Snapper Fishing on the New Buccaneer

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My middle son, he’s not much of a morning person.  A deep sea fishing trip sounded fun to him, but getting up at 4, not so much.  Quite the conflict for his 8 year old brain.  After a bunch of encouragement where I used the term “gigantic” “whopper, and “big old shark” and he brightened.  The thought of a whopper revved him up and so we got up early the next morning and got after it.

 

 

I looked at this trip as a chance to learn as much as a chance to haul in some fish. I talked to the deck hands, what appeared to be the owner and then a few of some “regulars” who appeared to have their whatnot in order.

Here’s what I learned:

1. I’m glad we used the dramamine and bonine. I took both the night before and morning of the trip. Redosed around noon. The boys just took the dramamine on the same schedule and did great. We also thought eating dill pickles helped the little nausea we experienced.  Didn’t puke, bark charlie, talk to ralph about a buick, quote O’Rourke, toss cookies, blow chunks, shout groceries, or vomit one time.  Others did.


2. Learn to vent a fish so you can keep the right fish. Many people on the boat were keeping 16 inch fish when plenty of fish 20+ inches were to be had.

3. Bring plenty of cash. I brought enough to tip the deck hands, but not enough to pay for filleting the fish. No biggie, I wanted to show my 5 and 2 year old the fish anyway.

4. Big baits are good for big fish and they are not always on the bottom. We caught many of our biggest ones halfway to the bottom. I even caught one big one free lining sardines for king fish.
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5.  Expect tangles. Just relax, take your time, the fish will still be there and just get untangled and back to fishing. But, learn to recognize if you are playing tug-o’-war with another fisherman.

6. Snagging a spot in the AC on the way out was definitely smart. I would recommend bringing a dvd player or other diversion to pass the time on the trip out and in.

7. A pair of gloves would have been nice, and I forgot them.

 

All in all we had a fine time and Keegan did great.  The battles between him and the snapper were epic.  He was glad he came and I was proud to see him push through his trepidation.  A fine time had by all.

 

 

I Love It When a Plan Comes Together

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It’s been awhile.  Work stuff, unexpected knee surgery, a brief bout of vegetarianism–it all led to me taking a hiatus from most things I enjoy.  But last week we ventured behind the pine curtain to my family’s land in Northeast Texas, and now I’m officially rejuvenated heading into my favorite season of the year.

The first order of business was to put my boys onto some big catfish.  River Monsters and the A-Team have been the majority of my kids’ TV diet this summer, so an interesting fascination with catching freshwater fish and vigilante justice has consumed my oldest son.   Growing up fishing the salt water, fresh water holds the same allure as salt water once had on me as a child.

Armed with our medium sized surf set ups, Abu Garcia 5000’s on stiff 7 foot rods, I thought we might have been over-gunned for the catfish in this pond.  Thinking we’d be reeling in 2-3 pound fish, I was pleasantly surprised when screaming drag proved me wrong.   We caught the first two on a synthetic bait used to catch whiting, sheepshead and other salty fish on the coast: Shrimp Fishbites.  These baits, though pricey, taste good to fish and last more than one hook up.  Cut into smaller portions they’d be deadly on spawning bluegill as well.  My dad  also scored a bucket of the something nasty from the local bait shop that made my hands smell like dead minnows for about a week.

It’s really time for me to get a GoPro.  My iPhone video is weak but demonstrative:  

As you can tell, I had to quit filming at the moment of truth.  In the next video, you can see the thematic influence Mr. T has had on my boy after a summer of watching the A-Team on Netflix.

 

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Enough for a fish fry

 

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I haven’t filleted many 10+ pound catfish. This was more like a butcher job. I found on the others it was better to go ahead and gut them before filleting.

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Captain is 48 inches and ways 45 pounds. This channel cat is 24 inches and 9.5 pounds.

We also started getting ready for bow season and checking the game cams.   I shot my bow at fifty yards, and was happy with the accuracy.  Though, with my elk hunt falling through, I’m going to turn my focus to local game, shorter distances, and smaller targets.

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This guy has me excited.  If you look closely, it seems to have a pair of tines that swoop backwards.

We tried out the new stands placement, seems to meet the little tree elf’s approval.

