Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Tasty Fish...

...was that American Eel when cooked on my BBQ grill under the silvery light of the full moon shining through the cloud cover. I just cooked it right after posting my previous post. It took me the better part of 45 minutes, maybe a bit longer at medium heat, to get it to where it was just starting to become fairly tender. It started to become white and somewhat flaky as cooked white colored fish should by that time, probably could have cooked a couple of minutes more but I was anxious to taste it. It actually had turned white within about 5 to 10 minutes but took much longer until it was tender/flaky enough to consider done and was just much too chewy before 45 minutes. I don't know if that is just because it was an eel or because it was as old as it must have been, to be as big as it was, but that was one slow cooking fish. It was worth the wait and I enjoyed the company of 2 St. Pauli Girls along the way. By the way, nothing like smoked eel at all as far as I remember but still quite delicious.

Maybe it was the anticipation of tasting it, maybe it was the 2 St. Pauli Girls, or maybe it was because I cooked it under the glow of a full moon but I have to say that was one fine tasting fish when grilled. Of course, it should have been tasty since I caught, cleaned (taking care to remove the red oily meat near the spine) and took my time grilling it.

All the best,

Glenn B

Gone Fishing... long last. This weekend, I finally made my first trip of the year out to sea to be bathed in the briny spray and glow of the almost full moon as the bow of our small but worthy fishing boat slammed hard against the waves. We party boat fishermen (and woman and kids) were probably only moving at about 25 knots but, for me at least, it was exhilarating if for no other reason than I should would be dropping a line, complete with baited hook and small sinker, and would be fishing for monster bluefish. Within about an hour of getting under way, The Captain Al, of Point Lookout, NY, had set its anchors and the 29 fares aboard eagerly wet their lines for the first time that night. Then each of us waited with great anticipation for the words: "Fish on!" but those words were long in coming at least true to their meaning. One joker, after about 5 minutes of fishing spoke them loudly and had mate come running, armed with gaff hook and net only to be disappointed because he had only been explaining to his girlfriend what she should say if she hooked one.

Not long afterward, as fate would have, the bigmouth was the first one to catch a fish. He made it look as if he was pulling in a monster bluefish, at least a 10 pounder anyhow, but when fish and surface finally met, all who were watching readily saw it was nothing more than a skate that at best weighed a pound. He was rigged for bottom fishing and I was rigged for drift fish with just a light split shot sinker so as to let the current drift my bait. The other fares aboard our boat were split about 50/50 for bottom or drift fishing; this was done to see where the blues would be biting. After a short while longer, the boats horn tooted, the captain yelled reel em in, and the anchors were hauled in. Then we moved onto another spot.

We fished at the second spot, again with no blues biting. The only fish coming up were small skates, small dogfish, and a small fluke or two. We fished on, or I should say most of us did. The others who had stopped fishing had done so not out of boredom or loss of hope but rather because they couldn't take the sideways rocking of the boat. We were anchored so that the waves were coming at the side of the boat and that made for some uncomfortable rocking side to side even though the waves were probably only 3 feet at most. I fished. After about another half hour or so, I hooked what I thought was a good sized fish but was pretty sure it was not a bluefish. It was pulling hard but not running and fought more like a shark than a bluefish because it went straight down when it did gain some line. Every now and again it shook violently and pulled straight down hard, once or twice gaining some line but never really running fast and long. Nope not a blue, I was convinced. I lifted the rod tip, reeled in, and lowered it still reeling. Repeated over and over, sometimes gaining not an inch of line because, even though it was not running, it was as if reeling accomplished nothing because the drag was allowing out as much line as I was reeling in over the long haul. The captain yelled at me to slow it down and let it tire itself out, he too thought it was a good sized fish. This went on for a good 5 to 7 minutes maybe more. I thought I had a good sized dogfish. Then, after a bit more fighting it, there it was and guys along the rail were yelling out "doormat fluke". I was guessing it had not been a fluke but a doormat fluke, I thought "GREAT"! It wasn't a fluke although I wished it had been one, then again maybe it was a fluke of sorts if you consider a fluke being an oddball. When it was up just under the surface, I saw what it was and so did the captain who had been coaching me from the upper deck. It was another skate, or as Captain Al called this one - "...a barn door skate". For a skate in these parts it was huge; my guess is that it weighed in at about 4 to 5 pounds, it was approximately 20-22 inches long (snout to tail tip) and at least 3/4 as wide from fin tip to fin tip and it was one fat fish for a skate. In fact it was so fat as to have at first made me think it was a female that was gravid but this one had the long clasper fins of a male. I have never seen one that big before and I probably have discovered why at this website about the Little Skate:

As per the information found therein, you can see that the maximum size of the Little Skate, is about 21 inches long and mine was maybe an inch longer. I am good at guesstimating length when fishing and in addition there was black tape on the rails to measure fluke. It was darned close to the measurement between those pieces of black tape which was the minimum length for a fluke - 22 inches. Now, after seeing the maximum size of about 21 inches, I wish I had measured it with a tape measure and not just held it up close to the black pieces of tape on the rail. I also wish I had taken a picture of it. Who knows, it may have been the record Little Skate for NY State waters! The fish went back into the deep but not before leaving its mark on me. I knew enough not to grasp its tail to pick it up, they have nasty short spines all along the tail, so I tried lifting it by grasping it near the head across the back. Ouch, I was stuck by a few of those same spines there along the back. I bled freely out of those tiny puncture wounds for about 15 minutes. Not much but it just kept bleeding. A mate tried getting it overboard for me and he too was jabbed. I suggested grabbing it with a rag in his hand, surprised he had not tried that once he saw me get poked, and he then did just that. He was surprised by the skates heft and commented on it saying it was the biggest one he had ever seen. As for the fish, it was back where it belonged, in the deep. I kind of had thought it a garbage fish, though fun to catch because they do put up a fight and always seem larger while reeling them in than they are when in hand. This one was a surprise in that it was pretty big after all. Well, it will live to swim another day and maybe will be caught by some young kid who will then feel like a great fisherman should with his monster fish on the deck at his feet. Hopefully his dad, or even he, will know enough to throw it back for another day's catch.

