Pickerel is a common fresh water fish in the pike family found in murky waters. In interviewing people who grew up around Yankeetown Pond, I heard this fish mentioned more than a few times. So when I encountered this man and his buddy ice-fishing on the pond one January afternoon, I was thrilled that I would get to see pickerels at last.
He was very informative and told me all about pickerel fishing, both in winter and summer. He seemed very pleased when I showed interest in the fish, and told me I could take both of them. He even told me how to prepare them.
I was grateful, but as I was staring down at them on the cutting board, I wondered if he was glad to get rid of them. The fish were covered in brownish slime and smelled of mud. Filleting them was a real pain, as they were skinny and thin-fleshed.
After putting the fillets in the processor along with garlic, parsley, and bread crumbs, I was sure all the work wasn’t going to be worth it and hoped it would be the last time I would ever do it.
By the time the patties were half browned, I was already sold on the aroma and color of crispy crust that was forming. I had forgotten how nicely fresh fish fries in butter, as opposed to most store-bought fillets that disintegrate to mush. I didn’t bother to sit down. I just passed the plate around to my family, which was empty in a few minutes. I didn’t detect the muddy smell at all. The texture transported me to my childhood Japan when sardines were a common ingredient, often made into patties or balls with their bones ground up. I never thought about how important bones were for the texture—until I tasted the pickerel patty.
I have not seen this man at the pond since, but if I ever do, he may wish he never met me; I won’t be able to resist hanging around until I see the skinny fish reeled out from the hole in the ice.