TASTE FOR ONE!!! by Montana Grant
By angelamontana

Posted: March 7, 2024

If you had to eat just one species of Montana fish, what would it be? There could be only one. Targeting, catching, and harvesting just one species would make you a better fisherman for that one species, but what fish would be your choice? 

Montana is blessed with many Blue-Ribbon Waters. Several great rivers offer a nice diversity of fish spread throughout the state. Some waters promote Catch and Release or should. Many sportsmen don’t even eat fish, while releasing every fish they catch. 

Montana’s waters have a huge downside. As the Treasure State, miners left their mark. Mercury is a forever chemical in our waters. Since the headwaters of our major rivers begin in Yellowstone, geothermal chemicals like arsenic, mercury, and lead contaminate our watersheds and in turn the fish. Some fish that are long livers and slow growers build up high levels of toxins in their body. 

Here are your fish choices!

Trout   There are several species of trout. Only Cutthroats are native. Bull trout and Grayling are protected. Brooks, rainbows, goldens, and browns are stocked or wild fish. Lake trout are introduced. My favorite trout to eat are Brookies! These are actually a Char, that is related to other trout species. Lake trout are also tasty but limited as to location. If you live near Flathead Lake, enjoy it. Browns tend to contain more toxins since they eat more crayfish, which also contain toxins. Rainbows in lakes can get huge and feast on plankton. The older the trout, the more toxins they contain. The perfect eater trout is between 12-16 inches. Huge trout require filet skills to get rid of the Y bones. Cooking them like salmon can be delicious. 

Walleye/ Sauger, Pike, and Perch    These related fish are all non-native to our state. Everyone brags about Walleyes, but it takes almost 8 years to grow into a decent sized keeper. Pike also are long livers and absorb a lot of toxins as they feed. Cleaning pike is a learned skill but worth the effort. Yellow Perch are abundant and available. In lakes they feast on plankton and grow quickly. A 10–12-inch perch is common and the perfect eating size if you can work a filet knife. This may be my favorite of all Montana fish to eat. 

Crappies, Bass, Bluegills    These species are not as common in Montana. None are native. When you can find them, they are great fun and tasty. Whoever named Crappie never ate one. They are another personal favorite eater. 

Ling, Catfish, Carp, and Suckers    These bottom feeders accumulate more pollution. They call Ling Poor Man’s Lobster. Whoever named them never ate real lobster. The rest of these species will taste like the waters that they come from. If I had to pick just one, I would enjoy the catfish filets. 

Kokannee Salmon   These introduced fish are great sport and enjoyed by many. Smoking them is a popular way to eat them. I find these freshwater Salmon fishy tasting and smelling. 

Paddlefish, Sturgeon   These filter feeders are snagged. The eggs can be a tasty caviar and the filets are loved by some. I am just not a snagger. Pallid and Shovelnose Sturgeon have cartilage bonelike structures. Cleaning them is a skill. They taste mild and are enjoyed by some.

Whitefish    These native fish are found throughout the state. I have tried them baked, fried, and smoked. When smoked, they are tasty with cheese and crackers. The smaller whiteys are tastier than the big ones. 

Everyone has their own tastes and preferences. I would be willing to taste everyone’s favorite recipe. Fish caught through the ice tend to be delicious and stay fresh, compared to a warm season Summer fish. How you care for, clean, and prepare fish is important. After my lifetime of eating fish, in Montana, I would plate two species.

Brook or Cutthroat trout, and Yellow Perch would be my first menu choices. If there could be only one, Perch beware! Eating fresh fried perch filets is delicious. You can make a Tartar sauce for a fish sandwich or just on the filets. Generally, Perch are a healthy and tasty choice. They are abundant and have large limits. These fish can be caught year around and are fun sport.

Perch Please!

Montana Grant

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