on how to properly smoke different kinds of fish. In my searches, I have never found a recipe or smoking style that is exactly alike - there are many different styles of smokers too. If you decide to smoke fish, you will have to experiment with different techniques and recipes until you find one you like. I strongly suggest you give it a try.
Jeff graduated from the University of Minnesota, Duluth, with a B.S. in outdoor recreation education. After college, Jeff managed U.S. Forest Service campgrounds in Northern Minnesota and ran interpretive programs for the parks. After several months in the woods, he decided to explore Western Montana and soon after was introduced to MPG. Jeff took a role with the MPG North field crew for two years where he gathered data for tree studies, completed forestry projects, worked to eradicate invasives, identified and photo documented species, and assisted MPG’s team of scientists.
Jeff manages the exceptionally hard working 20 person field crew. He leads projects focused on weed eradication, forest thinning, tree protection, prevention of soil degradation, plant propagation, field reporting, ranch maintenance, along with many other tasks. Jeff regularly monitors the effects of his restoration efforts and looks forward to seeing the long term results.