Whitefish Melt

Whitefish (Prosopium williamsoni) often get a bad rap among Western anglers, but the native salmonid deserves our respect as both worthy quarry and delicious table fare. Related species dominate deli cases in Manhattan and potlucks throughout the Midwest, and the Mountain Whitefish—with its wide distribution throughout the Pacific Northwest—should be no exception. Their mild, firm flesh is ideal for smoking and incorporation in salads and spreads, and this recipe highlights the simplicity of smoked fish in a play on the classic tuna melt. Enjoy!




¼ cup salt
¼ sugar
½ gallon water

Whitefish Melt:

1 10–18-inch Mountain Whitefish, cleaned and descaled
1 fresh sourdough loaf, sliced
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
¼ red onion, sliced
2 T capers
Hot sauce to taste
¼ cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded



Step One – Catch A Whitefish

Whitefish are best targeted with a fly rod and subsurface nymph patterns. Using a strike indicator and tapered leader, fish a weighted nymph (a size 14 hare’s ear or pheasant tail is all you need) near the bottom of fishy-looking runs, riffles, and pools. Once you’ve caught one, target that water speed and depth and you’re sure to hook more.

Step Two – Smoke Your Fish

Combine your brine ingredients, making sure all sugar and salt is dissolved. Add your fish and let it sit submerged in the brine overnight in the refridgerator. After brining, remove the fish and pat dry. Leave the fish on a drying rack in the refrigerator for at least an hour, then preheat your smoker to 200 degrees. Hang your fish or place it on the rack in your smoker and leave for at least two hours. When the fish’s skin can be peeled back easily and the flesh is white and flaky, it’s done. Remove the fish, let it cool, and gently pick the flesh from the bone in chunks. Reserve for future use.

Step Three – Prepare Your Melt

Preheat your oven’s broiler to high. Spread a layer of mayo on a slice of sourdough bread, then top with a generous helping of smoked fish. Assemble capers and red onion on top of the fish, then top with shredded cheese. Place the assembly in a cast iron skillet and put the skillet under the broiler until the cheese is melted and browning. Finally, remove the skillet, plate the melt, and top with hot sauce to taste. Enjoy!

About Micah Fields

Micah lives in Helena and is the Stewardship Leader for the Montana BHA Chapter.

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