Through my many years as an outdoors writer, fishing with anglers in both fresh and saltwater, I’ve learned that fish that I grew up thinking were ‘trash’ fish actually were very tasty when prepared properly. There is one exception, carp. I can honestly say I have never learned a good way to prepare carp, if there is one, I would like to learn. I thought it would be fun and hopefully helpful if I shared some fish catching and ‘eating’ information with you this week, focusing on species that you might not have considered eating.
BOWFIN- Commonly called grinnel here in Texas or Choupique (Shoe Pick) down in Lousiana, these are beautiful fish that have been around since the Jurassic Period. I learned from a friend in Louisiana that the Shoe Pick as he calls them are excellent table fare. My buddy Jeff Rice and I catch them often in a creek adjacent his land in east Texas, often on cut bait while fishing for catfish. Bowfin can be filleted just like any fin fish, the difference being that the ribs extend down toward the anal fin a bit farther than fish such as white bass or stripers. The meat is much softer in texture than most game fish and it’s important to cook it fresh. We are planning a big fish fry on the creek soon and plan to fillet and ice the fish as soon as they are landed. On past trips, catching them is usually pretty easy and we hope to have them sizzling in hot cooking oil soon after they are landed. My Cajun friend says he places the fillets in a mixture of two parts ice water to one part vinegar which helps firm up the fillets. A five pound Bowfin will definitely stretch your line so it’s best to spool up with at least 17 pound test.
BUFFALO (Buffalo fish)- Buffalo are excellent eating, white meated, firm textured fish. Another Cajun friend, the late Johnny Procell who guided for many years, introduced me to this awesome tasting fish years ago. I caught one that weighed about 10 pounds while catfishing and was about to release it. Johnny said no! He would show me how to fillet it back at the dock. Johnny had a recipe he called ‘buffalo fish cakes’. He mixed onion, garlic powder, flour, salt and pepper with boiled or steamed fillets and formed them into ‘fish patties’ and baked them. I later learned that buffalo are also good fried, smoked or blackened. They are a bony fish and it’s important to take care to remove all the smaller bones. Some folks pressure cook them like sardines, bone and all.
YELLOW BASS - Most fishermen call them ‘barfish’. There is no limit on yellow bass in Texas and, like whitebass, they often run in big schools. I was introduced to catching and eating yellow bass by my friend guide Billy Carter at Caddo Lake. Billy began guiding trips for them during the winter months decades ago. Yellow bass fillets, in my opinion, are every bit as tasty as crappie. On many past fish fries, I’ve mixed yellow bass fillets in with crappie and white bass and the inexperienced fish eaters couldn’t tell the difference. Yellow bass are easy to catch using a small hook and a minnow cut into small pieces. Most are caught near bottom but many anglers also catch them on small jigs and soft plastics.
FRESHWATER DRUM - I had a guide buddy several years ago that stayed busy during the winter months putting his clients on huge numbers of freshwater drum. YES! Smaller drum are excellent eating and easily caught on small jigs or cut bait. As my buddy used to say, a drum is a drum! A redfish is a ‘red drum’ and we all know how tasty blackened redfish is. Larger redfish aren’t all that tasty, in my opinion, their fillets are much to coarse but smaller drum are one of the best eating of fish. Freshwater drum also grow to hefty size but the ones 12 to 14 inches in length are by far the best eating. Next time you are out catfishing and catch a drum, take it to the cleaning table and later expose it to some cornmeal and hot cooking oil. I’m betting you too will become ‘hooked’ on the flavor!
LONGNOSE GAR - Gar are hard fighting fish but catching them requires a very sharp case hardened hook and usually a hard hookset. Most are caught on live bait fished under a floater. The trick to landing them is to give them time to ‘take the bait’. A gar’s mouth is extremely tough and it’s important to allow them time for the hook to set. It’s common to see the floater disappear for several seconds and then surface several yards away. When this occurs, put the reel in freespool and let the gar run without resistance. When the floater goes down and stays down or races across the water’s surface, set the hook, HARD. Cleaning gar is really easy, the top half of the fish is boneless, white meat. Use a heavy bladed knife or better yet, a meat cleaver and remove the ‘backstrap’ from the top of the fish. The skin is tough so it’s best to simply cut the meat out once the ‘backstrap’ is removed. The fillet is snow white and very tasty . Just like when cleaning Bowfin, gar is a fish that needs to be cleaned promptly and chilled before frying.
Hopefully these tips will spark you to try fishing for and eating fish that provide some great fishing sport and, if prepared properly, great eating.
Contact outdoors writer Luke Clayton through his website www.catfishradio.org.