I had two clients this bright, HOT August day, and we were blessed with a nice box of trout and reds and a few flounders to top off a good fishing trip. As is much appreciated by just about any fishing guide, my clients said they had had a great day fishing and were ready to call it a day a bit early.
Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I secured the reels and made my Haynie ready for running. After a leisurely 30-minute boat ride, we approached the boat dock.
Suddenly, the lady on board covered her mouth and nose, “OMG!” she said. “What is that smell?”
“That ma’am,” I replied, “is the ‘leftovers’ from the cleaning station.”
“Captain Mac can we go somewhere else?” she asked. “It’s about to make me sick at my stomach.”
“Yes ma’am. We can carry your catch to my place as I have a fish cleaning station next to the house.”
“Are there that many fish cleaned here on average?” she asked.
“On any given day more than several hundred, and I’m being conservative.”
“You’d think there would be a better way to dispose of the leftovers,” she more stated, than asked.
Of course she was and is right. We are extremely wasteful in our fish cleaning methods, and we could learn a thing or two from our Asian brothers and sisters.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization recently proclaimed the absurdity of this waste and matter of factly suggested we all need to put more of the leftover carcasses on our plates.
“Capt. Mac,” you say, “I’m not eating fish heads and rice! It’s not the way I was raised and certainly not tempting to my palate.”
I hear you, but consider this—in 2014 more than 400,000 tons of discarded fish parts were dumped into coastal waterways worldwide (again, a very conservative number).
According to the National Marine Fisheries Service when fileting a fish close to three pounds of discarded heads and scraps yields only one pound of boneless filet. I mean, come on folks! We are knocking on eight billion people on this planet and can no longer afford to do things the way we always have. It doesn’t make ethical and resourceful common sense.
Further, for you nutrition minded anglers, fish bones, brains, cartilage and fish fat are nutritious, containing extra-high levels of vitamin A, omega-3 fatty acids, iron, zinc and calcium. But to bring the conversation back home, many of us can—and some do—use the leftovers to make fish stock. Fish stock is very tasty and can be the foundation for many mouth-watering recipes.
Aside from the eating qualities of this much squandered and misused resource, my pappy used his fish parts in his garden, and it was wonderful fertilizer. Some very smart people in Norway, Iceland, Scotland and, even now, the U.S. are seeing the monetary value of sending fish heads and fish parts to Korea, China and Africa where they are prized for making fish soup.
Many entrepreneurs around the world are seeing the value of this much-wasted resource and are rapidly getting into the business. Most Americans don’t like to eat something with eyes that stare back at them; but truthfully, the eyes contain rich quantities of DHA and EPA, which are very rare unsaturated fatty acids. I for one don’t care for sushi, as I don’t eat any meat that is not cooked, but I’m not talking about raw fish here—it is all thoroughly cooked.
It amazes me many people won’t think twice about popping the head off a crawfish, sucking the entrails out, then follow up by eating the tail. Yet, they won’t entertain eating a well-cooked fish head where, by the way, some very tasty meat resides.
In Alaska the halibut is known for a small piece of succulent meat known as cheek meat. It is very expensive to buy and you pay top dollar for it in restaurants. Guess where it resides? You guessed it, just behind the halibut eyes. Some delicious meat resides in the same spot on the fish heads you and I are chunking into the water for the crabs to dine on.
Okay, so maybe I’m not winning you over here, but just a few changes to the way we clean our fish can make a big difference. Belly meat is a good place to start. It’s the part most folks cut off after they have fileted their catch. It is also known as the rib meat or belly meat, and it’s really good eating. I know one fellow who will clean fish for folks just to get the belly meat most just throw away.
Cut the throat meat out of your catch especially on large reds and trout? Some even do it on large black drum. Sheepshead is a great fish to cook whole. Gut it, cut the head off and cook it, bones and all, much like we used to cook sun perch.
Keep a small bucket with you when you clean your fish and save the stuff you normally throw into the water and put it on ice. It will keep almost as long as your filets. Once you’re home, bury it in your garden and watch your tomato plants explode with growth.
The meat around the bones is truly the best part. Further, any fish cooked with the skin on has a much better taste. There is a chemical reason for that, but I won’t go into it here.
If you are not into the skin, feed it to your dog (remove all bones) or put it in your garden or compost pile. It is loaded with omega 3 fatty acids Yes, fileting is faster, easier and less mess, but it’s also wasteful at a 3 to 1 ratio.
I know the way to a person’s heart is through his or her stomach. Fish heads and its counterparts are really delicious—especially with a little cooking practice. Once the taste buds are activated, spending a little more time in cleaning and disposing of the leftovers might just be worthwhile. Fish heads and rice anyone? Serve it up I say!
I would be less than truthful if I said January was a great month for fishing, for truly it is not, especially for the angler who does not live here on the coast. The fishing can be spotty, and most people who fish this time of year use frozen bait or artificial. Guides as well as those who frequent these waters target specific areas they know hold fish, or they go after a certain species they know are in the area.
Contact Capt. Mac Gable at
Mac Attack Guide Service,
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Copano Bay: The pilings close to the LBJ causeway are a good spot for sheepshead using free-lined cut squid or small pieces of shrimp on very small kahle hooks. The channels from Mission Bay into Copano are good for black drum and even a few keeper reds using peeled shrimp on a light Carolina rig.
Aransas Bay: Silent wades on the north side of Mud Island are good for reds using new penny jerk shad soft plastics. This is also a good place to set up and cast cut mullet into the many potholes and sand holes found in this area. Traylor Island still has a few trout and some reds using live shrimp for the trout and Berkley molting crab under a bubble cork for the reds.
St Charles Bay: On colder days the area around Salt Creek and Twins Creek is a good spot for black drum using peeled shrimp or cut squid on a very light Carolina rig. The mouth of Little Devils Bayou on a falling tide is a good spot for some keeper reds using cut mullet or mud minnows.
Carlos Bay: The best place here on the colder days is Cape Carlos Trench using deep running lures in blue and gold colors. On a slack tide, cut menhaden works well on a medium heavy Carolina rig. On warmer days, the shell just off Cedar Reef is a good spot for reds using free-lined mud minnows.
Mesquite Bay: Drifts across Brays Cove is good for a variety of fish using a silent cork and live shrimp. Flounders can be caught here as well as reds and trout. The trick is patience and persistence. Slow drifts are best with frequent casting. The northeast side of the bay is a good spot for sheepshead and some black drum using peeled shrimp on a light Carolina rig.
Ayers Bay: Some trout on warmer days are just off Ayers Reef. Soft plastics in nuclear chicken and morning glory colors are good choices. Throwing parallel to the reef I’ve found is best here; stay in about two to three feet of water. The shoreline of Rattlesnake Island holds some black drum as well as sheepshead. Frozen shrimp on a light Carolina rig is the best set up.
Here’s Wishing You Tight Lines, Bent Poles, and Plenty of Bait!
Location: I like wading the Fulton Beach shoreline around the many piers in the area. The piers hold some trout and sheepsheads as well as some keeper black drum. Berkley gulp shrimp and crab are great baits to use here. The color varies with new penny always a good choice. For the drum, frequently douse the bait back in the bag after casting as drums tend to be mostly scent feeders. Please be respectful of the private piers in this area. Take some water and a snack along as these wades can be pretty long.
Email Capt. Mac Gable at [email protected]