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A fish tale

What I enjoy most about the summer time is spending that time with my family, my wife and kids. Especially outdoors. Hiking, fishing, boating, target shooting, camping, and cutting firewood with the promise of grilled meat and cold beer at the end is all part of the family experience here.

So here is a fish tale, or the tales of two fish, a punny phrase if ever one swam.

First one up is high school and college friend Jeff called out of the blue.

“Come down on Tuesday. Paul will be here with his son. It will be a fun reunion and we will all have our boys together, out on the boat, fishing.”

Jeff was a varsity wrestler from our arch-rival school, one weight class below me. In college we were separated by three weight classes. Now we are both fat and happy dads, coaching our boys through life the best way we know how – in the outdoors.

An invitation to salt water fish hardly ever goes neglected, especially with two other friends from high school and college, and within 24 hours my boy and I had rolled into town, found our hotel, gone to sleep at 4AM, and risen at 7:30AM ready to spend the day in the salt and sunshine with old friends. Paul and his son showed up from across the country, and we piled food, cold drinks, ice, and gear into the boat and headed out. Jeff is an old salt hand, and was a masterful captain. His friend Brian served as first mate and heartily complimented the wolfed-down sandwiches we brought, while Paul threw his overboard, complaining that they were soft. Some things just never change.

“You are a spoiled princess, you know that?” I scolded Paul. “We were up all night making these delicious sandwiches.” He asked for another sandwich; dry this time, he said.

Aside from catching up among the three of us, and introducing our boys to each other, we caught a pile of mackerel, some bluefish, and we lost one or two large cobia. Here is how the mackerel were prepared.

Captain Jeff, a friend since 1979

 

Happy and proud dad, tired and satisfied son

Fileting fresh mackerel

Brining filets and whole fish for smoking

Brined mackerel on smoking rack

Smoked mackerel…for dips, treats, scrambled eggs, yum

Fast forward a week later and the boy and I are fishing in Pine Creek, which is still running high, for two years now. This means that trout are not only holding over in great numbers, but are thriving in a big freestone stream that nonetheless usually hits 80 degrees and gets skinny by July, an environment where trout are normally picked off by eagles, mink, otters and herons this time of year.

I cast the Rebel Crawfish across a familiar riffle and hooked a large fish, which turned out to be a fat 16 inch rainbow trout. On a tiny ultralight spin rod with four pound test, it felt like the proverbial whale. He came to hand after a noble dispute.

“Do you want to keep him,” I asked my boy. “We haven’t kept a trout out of here in I forget how many years.”

“Yes,” he said, firmly and without hesitation.

This is a kid who really enjoys eating fresh fish, so setting aside my usual aversion to killing trout, I slid it into a small pool of cold spring water cascading down the bank, where the fish could breathe and stay fresh, and also remain within eyesight. That heron kept circling, and I wasn’t about to lose my prize to him.

The boy was admiring the beautiful trout, which had the healthy fins and magically vibrant colors of a native fish, or at least a hatchery fish that had spent an unusually long time in wild water. A fierce, or jealous, look came over the boy’s face and he asked which lure it had been caught on. Instead of tying one on to his rod, I just handed him my rod. One trout among the dozens splashing for emerging mayflies was enough for me, enough for the year. Watching my son catch fish is better than me catching them, and so I stood in the cool shallows with the current tugging at my Crocs, and supervised his casting. The late hot sun beat down harsh and merciless.

“Where did you catch him?” came the unexpected question.

Normally I advise where to cast, and since he was about nine, the boy will cast in the opposite direction of where I suggested. Even if it means getting tangled in a tree or snagged on the bottom. He has been improving on his independence for years now, if not improving his fishing skills. This time, however, he was on a mission. He cast a few times to where he was directed, gaining his bearings, and on the third or fourth splash the plug went exactly where it needed to go, over the fast current and just upstream enough to get a drag-free drift with some natural wobble. He immediately connected, and gently fought another perfect 13-inch rainbow into the shallows.

“Do you want to keep this one, too?” I asked.

“Yes. One fish for each of us. Or both for me – One for dinner and one for breakfast tomorrow,” he replied. Without a hint of irony.

Sound logic it was, and so we placed this trout next to its confined but quite alive mate in the little spring pool in a hollow of rock up on the bank.

With a fine trout under his belt, now it was his turn to sit in the cool shallows and watch me, as I went back out to catch a few bass lurking in the deeper current below the ledgerock. A couple came to hand and were released, and a couple got away. The sun then set over the valley, illuminating the Camel’s Hump and Trout Run in a magical Summer glow. The kind of day’s end that is so beautiful and perfect that you are sure you will remember it clearly forever just as it is experienced in that moment. And we probably will remember it clearly, mostly because the next morning he ate that fish down to the bare bones and then went outside to shoot his flintlock with true professional calm, hitting the distant bulls eye over and over and over. He made his dad proud.

A brace of fresh trout

Perfectly pan fried trout with butter and herbs

Someone really likes fresh trout