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Unraveling the Mystery of Pike’s Unpleasant Odor

Many anglers who fish for pike or catch them accidentally are no strangers to the smell emitted by a pike. While the smell isn’t overpowering, it does tend to remain on your hands even after washing them, but why do pike stink? 

That odor you smell is from the slime coating of the fish. The slime coating that pike have is a mucoprotein that protects the fish. It is the first line of defense against fungal, bacterial, and parasitic pathogens and helps prevent infections. 

Pike Slime Coating 

The slime coating protects when cuts, abrasions, and scratches remove scales and damage the flesh.

The slime coating covers these cuts and sores and helps protect them from infections.

If this first and crucial line of defense is broken, it will cause essential electrolytes to be lost and can be fatal for the fish.

The slime coating that many anglers complain about or dislike keeps the fish alive and healthy. 

Authors Note: When catching a pike, careful handling is essential to ensure this slime coating stays intact.

When catching a pike you intend on releasing, avoid placing the fish on the carpeting of a boat deck or the aluminum floor where it can flop around and hurt itself, as well as remove the slime coating. 

Bad Smells: A Common Defense Mechanism for Fish

pike swimming

Most fish have a slime coating. The cousin to the pike, the musky, also has a thick slime coating. It also has an odor or unique smell, it is similar but different in smell to that of a pike, and avid musky anglers can easily tell the difference.

Pro Tip: You can even smell a bucktail after a strike and sometimes smell it to determine whether it was a musky or a pike by scent alone. 

Walleye and trout also have a noticeable slime coating, but it’s much thinner than a pike, which means that they are even more susceptible to life-threatening infection. 

Do Pike Taste Fishy?

Ah yes, pike, the other white meat! Don’t let the slime coating and unique smell fool you. Pike is actually very tasty. 

Pike have white and flaky meat that is the hallmark of any tasty fish, but the fish is also chock full of bones, so they have to be cleaned in a certain manner to remove the bones. 

The troublesome bones when cleaning and cooking pike are called Y bones.

The Y bones are thin needle-like bones that start at the spine and run down the side of the fish, similar to ribs, and then they fork into a Y, hence the name. 

There are a few great and efficient ways to remove the Y bones from a pike, which usually means removing a small strip of the fillet that contains the bones. 

After the bones are removed, you can cook the pike in several ways, you could bake pike, deep-fry pike, heck, one of my favorite foods is pickled pike.

Pike also have a morsel of goodness that is often overlooked by many anglers, and that is the cheek meat.

The cheek meat of a pike is arguably the richest and most flavorful part of the entire fish. 

Authors note: Pike has a slightly more fishy flavor when compared to other fish like walleye or perch, but that flaky white meat is hard to beat.

The most popular way to cook a northern pike is to bread and deep fry them; this will also tame that fish taste and make it as good as anything. 

How Do You Get Rid of the Pike Smell? 

close up of pike

If the smell is bothering you after handling or catching a pike, the immediate way to alleviate the problem is to wash your hands in the lake or bring some hand sanitizer with you. 

When you get back home, you can wash your hands or lures in warm soapy water, but the majority of anglers don’t mind smelly lures.

Pro Tip: The smell of a pike can be an attractant, even for species that don’t eat pike. 

Can You Freeze Pike?

pike caught while ice fishing

Many anglers in the winter will simply throw their fish on the ice and allow them to freeze solid while they continue fishing, and many anglers bring fish home and freeze them for later consumption. 

Pike do not hold up well when frozen compared to other fish. When frozen, they lose their freshness more so than fish like panfish or walleye.

If you freeze pike for a short period before you eat it, you should be fine, but the meat will definitely go downhill if it is in the freezer for longer than a brief period. 

Should You Bleed a Pike? 

Bleeding a pike that you intend to keep is a good idea and can go a long way in producing a quality tasting fillet. 

When bleeding a pike, simply use a knife to cut the “throat area of the pike,” or the area just behind the head and in-between the fishs’ gills.  

Bleeding the pike you catch gives you clean fillets, kills the fish quickly, and helps remove contaminants, making your fillets taste better. 

Do Pike Hunt by Smell? 

dragging in a caught pike

They might be a little smelly, but do pike hunt by smell?

The short answer is yes, pike can locate food by smelling it, but it’s low on the scale of senses that are used when feeding. 

The top sense that pike use to feed might surprise you, and while many of you might think that pike use their sense of sight the most, the truth is that they use their sense of feeling the most. 

Fish Fact: The lateral line that runs along their body can sense tiny movements and vibrations in the water around them, and pike use this to locate and search for their next meal.

Once a pike gets close to prey, it can use its eyesight to locate the potential prey. 

Final Thoughts 

Many people think pike stink, It’s actually not as bad as you might think if you have never experienced it yourself.

The cause of this stink serves a significant role in the fishes’ health, and it doesn’t affect the delicious fillets that a pike can offer.


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