2017-04-06 / Columns

Outdoors This Week in the Eastern U.P.

By Stephen King

It’s beginning to look a lot like spring. The snow is pretty much gone and we are just getting into the changeover. And speaking of changeovers: It’s April. Buy that new fishing license, or pay the fines.

Ice fishing is still good, if you are stubborn enough the venture out. The ice is reasonably bad, very sloppy, with lots of standing water. I also talked to a friend who was out fishing this past weekend, and he caught a limit of gills. In a bit of silliness, he and three of his friends each caught a limit, which equals about 100 gills. My buddy’s pals were feeling all nice and generous, so they all donated their catch to him. Told me he spent the better part of a day cleaning those tasty little treats. Think this over before you fill that bucket.

If you are venturing out, be really careful. As I always say, there is no such thing as safe ice. Driving any type of vehicle out there right now would be just plain goofy. There are lots of reasons not to, like falling through. Wrecker drivers tend to frown on extractions, as do DNR conservation officers. Along with the soggy ride, you may also get a ticket for your troubles. There is always the water-on-the-ice issue, making conditions very slippery. Think this over. If you suddenly take a fall, you will probably make a big splash, and a dip in icy water can and will cause hypothermia very quickly. Seek warmth immediately if you suddenly find yourself soggy.

The trout are in and biting. I keep hearing that the stream anglers are doing well, with some nice catches. Numbers are OK and size is pretty good.

If you get lucky and catch a rainbow, what will you do with that fish? The answers to that question could fill a pretty good sized book. Over the years, I have seen a whole lot of ways to cook a trout. I will offer up a few quick tips.

First, take a good look at the fish you just caught. (Now, be honest. We’re not at the bait shop talking with the other fishermen.) Is your fish, small, medium, or large? For the small ones, like under about 15 inches, I just pan fry them. You might roll them in some type of breading. There are a host of products out there. I favor pancake flour. Coats the fish nicely, and adds a slightly sweet flavor.

Next, for fish from about 15 inches up to about the mid-20s, I fillet them. This is a skill I learned as a wee lad. Most would guess that it came from my past experience as a commercial fisherman. Wrong. It came from my dad being a commercial fisherman and getting really tired of coming home after a long day on the lake to a sink full of fish that needed cleaning.

I was about 10 when I was taught the art of taking apart a fish. Now, there are a lot of ways to fillet a fish. As a deckhand, I traveled all over the upper Great Lakes and saw a lot of different ways to fillet fish. But the way I learned is to take off the head. Then, run the knife down the backbone. Just to the spine for the initial cut. Then, make another cut, cutting off the small side bones. Next, follow along the ribs. And, when done, you should have two perfect fillets. And, if your first couple look like they were chewed off by an otter, don’t worry too much. Happens to most people when they are learning. For practice, try suckers. They have the same bone structure as most fish. You can catch them a whole lot easier, and they are also the perfect size.

If you just caught “the big un,” getting up and over the 30-inch mark, you’ll find these are not the tastiest fish in the world. True, they are tremendous fun to catch. The bragging rights on a 35-inch rainbow are just about endless. (I’m still telling stories of some big ones my dad caught 50 years ago or more.)

For the bigger fish, I smoke them. First, I chunk them, about three-inch pieces, bones, skin, and all. Just take out the innards. Take the pieces and soak them in salt water for about 12 hours. You can add flavors, but I will get into that in another column. Now, one reason the bigger fish aren’t that tasty is that they tend to be a bit on the tough side. The smoking cures that problem. As with the filleting, there are just about endless ways to smoke a fish. I like to use maple. One last tip, don’t be in a hurry. The longer it takes to smoke them, the better they will taste. Five or six hours is not too long. You want cool fire and a long smoking time for tasty fish.

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