“Strange? What is that? Never seen one before” I said as I looked over his shoulder to see what Chris was holding in his hands half way in the water.
“Whitefish” he said. He stood up bringing the fish out of the water for a quick photo op and quickly released it back into the river.
That was the first time and last time I seen a Whitefish, until now…20 years later.
Years ago, when I was in my Ecotourism course training to become a guide, I was learning to fly fish on the Bella Coola River. Cutthroat Trout were the main target. However, the odd Steelhead was hooked and gave a few of us a fun fight on the river. A few of us managed to bring in a Steelhead for a photo-op. I never got the chance…I lost mine. It took me down river in a heart beat and it entered the rapids. The bullet fast and large steelhead was giving me no room to play and was taking my fly-line into its backing. I was going to loose my hook, my leader, my fly-line and my backing at this rate. I had no choice but to ‘palm’ my reel to stop the reeling of my spool. The line went taught and I could feel the snap. My fish was gone. With a 6lb leader…the Steelhead easily broke it and took off with one of my hand tied minnows.
I have pictures of me with Dolly Varden and Cutthroat, but none with Steelhead, nor the small-yet large-scaled and small mouthed Lake Whitefish. If I’m not mistaken, Chris was the only one who caught one that trip.
He wanted to keep that fish as he said they were good eating. But we were not allowed to keep anything we caught. It was all catch and release. Too bad, I was curious about this ‘new-to-me’ fish that was apparently good eating.
Over the last few years I started to explore more lakes in my region. I learned that multiple lakes in the area do have Lake Whitefish. Despite fishing at those lakes, I never caught any. Mind you, I was not targeting them. I had no clue and still have no clue how to fish for them or what they eat or their behaviors. When I caught them the other day, it was by fluke. I was targeting Burbot and I was catching the Whitefish instead. Which surprised me! Based on what I read, you need small hooks and bait to fish for Lake Whitefish. Here, my friend and I were using 4 inch Buzz Bombs and we were hooking them. Not snagging them, but actually hooking them as they went for the Buzz Bomb. Some of the Whitefish we caught were as long as the Buzz Bomb or other Spoons we were using! How the heck they were going to try to eat an entire 4 inch lure as big as them, I have no clue. It was entertaining to say the least to see they try. The little ones were released and we kept the larger ones.
In the past 3 years, every time I went to this lake and targeted the Burbot, I caught Northern Pikeminnow and Peamouth, and the odd Burbot, but never Whitefish. This time, I only caught Whitefish and none of the other fish (except I did catch one small Burbot). Needless to say, I was surprised! I decided to keep the Whitefish so I could explore their culinary potential. I’m always open to new protein sources.
When I got home, I Googled more information on the Whitefish and found that many people do in fact, eat Whitefish. There are several recipes on-line on how to cook them and even pickle them (for use in Rollmops dishes)! Whitefish I found out, actually belongs to the Salmonid family. Who would have thought!? The Whitefish are small, with a small mouth, has large scales and has white flesh. I would have thought it belonged to the Carp (Cyprinidae) family? But no. I also found out that the Lake Whitefish has a higher oil content in its flesh like other members of the Salmon family.
As I had all the makings for Fish Tacos, I decided I would make Fish Taco’s for dinner. First time making them at home.
Descaling them was relatively simple and so was filleting them. I found that they were not really boney, not like the fish in the Chubb or Minnow Family. As they are a small fish, they were a bit tedious to fillet, but nothing a sharp fillet knife and patience couldn’t take care of.
I was quite fascinated with their…*ahem*…insides. Their ‘guts’ as it appears to me, are pushed up towards their head, leaving large hollow space for their swim bladder and a small trail of intestines to their rear end. Also, their ‘guts’ didn’t seem like guts at all: small, compact and neatly packaged. It almost looked like there were organs missing compared to other fish. I swear one day, I’ll do a post of the different gut sacks of fish. Hahaha! I’ll provide a little Biology lesson.
Oh, their stomachs were loaded with Burbot eggs as well. It seems that the Burbout have just finished spawning and the Whitefish and even Burbot were all interested in feasting on the new spawn. Yes, even Burbot eat their own species eggs! According to Wikipedia, each female Burbot, depending on body size, will lay from 63,000 to 3,478,000 eggs for each clutch. It’s a good thing they lay so many eggs because thousands and thousands of them get eaten until the eggs drift and settle into less noticeable places.
Ok, enough about guts and cannibalism…onto Fish Taco’s!
I adapted this recipe from https://natashaskitchen.com/fish-tacos-recipe/
I substituted and used Gouda Cheese, iceberg lettuce and my homemade Zucchini Salsa. But everything else remained the same in the recipe.
I also had to cook the fish for a shorter amount of time as my fillets were smaller and thinner. So if you ever cook these tacos using your own Lake Whitefish, I would suggest you cook accordingly to the size and thickness of your fillets.
Once I finished baking the fish fillets, I did a taste test (no taco fillings). The Whitefish was very mild and pleasant tasting. My kids and I tasted no strong ‘fishy’ flavor. It really just took on the flavor of the spices I put on. So that got the seal of approval.
The texture was a bit different. It’s more…flaky and mealy, if I could describe it that way. It’s not like the firm texture from other white-fleshed fish like Cod, Halibut, or even Burbot. It’s still palatable and pleasing. Very suitable for Fish Taco’s anyways. I would love to get more Whitefish and try it different ways to prepare it now that I know what kind of texture and taste to expect.
I’m glad I used this recipe. Dinner turned out fantastic! My kids found eating Fish Taco’s quite fun and it’s a “Winner Dinner” in their books. They had no hesitation in trying the newly caught fish as they are used to me bringing home ‘different’ foods. As long as it tastes good, they don’t seem to mind (within reason…organ meat is still a no and I’m no fan either). As fish is healthy and a good source of fats and oils, we do try to eat it more often. Making fish into fish Taco’s is an easy way to incorporate fish into our diets.
I plan to make Fish Taco’s in the future using other fish as well, like Kokanee, Rainbow Trout, Burbot, etc.
Have you made Fish Taco’s with “not-your-typical” fish before?