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Another cool thing we discovered is that Oliver grew into his youth rifle.  I have been coaching him about the mechanics of shooting and emphasizing slowly pulling the trigger so that it would be a surprise when it fires.  He did such a good job, I thought it was accidental at first.  But the target showed he was nearly perfect on his first shot.  My goal for him was to be just on the paper.  So I did two quick shots first, to make sure it was reasonably on target.  Turns out, his shots were much better than mine.  One of my lifelong dreams and most anticipated moments is the day I get to watch my boys take their first big game animal.  Now we are a step closer.  

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My shots were the lower two on the target.

 

This fall is shaping up to be an exciting one.  We are returning to Wisconsin for fishing, hunting and general outdoor recreating as well as cruising back to North East Georgia for some mountain time.  Of course dove and squirrel season will need some attention.  Also,  I’m getting to duck hunt with none other than Hank Shaw, my favorite food writer and chef.  Incredibly, he is coming to my home town to hunt ducks and geese and I get to tag along.  Moreover, he’s going to be doing a cooking school, about which I’m pumped.

What cool events do you have planned this fall?

Dirty Mouth

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Another fish that was biting were the lovely little toadfish.  Gruesome little buggers, they snapped at us as we tried to get the hooks out.  Apparently they like muddy bottoms and eating children’s souls.

Heavy rains are good, unless you want to fish near the mouth of the Colorado river on the gulf.  My plans of catching limits of specks in “trout green” waters under industrial sized lights were foiled by mother nature’s decision to empty several inches of rain the week prior to our trip. I managed a lone speckled trout in a week of fishing, but I must admit my efforts were not strong once it became apparent the water would remain the color of a good Cajun roux.  Even crabbing was weak, though we managed more success than we did with trout under lights.

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Luckily, Atlantic Golden Croaker, or simply croaker, were hammering dead shrimp and my boys stayed busy reeling in one after another.  The biggest went about 2 pounds, but most were in the half pound to pound range.  Fine table fare.

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Crabs were really slow, so we almost didn’t have enough but on the last day a small herd of crabs made their way into our pots.  We ended up with about a dozen keepers with about another dozen stone crab claws.

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Excitement ensued when I heard a loud splash and looked over and saw my 2 year old floating face down and arms flailing and survival kicking.  Naturally, in I went.  As luck would have it, so did the iphone in my pocket.  Awesome.  I also cut my bare feet on some oyster shell–luckily the mud plugged the wounds quickly before any of the toadfish could gnaw my legs off.  Susan, my wife, comes rushing out of the cabin and as I’m standing waste deep in the water holding my crying two year old, she asks “Did he fall in?”

“Nope.”

But my little guy was fine and he soon enjoyed the fun of blowing bubbles in 15 mph winds.

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The cool thing about kids, fishing and vacations is that even though the fishing was a bust, we had a good time.  And it’s not about the fillets for me anymore, its about the smiles.

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A Cooler Full of Shame

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20140226-131454.jpg So I cleaned some hard-heads. Judge me if you wish. I’m not ashamed, but I will admit I did wait until any passing 4 wheel drive vehicles were out of sight before I put one of my son’s fish into the cooler. For the uninformed, hard-head catfish are a despised animal in the manner of the mosquito, and have no similar counterpart in the freshwater. They look like a catfish–true; but no North American fresh water fish draws the ire of fishermen quite like this little sea catfish who doesn’t get more than 3 pounds.

Grown men with a Dexter-like gleam in their eyes find ways to make the little fish pay, and often get finned in the process. Me? I don’t have a personal hatred toward the hard-head, he’s just doing his thing. Yea, they get in the way at times when fishing with bait, but I rarely pass up a shrimp meal either. I have been finned by one of the little spinning devils and it was not a fun experience. Their slime is a bit toxic and the dorsal fin has a barb which makes detaching the fish painful. They are found all over the gulf and up the eastern seaboard. Right or wrong, there is a perception only vacationers and the foreign eat the “tourist trout.” Despite these risks and shame, I filleted a few. But lets back up, and start at the beginning… 20140223-204250.jpg My 19 year old nephew has been itching to do some fishing. It doesn’t take much for me to hit the water, and though just off a fun, albeit unproductive fishing trip with my cousin Quentin, I was raring to go again. So after church Sunday, we picked up Anthony and hit the gulf. For reasons only known to him, my oldest son opted to forego the trip and so with my little 4 year old man-cub and nephew in tow, we ventured to the beach. 20140223-205026.jpg In the first five minutes, we landed 8 hard-heads, each about 2 pounds each. Keegan, my little guy, desperately wanted to keep them, but we threw them back (un-Dextered). I decided we needed some different water to get away from these voracious slime goblins, and so moved down the beach a few miles. During the drive my son asked why we throw back the hard-heads, though they clearly looked like freshwater catfish and were plenty big enough to fillet.

