Thunder Bay

Walleye Wings catching flight with northern Ontario foodies

A new company from Kenora wants to make a by product of commercially caught walleye the new "chicken wings." Walleye Wings are a battered product that incorporates the meat from beneath the front fins of the popular fish. The fins and meat are dipped in coating and deep fried or smoked.

Walleye heads deliver tasty snack that's overlooked by many.

Walleye Wings are a product made from the pectoral fin area of a walleye. They are coated and deep fried or smoked. Two men from Kenora are behind the product. (photo: Jay Barnard)

A fish based product 20 years in the making is creating quite a buzz in the northwest of Ontario.

Walleye Wings is a coated product that incorporates the meat from beneath the front fins of the walleye. 

 The meat below the pectoral area is cut out of a walleye carcass - with fins attached - and then breaded or smoked.

Walleye Wings co-owner Rob Armstrong said the idea for the unique food has been bouncing around his head for a couple decades.

"I saw a guy cleaning fish, and cutting this piece out," said Armstrong. "He called them rabbit's ears. I started playing around with it. I went into a store where they sold bread crumbs. I married the two of them and for 20 years have been playing around with it."

Seven years ago, Armstrong trade marked the name Walleye Wings, but some health issues and personal troubles held him back from putting the product out there. 

Jay Barnard is a chef in Kenora who also works with Armstrong on Walleye Wings.

Barnard said when he re-connected with his old friend  after an 8 year absence, he quickly learned about the plans for  Walleye Wings.  

"I came along and Rob showed me the whole thing at his house," said Barnard. " As a chef you are always looking for the next big thing, right? So I tried them out and then I went home and I couldn't sleep. So I called him up and said 'can I try these again'?"

Barnard said he was excited about the prospect of partnering with his long time friend on a project he immediately saw potential for.

At a fish plant in Kenora, Barnard saw a bunch of walleye carcasses with pectoral fins intact and knew they had a potential source for Walleye Wings.  

But Barnard said most of the fish they process now comes from Manitoba.

"We generally process from 900 to 1000 lbs of heads at time," he said."There is no shortage." 

Barnard said they initially gave the product out to some restaurants to gauge interest.

He said the positive response lead them to look a little closer at getting Walleye Wings onto a menu, and then moving forward with the product to a number of restaurants.

 Armstrong said both he and Barnard have spent a lot of time trying to get the word out on social media and elsewhere about the unique product.

He said Walleye Wings are now available in nine restaurants and lodges in the northwest and Manitoba, and the men hope to expand to supermarket sales soon.

"Rob and I both have the culinary side and the selling side," said Barnard." We have had some labelling done and we have a big meeting coming up, about moving forward with retail."