Volunteer perfects fish fillets

There may be more than one way to fillet a fish, but perfect results are not assured – unless you are Erroll Shaw. The Minot man has been the fillet master for 20 Special Fishing Days at Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge.

“I know I had to miss one. That was unfortunate,” said Shaw while preparing to skillfully fillet a northern pike during this year’s event, which was held on June 7.

Organizers of the Special Fishing Day, conducted for the purpose of providing a once-a-year fishing opportunity for individuals with special needs, were so appreciative of Shaw’s fish-cleaning expertise that they presented him with an engraved fillet knife in 2007. He still uses the knife today, along with others of varying blade lengths that he utilizes when he deems necessary to perfect certain cuts on a fish. Every fillet Shaw removes from a fish is perfect and boneless, an artful bit of wizardry when filleting around the famed “Y” bones of a northern pike.

“It’s easy. Just watch me. I’ll show you,” Shaw told several interested people gathered around his fish cleaning station and inquiring about his filleting talents.

They watch closely but

they remain amazed, knowing full well that watching and creating a perfect northern pike fillet are two entirely different things. Shaw has perfected the filleting process like few others have done.

“You can’t do this with an electric,” Shaw told those watching as he carefully guided his sharp knife along a row of bones just beneath the surface of a fillet.

He took his time to guide the knife as close to the bones as possible to avoid wasting any of the fillet. Moments later he tossed aside a bony section of fish so thin that you could see through it.

“You don’t want to lose anything,” said Shaw. “This meat is too good for that.”

The care Shaw takes while filleting a fish was evident for all to see. He works the fillet knife like a skilled surgeon engaged in a delicate operation. The result is a maximum amount of edible fish free from the bones that many northern pike keepers dread. His fillets are as close to perfection as possible, ideal for the pan and the table.

After responding to a request to examine a large northern pike’s stomach contents, something informed fishermen like to know, Shaw remarked, “I found a mink in one once. That was the craziest thing.”

For those who have witnessed Shaw’s expertise with a fillet knife, though, the craziest thing is really the perfection he achieves at the fish cleaning table.