“Ever eaten one?” he asked.

“No.”

“Then how do you know they are no good?”

“I guess I don’t.” 20140223-205305.jpgPulling over about a mile down the beach, we cast the rods back out . In no time, we were in the hard-heads pulling them in left and right. This time, Keegan insisted we keep a few. I told him I’d clean one, and soon we started catching whiting as a thick fog rolled in. So with a cooler full of whiting and hard-heads we loaded up and headed home.

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Hard-head fillet on the left. A wee bit bloody.

At the fillet station with my stainless steel glove on, I immediately noticed the incredible amount of slime these suckers produce. Fortunately, it rinsed off easily. Second, where a normal fish fillet begins just behind the gills, a hard plate covers their back almost to the dorsal fin. This cuts the fillet size in half. Third, they were a bit bloody when compared to the whiting; blood oozed from the meat. They have a red bloody area, like whats found on a white bass or striper, but not quite as big. I liked that their white fillets were firm, and not mushy like you see with some fish (sand trout). I used a basic brown ale beer batter and did the frying in bacon fat.

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I took the bloody fillets as an ill omen, but I was wrong. The firmness was pleasant and I think would lend itself well to ceviche. I expected a strong oily flavor like a Spanish mackerel or bluefish, but found it mellow in the order of sea bass and redfish. My wife who knew nothing of the ill repute of the hard-head said they tasted fine and my boys munched them down quickly.20140224-195601.jpg

Will I be keeping hard-heads from now on? The answer is probably not. They tasted fine, but the fillet size disappointed even though they were the largest one’s I’ve caught. More concerning is the risk involved in cleaning them. Getting finned hurts like hell, but I did manage to clean the seven we brought home without issue.

All that said, they tasted fine. Common knowledge says they are bottom feeders and live in the mud, and so they aren’t fit to eat. Heck, Texas Parks and Wildlife says they taste bad. But just as it’s not true for crabs or oysters, it’s not true for these little saltwater denizens.

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Waiting on some fish as the tide and fog roll in…

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Tide rolled in and brought more fish

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Another fat one

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Managing 8 rods while the fish are biting is crazy!

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A few texted pictures of bent rods brought eldest boy to the beach quickly.

 

Kayaking, Kids, and the Cure for Lonely Fishing

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It was time.  Plans were made, research was done.  Reaching out to my favorite kayak forum, I procured a pair of kayaks for the rest of my clan.  An Ocean Kayak Drifter for the oldest and Ocean Kayak Malibu Two Tandem for the rest. Used, but well cared for. The marsh can be a lonely place, specially when you have a 2, 4 and 7 year old back home playing while you are looking for redfish.  In fact, it can drive a man to quit fishing.  But now I can see an end to the lonely times spent on the water, and we couldn’t wait for my call weekend to end to try them out.  Below is the prelude to this year’s adventures.  Come on warm weather!

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Entry went fine

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Handles well.

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Little brother is intrigued–and he too wants to float.

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Looking good, but I wonder if the kayaks are stable enough for them?

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Mom and baby jump into the fray

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Toddler wants to paddle

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Rumors of a pirate activity

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A hostile boarding, what could possibly go wrong?

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Redfish and Greed

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Redfish are often pig-like in their feeding habits, omnivorous to the point of gluttony. This pod of redfish were gorging on shrimp in grass in about 6 inches of water. Because the sun was low in the western sky and in my face, the thrashing black backs made the water itself appear nervous.  Shrimp could be seen leaping in the air.  At first, I thought… maybe black drum? but no these were too long.  The wind was wrong.  I had to cast behind my body as the herd was moving the opposite direction. My cast fell a few feet short of my intended location, yet close enough. I  twitched the rod tip and felt the weight of resistance and set the hook hard.  I was using 8 pound monofilament.   I’d changed to this because I’d been fishing on Lake Daingerfield, a crystal clear lake. Today’s trip was impromptu, and in my haste I didn’t want to respool. So I loosened my drag and waited for the brute to tire itself out.  I knew on the first approach to the kayak she was way too green, and sure enough she took 25 yards of line out with ease.  Rod tip up, I was worried she’d drag me over oyster shell, but it didn’t happen.  A second run, a third run, and on the fourth trip in I netted the pig. My second  second largest inshore redfish to date.

