since 2009

summer heat

carcass

I just got home from Breezy about an hour ago. It’s been brutal these past couple weeks with the heat and humidity, I didn’t think there would be much fishing going on, but Thomas and I headed down there as the bars were closing up and arrived as the sun was rising. For the first time in well over a week it actually felt pleasant to be outside as I kicked a sea robin, that had somehow beached itself, back into the surf. There was already one guy at the end of the jetty. Like an idiot, I forgot my surf belt, so aside from being a dumbass wearing waders on the jetty, I also had no belt and no pliers. That’s what happens when half your stuff is in your car and the other half is in your house. So needless to say, I didn’t venture too far down the jetty, but it turned out that I didn’t really need to. Birds were all over about a hundred yards past the end and boats moved in pretty quick as the day got warmer. I bagged about a dozen sea robins on a mix of metals and bucktails, and caught a tiny flounder and a keeper size fluke, barely keeper sized. I keep a tape measure in my bag, but I usually adhere to the rule: “If I have to measure it to see if it’s big enough, it’s too small.” I released the fluke, but now I kind of wish I’d kept it. Oh well. I only saw others picking up small fluke and sea robins, with a rare short bass here and there. I don’t know if I’ve completely missed the run of bluefish and bass at Breezy Point, but I think that 20″ fluke was the biggest fish I’ve caught there so far this year. Anyhow, I left my phone in the car because I forgot my Aquapac and everyone should know by now my regrettable history of phones lost to sea water, so no pics for today, but it all really happened, I swear.

frankiesboat
A few weeks ago I went back to deep south Maryland for the Potomac Snakehead Tournament. The weather was scorching hot and I wasn’t really planning to fish as I didn’t have a boat. I’ve been researching the snakehead and what the group of hunters, fishermen, chefs, and MD DNR are working on in the area for about a year and it’s really interesting to me to think about the potential of this fish as a resource. The population down in the tidal Potomac continues to grow exponentially, and the fish was recently found in the eastern part of the Chesapeake Bay—though it’s highly unlikely it migrated through the salty waters (it was most likely put there by some miscreant). I scouted around the area Ben and I fished last year and spotted a few snakehead in the early afternoon from a footbridge. One was easily over 30 inches and lazed around in the sun before sinking like a submarine into the hydrilla grass. I talked to Austin Murphy, the coordinator of the tournament, and he got me to hitch a ride on Frankie Burch’s boat, seen above, a real snakehead killing machine. These boats are so awesome in their DIY ingenuity. A couple “pro” bowhunting boats entered this year, everything machined and sleek and solid, but boats like Frankie’s are so much more appealing to me, from the wire-tied and welded handrails, the shaky ladder you climb from the boat deck to the shooters platform, down to the Bud Light cans housing the shooters cord for the arrows, cans that just happened to be the same threading as the OEM parts. I learned a lot about the art of bowhunting that night. It definitely is not “angling” to me, but it’s not shooting fish in a barrel either. I ended the night being a fat bastard, laying around on the bed at the Super 8 Motel with my shirt off, beer cans everywhere, chomping down on McDonald’s and watching TV.

snakehead
The next day I got up and out early to get a line in before the weigh-in. I drove down some residential road to the water and met a guy who’d just caught a snakehead. I talked with him for a while and eventually he gave me the fish because he didn’t feel like killing it, which I accomplished by ripping its gills out with pliers. A nasty job, I found. I’d just bought this Livetarget Frog lure the day before; it’s this super life-like looking frog, which I thought snakeheads would crush. Instead, I kept catching largemouth bass, which was pretty cool to see them smash the lure on the top-water, but I wanted snakehead. I’d later get some real advice on how to catch snakehead via hook and line (“Enter a bass tournament…”), but the time being I traded the guy a bass for the snakehead he caught. I didn’t even realize at the time that I hadn’t caught a LMB in forever, despite it being my favorite fish growing up (hence the tattoo) and the excitement of catching bass on top-water plugs was lost in mild annoyance, kind of like catching all those stupid sea robins this morning.

At the weigh-in there were less fish than the previous year, but still some monsters came through. A few fish over 15#s, dripping slime and dead eyed. Snakehead, if you don’t know, is an incredibly and surprisingly tasty fish. Everyone ate a lot and some Chinese people came by to buy fish from the guys in the tournament, most of whom just gave them away for free. I saw John Rorapaugh of Pro Fish, who’s responsible for nearly all of the commercial distribution of snakehead filets, and drank a few beers and caught up with him about the snakehead business in the last year. It’s still in high demand, he told me, still selling out every week. I also got to see Chad Wells’s snakehead/chef tattoo in person while he was grilling up snakehead sandwiches. The fishing this year hasn’t been as good as last year, he said. The weird weather and timing has made the fishing more difficult, but everyone believes the fish are also adapting better to the environment, sensing the trolling motors of the weekly bass tournaments, spotting the blinding lights from the shooting platforms hovering above them.

I drove back to my parent’s place in Delaware as a pit stop on the way back to NYC. I had the snakehead on ice in a cooler. I started to gut it, but then my uncle came over to take a look at it and we decided to filet it instead. When I re-opened the cooler, this fish, with its gills pulled out, half-gutted, out of the water for a good seven hours, in the fog of icy mist in the humid air, it wriggled once, opened its gill plates wide, and took one last, almost human, gulp of air. Fucker was still alive.
filet_1
filet_2
Not anymore, though.

I gave a couple pieces to my uncle and to my parents (who later told me it tasted like tilapia, to which I said was probably the worst review I’ve heard of snakehead), and made this with my share:
ceviche

—mkl

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