No matter how it’s prepared, the flaky, thick and mild-tasting walleye is a feast fit for royalty.
For people who are serious about eating walleyes, there are a variety of ways to do so in Minnesota. While some people swear by coating walleye with breadcrumbs and spices and deep-frying it, others prefer a simple approach of basic seasoning and a few minutes in the oven. Simpler yet, fishermen who prize freshness above all else may catch a few walleyes in the morning, pull their boat ashore at lunch and cook their catch over an open fire.
Option One: Catch Your Own Dinner
Walleyes are synonymous with fishing in Minnesota, and not just because they’re the state fish. They’re challenging to catch, swim in more than 1,500 lakes, and their value as table fare is unmatched.
There’s a certain satisfaction that comes with eating walleyes you caught yourself, and there’s no other way to get a fresher fillet. For the average person who isn’t a walleye-fishing expert, hiring a professional guide not only reduces the learning curve, but also provides the best opportunity to catch your next meal. Guides have intimate knowledge of the waters they fish and generally know exactly where to go.
There are fishing guides throughout the state who specialize in leading people to walleyes. Some of them include shore lunches in their packages, which involves the guide cooking the fish their clients catch. These services make it possible for anglers to catch their fish and eat them just minutes or hours later. Not every guide offers a shore lunch option, but almost all of them will clean the fish for you, at minimum.
If hiring a guide isn’t in the cards or you’d rather give it a shot on your own, consider lakes such as Lake of the Woods, Leech, Mille Lacs, Minnetonka, Otter Tail, Sarah, Upper Red and Vermilion. All have robust walleye populations.
Once caught, eating walleye is the reward for all of your hard work. Most people prefer to cook their own catch, but some restaurants in Minnesota will prepare the fish you’ve caught while you relax after a long pursuit. (Check with them before bringing in your fish since most want to do the filleting themselves).
The Red Lake Band of Chippewa in northwest Minnesota provides walleye to a variety of restaurants in the state. Tribal members catch all of the band’s walleyes by hand from Lower Red Lake. People can order walleye fillets directly from Red Lake Fishery, or try one of the restaurants that serve them. Those restaurants include Gianni’s Steakhouse in Wayzata, Minnesota Nice Cafe in Bemidji, FireLake Grill House in Minneapolis and Bloomington, and Riverside Inn in Side Lake.
Save for the Red Lake Nation’s limited distribution, commercial walleye fishing is illegal in Minnesota, which is part of the state’s effort to protect the species. As a result, many restaurants across the state serve walleye that was caught in Canada and imported. But it tastes the same as Minnesota-caught walleye, and very few people would be able to tell the difference.
Walleye is also a popular dining option at the Minnesota State Fair, held the 12 days before and including Labor Day at the fairgrounds in St. Paul. Fair-goers can choose from a variety of selections, including walleye on a stick, walleye mac and cheese, walleye cakes and walleye sushi.
Joe Albert is a Bloomington-based writer who currently works for the Department of Natural Resources. His work has appeared in publications including Outdoor News, Star Tribune and Field & Stream.
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