 

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Clearly a keeper, I slid the redfish in my cooler.  Now it was my turn to get greedy.  I tied two jig heads onto  a popping cork and had plans to throw two lures into the next pack of redfish I discovered.  Soon after, I see a lone seagull swooping down on the opposite shoreline and I quickly paddle over.

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The wind at my back I closed the distance quickly, and could now see the beautiful bronze backs shining clearly in the sun.

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A little “rat red”

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I had my head phones in listening to music on my Iphone, I planted my anchor stick into the ground (which is really just a fence post tied to some rope) and prepared to make my cast.   However, I’d drove my stick too soon and the school was swimming away from me.  I jerked my stick loose of the mud and paddled after them.  The wind was too strong, and it was pushing me too close.   I made a cast in front of the reds, and the following happened simultaneously:

1.  Two large redfish pick up both my jigs and one attacks my popping cork.  I set the hook one handed.

2.  I get a phone call from my wife and the volume of the ring through the earphones was deafening and the fact I had service miraculous.

3.  I reach to stab my fence post anchor into the mud only to discover that when I ripped it free earlier, I had jerked the rope off the post.

4.  I spilled soda all over my lap.

Both fish head opposite directions, roll on the surface like synchronized swimmers and spit both jig heads back at me.   Far from dejected, I laughed at the absurdity of the situation as I pulled my earphones out, and answered my phone,

“Your timing is impeccable Honey.”

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I’d intended to paddle to the bay, but the redfish were thick.

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Stone Crabs Saved the Day

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When playing with my kids, I’ve found quantity time trumps quality time, because “quality time” is so elusive.  Bad luck can ruin even the most well planned afternoon.  For instance, some no good thief (or perhaps alligator) took off with Oliver’s crab trap.  It was a bummer to say the least.  On top of that, the Sargassum seaweed was thick in the surf and the temperatures were bumping 100.  Our surf fishing was over.   We decided to crab, and we were saved by the ubiquitous Stone Crab; the prize of more discriminating crabbers from Maine to Belize.  About the color of red mud, the Stone Crab’s key feature is its gloriously huge, sweet, meat filled claw.  In Texas you can only keep one claw which has to be 2.5 inches, but really their body lacks the meat a blue crab’s body has.  We just twist the claw off and pitch them back in the water.  These oyster eating crabs have the ability to regenerate an arm, so maybe next year we will reharvest them.

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We cleaned the blue crabs as shown here http://wp.me/p3bCKM-5T The heat has been suffocating, so we went with a simple but amazing recipe.    Equal parts beer, apple cider vinegar, and water.   Sprinkle liberally with Old Bay, but any of your favorite seafood seasoning will work.  Steam, don’t boil for 20 minutes.  Then dip in some melted butter and you have a bit of heaven on a plate.

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Birthday Blues–How To Clean Blue Crabs

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Young 1

Birthday crabs age 5 and 3

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Birthday crabs age 6 and 4

 

 

“Hey Oliver, think we ought to catch a few crabs for your birthday again?”

“Are you kidding me?  Of course!”

“OK, Keegan you in?”

“Yep.”

And just like that, we found ourselves in the bright sun, slathered in suntan lotion and OFF.  It wasn’t long and we had a cooler full of crab.

Crabs on ice

 

With all due respect to my Cajun friends and Andrew Zimmern, I don’t like crab guts.  My first experience with blue crabs disappointed me greatly.   The whole crabs were boiled, and when the shell was removed yellow grey internal matter coated the crabs sweet white meat.  The flavor tasted overwhelmingly like cut bait, and I don’t have a delicate pallet. So if you aren’t familiar with crabs, and want the authentic Louisiana crab taste, just wash and cook them.   But here’s an alternative leaving you with just yummy white crab meat.

1.  First, ice your crabs in the field and then wash them at home; returning them to ice lest they warm up and pinch you silly.  Once they are cold, they are easily handled. I’ve kept crabs on ice for two days and they’ve been fresh and tasty.

