Are Walleye Good To Eat? A Guide to This Popular Fish

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Are Walleye Good To Eat? A Guide to This Popular Fish

Tackle Village is reader supported. If you buy a product through links on the site we may make a small commission

Updated on:
Are walleye good to eat feature image

Spending time at your favorite lake, river, or other waterway to enjoy some walleye fishing time is a great way to spend the weekend. Tossing a hook in the water and reeling back in a bass, catfish, or walleye is a great feeling that can be enjoyed by the whole family.

But after catching your trophy freshwater fish, you may have asked the question “Is Walleye good to eat?” Walleye, also known as yellow pike or pickerel, are an extremely popular game fish that also has a unique taste.

Walleye fishing is popular throughout the USA and Canada, especially around Lake Erie, and can give you a delicious fillet to enjoy your very own hand-caught fish taste on the grill.

Walleye fish is mild in flavor and delicately flaked. It has very few bones which means you’ll get more edible flesh than waste when preparing a walleye for cooking. They taste great on the grill, baked, stewed, or cooked in a variety of other ways.

Health Benefits

Like all fish, walleye have a wide range of health benefits which makes them a great meat to add to your diet. They contain very little calories and zero carbohydrates. In fact, fish is one of the most recommended low-fat meat types for body builders and health conscious individuals to consider.

Walleye fish contains a large amount of vitamin D, which is used along with calcium to produce strong bones. In addition, fish meat of any type is one of the few food sources that provides vitamin D.

Walleye fillets contains up to 21 grams of protein, which makes up nearly 40% of your daily protein requirement. Protein is responsible for the promotion of muscle growth and a strong immune system.

You’ll also find walleye are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids in walleye fillets are responsible for helping encourage brain development and heart health. In addition, some studies have shown that a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acid can help reduce anxiety and depression, as well as lower the chance of age-related diseases such as fatty liver, heart risks, and more.

Other vitamins and nutrients in this tasty freshwater fish include:

  • Vitamin B6. A vitamin that helps improve cognitive reception, memory, and focus. It can also be responsible for helping to reduce depression in adults.
  • Potassium. A vital nutrient responsible for improving muscle reactions, nerve response, and fluid balance throughout the body.
  • Selenium. Great for improving immune health and reducing the effects of cell damage throughout the aging process.
  • Zinc. A powerful nutrient that helps regulate immune function and metabolism. Additionally, zinc can help with wound healing and restoration.
  • Magnesium. A nutrient that is directly responsible for improving muscle and nerve function, as well as increasing energy production.
  • Phosphorus. This vitamin helps with the production of teeth and your skeleton, and helps the body utilize fats and carbohydrates.

A healthy combination of all of these nutrients, along with sodium from salt, can help reduce the chance of various health issues including oxidative stress, dry skin, melanoma and eczema, dry skin, hair loss, and more.

Preparing Your Walleye

The real secret to properly filleting a walleye is in having a good sharp fillet knife.

Walleye are an easy fish to prepare for cooking as they contain a large amount of flesh with a small amount of skeletal structures. This makes getting a good sized fillet from your walleye catch much easier than you may expect.

Properly filleting a walleye to eat can be done by placing your sharp filleting knife close under the dorsal fins of this palatable fish until you reach the backbone. From here, slowly move your knife parallel to the backbone to carve a fillet in the size you prefer to cook and eat.

After the first fillet has been obtained, remove the rib cage by using your knife to separate the flesh from the bone and pull it out firmly with your fingers. You don’t want to waste any edible flesh, so be sure you fully remove the ribs before continuing.

After the ribcage is removed, flip the fish over and repeat the fillet process to get a second piece of flesh to eat from your fish. Afterwards, be sure to look over the fillets and remove any leftover skeletal structures.

Rinse the fillets with clean water and cook them in your preferred way. When you decide to eat walleye, you can cook them in a variety of ways but the most common method is by tossing them in a frying pan with some melted butter and lemon pepper or black pepper seasoning.

