What Are the Best-Tasting Freshwater Fish?
Anglers will never agree about what the best-tasting freshwater fish is. Opinions vary geographically because different species are available depending on where you live. And how well you care for the fish that you catch affects how well it will taste when you cook it. With that in mind, here’s an overview of the freshwater fish that are generally acknowledged to be good table fare:
Bluegills are found in most North American waters and are often the first fish that young anglers catch. They don’t get large. A 1-pounder is very big, so smaller ones are often cooked whole after being scaled, beheaded, and gutted, but they are sometimes filleted. The meat is white and flaky and can be sweet if the fish comes from clean, cool water.
There are many ways to cook bluegills, with pan frying probably most popular. Bluegills are part of the sunfish clan, and many of the other sunfish species are equally good table fare and prepared in similar ways.
Catfish can be caught in most North American waters, and a variety of species grow to different sizes. They are also grown commercially in many Southern states and sold throughout the country in fish markets and served in many restaurants. Some consider catfish a delicacy.
The meat is not as flaky or white as that of some other species but has very little “fishy” taste, depending on the waters where the catfish are caught and if they are handled properly.
A very popular food fish in the South and a species widely found in the United States, crappie has sweet white meat. Like bluegills, smaller ones are cooked whole, and larger ones can be filleted. Frying is most common.
Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass
Most bass anglers insist on releasing all of their catch and never eat a bass. That is a matter of choice, and certainly larger ones should be released. But all states allow for keeping some bass of a certain minimum size.
These fish have a white, sweet meat that is not unlike bluegills (to which they are actually related). As with most fish, the kind of habitat they come from influences how they taste. Those from clean, clear, and cold water are best. Bass are large enough to be filleted but can be cooked in many ways.
Some folks consider freshwater drum (also called sheepshead) to be inedible, while others say that they are good to eat. In fact, there is a significant commercial fishing market for this species. Freshwater drum grows large and lives in cooler waters from Tennessee north.
They are easy to fillet but need to be put on ice as soon as caught and cleaned quickly afterward. Their meat can be prepared in many ways.
A shore dinner of trout just minutes after catching it is often said to be the best fish meal you will ever have. The fresher the fish, the better. This is generally true, however, of native fish rather than stocked fish. Native fish with an orange or pink color to their flesh are the best-tasting, whether these are brown, brook, or rainbow trout.
Many preparations are suitable for trout, though size may be a factor. Pan frying is preferred for smaller specimens, while large ones can be filleted. Trout can be baked or broiled, as well as smoked.
Many people call walleye the best-tasting fish in freshwater, although yellow perch should also get the same accolades, as they are a smaller cousin. Most walleye are filleted, but they can be cooked in a variety of ways, including frying, baking, and broiling.
White bass can be found in many North American lakes and rivers. They do not grow big. A 3-pounder is trophy size, but a 1-pounder is more common and can be filleted. The meat of white bass has a dark red stripe or bloodline in it, which should be removed. White bass are often pan-fried, but they can also be baked and broiled.