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2. Have a cutting board, heavy back-boned knife, and a butter knife handy along with an extra bowl of clean ice.

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3.  Flip your crab. Notice the “apron” of the crab is shaped like Washington Monument.  This is a dude.  These are what you should keep to conserve the resource and in many states, stay legal.  A female crabs apron is wide, and shaped like a triangle or dome.  Pitch all females back.

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4.  Pull the apron back.  It helps to use something to pry it up.  Then rip it off, going against the grain.

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Notice the groove left after you removed the apron.

5.  Using your big knife, cut the crab in half along the groove, breaking the shell with pressure, not sawing.

 

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6.  A clean break will occur leaving you with two halves.  You do not have to put your foot on the sink like Oliver, but if it helps you, go for it.

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7.  You can see the gooey, inner matter sitting on top of the white flesh.  Now sling the crab body a few times hard at the ground or in your sink, holding on tight.  Most of the entrails will go flying.  Rinse under cold water.  Best done when Mom is not in sight.

 

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8.  Now remove the gills by hand.  The half on the left has the gills attached, the one on the right is done.

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9.  Repeat for both sides, then toss into the clean bowl of ice.  They are now ready to be cooked in any number of manners. If you just have to, you can now freeze them in ziplocks full of water.  But I highly suggest munching them fresh.

 

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I’ll post various crab recipes going forward, but I want to hear from you.  What is your favorite crab dish?

A Fate Worse than Legos

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Stepping on legos and army men don’t bother me like they once did.

A while back my folks got my oldest son a tackle box for Christmas, stocked with lures, and he was thrilled.

Fast forward a few weeks. I had barely woken up, shuffling to the kitchen to brew a cup of Joe when I stepped on something. We step on a lot of things in this house of three boys under 7. This time was different. I looked down and discovered a miniature jerk bait firmly embedded in my foot. Both treble hooks buried to the hilt. One in the thick sole of my foot and the other in the thin skin just above the sole.

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None of the “tricks” to remove hooks work on tiny trebles.

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My wife had to perform surgery at the dinner table. She did admirably.

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So do you have any hook removal tricks?

Photo Essay: Surf Fishing with my boys

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We hit the beach Tuesday to get some fresh fish.  Once again, the gulf produced.

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Getting Rigged

The set up is simple.  PVC pipes hold the rods, pyramid weights keep the bait down, and a circle hook with fresh dead shrimp as bait.

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The fish were really biting.   I was going to have four rods out, but it became apparent I could only work two at a time. I gave Keegan his rod and he was soon shouting “Fish On!”

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You can see the simple rig.

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As I was getting Keegan rebaited and casted out, Oliver gets hooked up.

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I repeated the process ad nausea and we had a couple doubles.  DSC_0200

The little guy just played in the sand and collected a pile of shells.  Oh, and a ball.

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Bringing the dog is always fun, but you better have a plan for the sand she’s going to bring home with you.

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Do not rinse in the tub, sand in the drain is a bad thing.

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We came home with some nice eating size whiting and so the cleaning lessons began.

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Of course, you have to know how to pose with a fish to make it look huge.

We eat these guys grilled whole so all that is needed is a good scaling and gutting.  Oliver is plenty old enough to scale a fish and can gut with supervision.  Keegan’s a champion caliber scaler as well.

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Who took you fishing first and what did you catch?  Do you have any tips for getting kids into fishing?

Pescado de Matagorda and a Kid Fishing Primer

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“Dad, I’m freeeeezing!”

“Ok partner, lets go home.”

“Nooooo!  The sheepshead are running! We are staying till dark!”

Goofing off with supper.

Goofing off with supper.

Such was the conversation between my eldest son, Oliver and myself.  Keegan, four, said he was fine but to hand him another Gatorade and more jerky.  We’d been on the pier in Matagorda for about 20 minutes.

The key to boys having fun is action.   Think about puppies.  They wrestle and fight and chase things.  Human puppies aren’t any different.  So when I take them fishing, we target fish that are amenable to biting a hook.  Save sight casting for bonefish around Islamorado when they are older.  We want the pole bent, and to accomplish this I turn to shrimp.   Everything in the ocean loves shrimp.  We’ve caught sharks, bull reds, sting rays, whiting, croaker, Spanish mackerel  jacks, Atlantic spadefish, black drum, mangrove snapper–you get the picture, all on the lovely little crustacean.