The zesty and sweet flavor make walleye taste amazing. Serve immediately after cooking with a side dish of your choice such as French fries or potato chips to bring out the unique taste of the walleye from your fishing trip.

Skinning and Deboning

Whether you decide to skin and debone a walleye will normally depend on how you choose to prepare it to eat. Most walleye are prepared in a fillet style, as mentioned above, so deboning will be required before you can eat walleye at your next meal.

Skinning a walleye is normally not done if you plan on pan frying or deep frying. The skin helps hold the flaky walleye flesh together and prevents the walleye from becoming separated, dried, and burnt. 

If you do decide you debone a walleye before cooking it to eat, the process is relatively simple. After skinning the fish, cut a notch into either side of the lateral line of the tailbone. 

Hold the bigger fish vertically from the tail and pull downwards gently from the tail to remove the spine and rib cage. Some small bones may need to be removed with a pair of tweezers or your fingers to ensure you get that subtle flavor without having to deal with picking out bones from your teeth.

Risks of Mercury

As with most freshwater game fish, including those in the perch family such as walleye, the risk of mercury can be a concern for some individuals. Mercury builds up in the system of the walleye as it eats other fish and crayfish on the food chain, and can contaminate the walleye’s flesh which is then consumed by humans.

Mercury is common in large game fish and shellfish including:

  • Swordfish
  • Shark
  • Mackerel
  • Bigeye Tuna
  • Marlin
  • Cod
  • Lobster

The concentrations are higher in these species as they are commonly eating smaller fish or the remains of smaller fish. Since this is their main diet, the toxins from the smaller fish will build up in the larger fish’s body. 

It is least common in smaller species such as:

  • Pollock
  • Catfish
  • Squid
  • Salmon
  • Anchovies
  • Sardines
  • Oysters
  • Scallops
  • Shrimp

Mercury is a toxin that can become dangerous at higher concentrations, and the eating of fish should be limited by children under the age of 15 years old, pregnant or nursing women, and women that are trying to get pregnant.

Reducing the risk of toxin contamination can be as simple as consuming smaller walleye under 13 inches in length, as the larger walleye will have more time to build up the toxin in their flesh as they eat.

Additionally, thoroughly cleaning the flesh after fishing, removing the walleye skin, and removing the bones can also help reduce the risk of high toxin concentrations in walleye of all sizes when you plan on using the fish for your next meal.

The risk of mercury poisoning becomes greater when yellow walleye or other fish is consumed in excess, such as multiple times per day, or when the fish is improperly cleaned and prepared.

Most healthy adults not in the at-risk group will suffer no ill effects from eating fish in the recommended amounts, even if the fish does contain trace amounts of toxins.

Conclusion

Walleye is a healthy addition to any diet, and can be a great way to add more vitamin D to your diet if you are lactose intolerant.

Walleye are an excellent freshwater game fish that can be exciting to catch in clean water and delicious to eat with butter, pepper, and other seasonings. While there is a minor risk of mercury toxin building up in the flesh you consume, the health risks are extremely low unless you are under the age of 15 years, pregnant, nursing, or trying to become pregnant.

For most individuals, enjoying walleye you caught yourself is a healthy addition to any diet, and can be a great way to add more vitamin D to your diet if you are lactose intolerant.

Walleye can be cooked in a variety of ways to suit almost any taste. They do well pan fried, deep fried, grilled, and baked. You can keep it simple with salt and pepper, or dress up your fillets with a range of spices to taste.

Once you start fishing for walleye and decide to cook them for your own consumption, you’ll find it is not only an enjoyable weekend hobby but can be an excellent addition to your diet, and the diet of your family and friends.

Sources: 

https://www.hss.gov.nt.ca/en/services/contaminants-environnementaux/walleye-pickerel

https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/tips/things-to-know-about-omega-fatty-acids

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AUTHOR
Jeff Knapp is an expert fisherman, guide and outdoor writer whose work is widely published across a range of sites including Tackle Village.