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Walleye, for Trophies or the Table | Walleye Cocktail Recipe

Walleye, for Trophies or the Table | Walleye Cocktail Recipe
November 21, 2022

By: Paul Campbell from O2 Podcast

If I was asked to list the top 10 outdoor activities I like to participate in, walleye fishing in the Lake Erie Basin would undoubtedly be amongst the top spots. As a young Ohio born angler, I dreamed for years of fishing Lake Erie. My Dad enjoyed fishing, but he wasn’t keen on the three hour drive from our home in Columbus to Ohio’s North Coast very often.  The beginning of my fishing adventures were spent on the muddy waters of man made reservoirs, ponds, and any small creek I could find that held fish. Georgia may have been on the mind of Ray Charles and Willie Nelson, but I HAD to fish Lake Erie and for years I never stopped pestering my Dad to make the drive. The fishing magazines and Saturday morning fishing TV shows had whipped up my desire to fish for walleye into a frenzy. In the early 90s, I recall meeting the incomparable angling legend, Bill Dance, at an event. He asked me if I had ever fished Lake Erie. I can’t exactly remember how I responded, but I can imagine that 12 years of childhood angst blurted out of me in a loud, squeaky voiced yell. Bill, ever graceful, smiled awkwardly, looked at my dad, looked at me and told me to be patient. I’m sure there was some other folksy anecdote that went along with those words of wisdom, but I was too mad to listen. Spoiler alert, I didn’t get to fish Lake Erie for at least 6 years from that moment! After graduating high school several friends and I packed up for a camping trip in Marble Head, Ohio. With my new found adulthood and independence, my moment was here. Lake Erie, here I come! I would ignore my friends the entire week. I fished nonstop, sunup to sundown. By the third day of the trip, I was sunburned so bad that I was shaking constantly. Undeterred, I pressed on with the singular goal of catching my first Lake Erie walleye. Second spoiler alert of this article, I did not catch a single walleye that trip. I did come to hate the humble rock bass that is in abundant numbers around the shorelines. And the LEWS. The LEWS were everywhere! Lake Erie Water Snake, for the uninitiated, is a completely harmless black snake that swims around the docks and shores of Lake Erie. I had my first chance to fish the Western Basin of Lake Erie, pun intended, I was hooked! 

It wasn’t until my mid-to-late 20s that I discovered the wonders of using a Lake Erie walleye charter. Not everyone has a friend that has a boat and knows every walleye bed in the Lake. And if you are fortunate enough to have “that friend,” they probably aren’t taking you out on their boat and catching walleye as often as you would prefer. When I booked my first Lake Erie walleye charter, I was absolutely amazed at the captain and how he fished. He seemed to have every aspect of fishing down to a science. It seemed like he knew every square foot of water. Every shoal, bank, bar or feature that held walleye, he knew exactly where to go. One of the fascinating aspects of fishing Lake Erie for trophy walleye is the different methods used to catch the species. Downriggers, planer boards, lures, drift socks, the list could go on forever. Every method is effective and has a loyal following of anglers. With every charter I have been on, it’s fascinating to watch the captain work their method. 

During one of my walleye trips to the Western Basin, I was ready to catch a true trophy walleye. The Ohio Department of Wildlife awards anglers that catch a qualifying sport fish over a set trophy size with a “Fish Ohio” pin. If you are fortunate to catch four Fish Ohio species in one year, you are qualified for a “Master Angler” pin.  A Fish Ohio walleye is over 28”. The State of Ohio record walleye was caught in 1999, coming in at a staggering 16.19 lbs., and 33” long. Twenty-three years in and the record still stands. I wanted a Fish Ohio walleye pin. The 12-year-old version of me was yelling in my mind about getting that pin!

I caught my Trophy Walleye that day! At just over 30”, I had made the trophy list. Put the Fish Ohio pin in the mail! I have yet to catch a walleye that big since, but several fish have come close. Sometimes I doubt I’ll ever beat that personal record. Over the years, I’ve misplaced the pin and the pictures of that day have disappeared. Every charter or fishing trip I take, I always hope for that chance to land a trophy, but I’m never disappointed if I don’t happen to reel in a trophy walleye. To me the best part of walleye fishing is the people you’re with. The sights you see on the Lake are right up there. If you have never experienced a Lake Erie sunrise you are in for a special moment. Port Clinton, Ohio, might be home to the finest sunrises in the country. One aspect of walleye that drives many anglers to make the trip to Lake Erie is the fact that walleye are one of nature's true culinary treats. 

Walleye in my humble estimation is the finest freshwater fish a person can eat. The filets are firm, yet delicate and hold up well to a variety of cooking methods. The flavors are often described as sweet, delicate and buttery. Two characteristics that many picky fish eaters will enjoy about the filets is that the taste of walleye isn’t overly fishy and there aren’t many bones to remove. The popular fishing ports along Lake Erie will have fish cleaning services available at the marina. A small fee and you’ve got your day’s catch expertly fileted, packaged up and ready for my favorite part. Time to eat! 

If someone asked me to name my favorite way to prepare walleye, I honestly don’t think I could come up with one way that I felt was superior. Battered and fried seems to be the go-to method for many of us. You can’t go wrong with that method. A skillet with some melted butter, olive oil and your seasoning of choice, is another can’t miss method. The recipe below is one I tried this past summer. I wanted to try something different. I pulled about 4 filets from my catch and prepared them in the below manner. The other filets I battered and fried. One of my favorite appetizers is a good shrimp cocktail along with a delicious cocktail sauce of your choice. This is my Walleye cocktail recipe. It's very easy and delicious. Feel free to make it your own. With the prized fish of Lake Erie, you can’t go wrong with any method. 

Walleye Cocktail

3-5 Medium walleye filets - cleaned

Cut the filets into 1” wide by 2-3” long strips. The strips should be no more than 1” thick. 

Steam or boil the strips of fish. In the water for the steamer or pot place a generous amount of Old Bay or Dan O’s Original. Be cautious to not over cook the fish. As soon as the fish turns white, I remove from the heat and place in an ice water bath. Allow them to cool completely and remove from the ice bath.  Pat the fish dry and then dust with more of your preferred seasoning. Place in the fridge to cool more. 

Once the fish is cooled you can squeeze a little lemon on the fish and then dip the Walleye Cocktail strips into clarified butter or a good cocktail sauce. I prefer to make my own cocktail sauce. This is my recipe. I use the chopped-up horseradish from the seafood section in any grocery store. I don’t use horseradish sauce. I promise once you make this you will never go back to store bought shrimp or cocktail sauce! 

  • 1/2 cup ketchup - any brand will work
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1-3 tablespoons raw, chopped up horseradish, depending on your love of horseradish you can use as much or a little as you want
  • 1-2 clove garlic minced
  • 3-4 dashes hot sauce optional. Any brand will work. A smoked Chipotle sauce adds a nice unique flavor. I use Frank’s Original.

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