Finally I was again back in tune with what was going on for the rest of the fares. Not much had been coming up. We fished on, no one catching a bluefish and not many catching anything but a small skate or dogfish now and again. Time ticked on and the boat's horn again tooted - we all reeled in and headed to another spot. As we got ton the next spot, the mate rigged me for some bottom fishing. He said all I was likely to get was an eel or a skate or dogfish; I was hoping for some Ling - a great tasting fish that sort of resembles a codfish but is smaller. Again we fished and fished, and the waves rolled and so did the boat. A young fellow of about 20 came over to my left side and I thought he was about to drop a line but he was set on dropping something else. Over the side went what looked like a bucket full of chum but this was not made up of fish heads and gut from out cut mackerel bait. This was whatever it had been that the young man had last eaten. Again and again the boat heaved port to starboard and again and again he heaved over the rail. I don't know why the captain insisted anchoring the boat so the waves came at us from the side but that is what he did and those with a less than forgiving sense of balance paid for it.

We must have been at that spot for a good 45 minutes when, after the young lad had laid out a good chum slick of sorts for me, I hooked what again felt like a big fish. This was a lot different from the skate I had hooked earlier but again I did not think it a bluefish though this one's fight was somewhat more similar by nature to that of a blue than to that of a skate. It took some line in a few short runs, it was powerful and thrashed then ran again. It bent the rod over and I was using a fairly strong rod - one good for those heavy monster blues. This one though came up a bit quicker than did the skate, probably due to its body shape not creating as much drag in the water as does a skate's when a skate cups itself against the resistance of the water when being reeled up toward the surface. When it was near the top it was easy to tell what was this one, it was an American Eel. Again I had gotten a big one. The average length of the American Eel is about 2 to 3 feet. Mine was right about 4 feet long. That is pretty big though females can reach 5 feet in length. Again, we did not measure it and my camera was in my tackle box in a plastic bag but this one I brought home for the table. I cut it up and have it in my fridge. The widest piece of that eel, cut up, is as big around as my mid-forearm at just about 9 - 10 inches around. If the fish still was intact, with its guts inside of it, it would probably have been around 11 - 12 inches around at the widest point of its girth. The world record for the American Eel is said to be about 9.25 pounds. Mine was not near that, I am guessing though it weighed in at about 5 to 7 pounds. Not the biggest eel I have ever caught, I caught some eels off of San Felipe in the Gulf of Cortez, about 28 years ago, that were between 6 and 7 feet long and that had huge teeth. I suppose they were some type of Moray Eels but this was, by far, the largest American Eel that I ever caught. American Eels are actually fresh water fish. They live in rivers and lakes with river outlets that flow to the sea. They come into the Atlantic Ocean and migrate to the Sargasso Sea near Bermuda to breed, I think in October or there about. Some also remain in coastal areas in brackish waters. While it is reported that American Eels die right after breeding, my guess is this one lived through several breeding seasons to have attained its size. I can only guess how much heavier it would have been had it been full of eggs, it was obviously a female judging by its innards when I gutted it. Ovaries look like ovaries in all of the fish in which I have seen them. The ones in this eel were just longer than most, sort of like a snakes in proportion. It was nice fish and I am hopeful one that big will be tasty to my liking. I have not eaten eel for probably over 30 years and am looking forward to cooking this one on the grill.

After that, we continued fishing at the same spot and more eels and dogfish came aboard. I soon hooked a small dogfish myself. Dogfish are members of the shark family but they have tiny teeth not the type which you need to be afraid of taking a big sized chunk out of your hide although I would not stick my finger in ones mouth. Soon after that we moved on again. At the last spot we fished and fished and not one bluefish came aboard. I hooked one last fish, this one nibbling then taking the bait hard. It did not run, did not feel heavy and did not put up too much of a fight. When I got it up tom the top I saw it was a fluke, about 18 inches long and too small to keep legally. I lifted its head out of the water and brought the fish over the rail, all the time expecting it to spit out the hook as they usually do once their heads are above the surface. That is why you usually keep their heads under water and have the mates net them for you when they are of keeper size. I was hoping this one would spit the hook and save me the trouble of getting the hook out but it was not to be. This one had swallowed the hook. The mate got it out for me and over the rail went the fluke to be caught another day. We fished a bit more and all too soon the boats horn tooted 4 or 5 times signaling the end of the night as far as fishing went. Soon after, we were headed back tot he dock in Point lookout - not one bluefish aboard and therefore the mates getting to keep any money that was in the pool for the biggest fish. good for them because with absolutely no fish being gutted, cleaned and filleted they would not be getting much in the way of tips. As we got off the boat, I gave a tip to the mate who had helped me out, regardless of me not having caught one bluefish. I can tell you, going bluefish fishing on this boat and getting skunked is a rarity. Hopefully next trip out will be better but I had fun on this one and have a few pounds of cleaned eel to cook up.

All the best,
Glenn B