Apr 8, 2010

eat your fish

Easter week, I had the chance to spend six days and nights upstate New Jersey, enjoying (occasional) quite time, daily freshwater fishing, and at least three nice meals of fresh-caught lake fish.

I took John McPhee's advice from the New Yorker a few months back, and tried pickerel for the first time. I know that March is their spawning time, so threw back at least one that seemed to have a lump (eggs?), and, taking the advice written, stuck to only smaller fish, which supposedely.... well, something to do with the bones.

Fileting the first one or two (probably kept about five the whole trip, including one perch, which wasn't worth it), I saw what he meant. Within each filet are tiny, hair-sized white bones that no matter how much you try, you can't really remove. I did this: kept the fish whole, didn't even scale them, took the knife in from the tail forward, working as close to the spine as possible. Sometimes I picked up an amount of bone along the way. No worries, just cut if off later on. One you have the two filets cut off, put them skin-side down, see what your sharp, flexible knife can really do, and remove the skin in (hopefully) one piece. Afterward, go to the bones. The best way is to find the ridge of bones, slice in a V-shape and remove them. For pickerel, there will always be some of the smaller bones left. I removed as many as possible, and got to the point where I went from whole, untouched fish, to boneless, skinless filets in just a few minutes, maybe three.

As a bonus and from prior experiences where the fileting didn't quite go so smoothly, I usually do my filet work outside, with a bowl or pot full of ice to put the filets in, keeping everything icy fresh. Also, a cold beer chillin' right there will do the trick.

In the end, did an egg wash, dipped into salted cornmeal, fried in cannola oil until brown. Salt and pepper on right after frying, and that's it. As for the small bones - they cook away; you'll forget they were ever there.

Another night, I made a bouillabaisse from an Emeril Louisianna cookbook that I received recently as a gift. I heard all this talk, bouillabaisse is hard to make, all those ingredients. I think the Times had something on it. But what I liked about the recipe was that it was simple and called for any kind of freshwater fish - 2 1/2 pounds of it. I threw in one or two measily pickerel filets we caught earlier that day, and also a package of Mahi Mahi I'd had frozen for who knows how long, and got that puppy going. Absolutely. Delicious.

My brother hooked two significant pickerel, I hooked one myself but between us and another lake friend, we probably brought about 15 fish into the boat, despite wind that at times was absurd. Night fishing wasn't there yet, and I'm convinced that will remain classic summer rowboat action. Even in the fall, it's never paid off for me.

Finally, when the wind did die down, I took the new fly pole I picked up and managed to rig, and practiced casting on the open water. Went very well, happy to say. I had picked up all the gear (with the exception of the pole and reel itself) from the local Wal-Mart and in the lake bait shop, got my first taste for some of the wonderful, not cheaply priced, fun stuff you can really go nuts if you delve into this sport entirely. Which I might just have to do.

Mar 21, 2010

Welcome to the Spring 2010 Season

I got out on the beach for a sneak-preview on Rockaway Beach two weeks ago, but this weekend marked the unofficial opening of the 2010 fishing season. 70-degree days (chillier on the peninsula), fresh bait from the Citgo again finally, some new gear - more to come - and, of course, licenses.

OK, so the deal with the licenses, er, permits. $10 bucks. Lasts for 1 year. After some confusion that was never really clarified by the DEC, it turns out that the permits issued last fall actually are good for a full year from their issue date. You didn't need to buy a new one on January 1st of this year (who on earth was fishing Jan. 1 anyway...what with the cold and the hangover). I discovered this recently while on the DEC website, and lo and behold, my green permit card I've had in my wallet since November had said it all along: "Valid 10/01/2009 - 09/30/2010."

The website, when I put in my existing license number, showed my status clear as day, as the holder of a valid permit.

That's right, a full 365-day period of fishing bliss.

But, look. Right below that, on my green card. "License/Privilege. Res Mar Fish 2009 10/01 - 12/31.


Who knows. Anyway, more importantly. After 4 hours of beach fishing yesterday with chief angling cohort George and his brother, and putting in an hour or more today of bay wall fishing with my own brother, it's clear at least right now, it's too early for fish.

Not. A. Single. Bite. Or. Anything.

Either way, it was fun. Beautiful weather, warm sun, beverage or two. The beach was full of dogs and their mostly careless owners who let them roam all over. One licked me while I was taking a rest, another came right up to one pole (we had five out at once), lifted its leg and peed. In the end, it missed by three inches.

I've already accidentally hooked my parents' dog once. I don't want to repeat that with a stranger, and I don't think you want a dog chillin' in your living room smelling like...bunker oil. So, come on. It wasn't a big deal, really. Tons of people out walking, bringing the pooch out, no leashes, trying to be care-free, shaking off the winter.

A bunch of people stopped by, telling fishing stories, asking the inevitable "what do you catch around here?"

They're always so curious, and it's fun for the most part surprising them when they learn you can hook close to a dozen different types of fish with your feet on the sand, right here in New York City.

I even saw my neighbor, Duke, who reports that people down in the Beach 40s have been getting fish in the upper parts of the Bay. That made sense, because I recently read somewhere that shallower bodies of water are the first to come back to life with fish after the winter - the water temps change first there, and, if you're lucky you can actually find some fish. However, I subscribe to Duke's logic when it comes to fishing down there. He's a big-time angler, too, but it's not worth getting all the way down there, and the neighborhood is still tough enough that I'd be worried about leaving my parked car. Or bicycle, these days.

Anyway, this winter I did a bunch of fish-related reading, including "Walden" by Thoreau, and several Hemingway short stories on fishing, put together beautifully in a nice little book lent to me from yet another fishing friend. Oh, also an interesting John McPhee story in The New Yorker about pickerel fishing.

Highlights from my fishing reading coming soon.

Info on the new equipment added to the mix coming soon, too.

In the meanwhile, just to squeeze in one more tidbit of fishing news: Kittatinny Lake was stocked with 800 walleyes last fall. Should be some great game hunting in the distant future - supposedely they won't be of legal size to keep until, I think, next summer. 2011.