The weigh in.

The set up is simple:

  • Size 1 or 2 circle hooks and smaller
  • Fresh dead shrimp (shrimp that’s too old for the shrimp fishermen to sell as table shrimp)
  • Various weight sizes from ¼ to 2 ounces.
  • Whatever fishing rods you have
  • Little Red Wagon to pull your gear down the pier.

How to:

  • Eagle claw makes some fine little steel liters with various sized hooks.  Tie one of these leaving yourself about 18 inches of excess line.  To that tag end, tie the smallest sinker you can that will keep the shrimp on the bottom.
  • Bait the hook with the shrimp.  Presentation is not important, but thread the shrimp in such a way your bait won’t be stolen. I think using the whole shrimp works best.
  • I cast the baitcasting and spinning rods for the boys.  I don’t use a lot of spincasting reels, but we have a few they use.
  • Be patient.  Prepare yourself for tangled rods, being hooked and losing some fish.  It’s all about them enjoying the experience.  Hopefully in the future they will take you fishing.
  • Stay comfortable.  Little monkeys don’t want to suffer while fishing.   Make sure they are well clothed, hydrated, and fed.  I failed miserably on the clothing aspect of our trip.
  • Keep it short.  Even when you are hauling fish in left and right, I’ve found it best to keep the outings to less than 5 hours.  Most of ours are no more than three.  When we do stay longer, we usually take a long lunch break or dig a sand castle, or something of that sort.

We had a great time, but Oliver began to turn blue and shiver.  Despite his protests I called it a day after 2 hours.

Scaling

Scaling away. Prepare to wash your little ones hair when they are done.

Scales were flying everywhere as Keegan and Oliver dove into the fish cleaning.  We opted to cook the fish whole on my new grill.  Here’s how we cooked it.

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Leaving the head on is not optional.

Grilling a whole fish is easy and manly.  Grilling a whole fish you guided your sons to catch and taught how to scale and gut is even manlier.   This is actually a tasty recipe and will work well with your more prehistoric fish like black and red drum, sheepshead, whiting, and croaker on the Gulf Coast.  In the Pacific Northwest this would work well with all your black bass and assorted rock cod fish.  Go with pike, largemouth bass and buffalo in freshwater.   It’s not a dainty recipe, so don’t make it for the little princesses in your life.  Have lots of napkins handy and feel free to use your hands. Growl as necessary.

Serves 2

Prep Time 30 minutes

Marinade Time 2-10 hours

Ingredients

  • 2 cups cilantro
  • 2 cups of olive oil
  • 4-5 lemons
  • 1 cup of fresh oregano (grow it or buy it, must be fresh)
  • Salt
  • Coarse black pepper to taste
  • 1 whole two to four pound fish, scaled, gutted, head on.
  • Vegetable oil
  1. Puree half the cilantro, olive oil, oregano, a table spoon of salt and 2 teaspoons of course black pepper.  Add the juice from a lemon.
  2. Pat your fish dry with paper towels and liberally salt and pepper the entire fish. Be sure to get inside the cavity as well. Score the fish (cut lines perpendicular to the backbone) every inch and a half or so to allow the fish to cook evenly.
  3. In a large zip lock bag, pour the marinade over the fish.  Rub into cavity well.  Put in the refrigerator for anywhere from 2-10 hours.  The really lets the flavor penetrate the fish and the salt do its thing.
  4. Repeat step one and use as a garnish and dipping sauce.
  5. Be sure you are starting with clean grates on your grill.   I like cooking over wood, but gas and charcoal will work fine.  I like my fire to be medium, not too hot, not too cold.  A good test is can you leave your hand over the fire for 3-4 seconds.  Any longer and its too cold, shorter too hot.
  6. Using a basting brush or a paper towel, oil your grill grates well and then place over your fire.
  7. Grill the fish about 5 minutes on each side, for each inch of thickness.  For instance, if your fish is 2 inches thick, grill for about 10 minutes each side.  When the inner most meat near the spine is done, remove from the heat and drizzle with your marinade you set aside earlier. *
  8. Serve it hot with some saffron or Spanish rice and sliced avocado.

*  If your fire dies on you, which I’m not scared to admit I’ve had happen, finish under your broiler in your oven using the same time frame guidelines.

Learning

Soon to be slimy boys.