Thursday, April 28, 2005

Tasty Tilapia

Now admittedly, tilapia is not exactly a sport fish, and you won't find it on the cover of any fishing magazines (at least not the ones I'm familiar with). Though they are a popular fish to catch in California's Salton Sea, a fascinating body of water I'll discuss in another post's a photo of a little gal catching one there.

I suppose you could also sneak your rod into a tilapia farm and catch some that way - cichlids (of which tilapia is one) are supposed to be aggressive buggers, so you might have a good fight on your hands.

Anyway. The reason I'm featuring tilapia today because they're one of my favorite fish to eat, and they're one of the most ecologically wise choices you can make when buying seafood. Because they're farmed in a sustainable manner, tilapia help take the pressure off wild fish populations, many of which are in decline. (The same is true of farmed catfish, another favorite of mine.)

Without further ado, here are some of my favorite recipes for this tasty fish:

Bronzed Tilapia: A delicious recipe for fried tilapia filets featuring garlic, white pepper, cumin, basil, oregano and thyme.

Baked Tilapia with White Wine and Herbs
: This calls for 1/4 pint of white wine. What you do with the rest of the bottle is up to you ;-)

Baked Tilapia with Tomatoes and Olives
: Combines the tangy sweetness of tomatoes, the piquancy of green olives, and the spice of hot red pepper. Mmm good!

Batter Fried Tilapia
: This is a nice, down-home classic that would be great for a fish fry.

Finally, a little tilapia history I picked up in my research - it's very likely these were the fish that figured so prominently in the Biblical story of the loaves and fishes. Tilapia were the basis of a substantial fishing industry in the Sea of Galilee in Jesus's time, and the Apostles whom he called upon to be "fishers of men" were most likely fishers of tilapia first. So now you know.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Fishing Books for Kids - The Golden Guides

My very first books about fish and fishing were Golden Guides, compact yet detailed little books with great illustrations and good, straightforward advice on fishing tackle and techniques. (I also owned their books on various other subjects, like birds, mammals, and reptiles and amphibians - fine reads, all.) A fellow named Herbert S. Zim was a common denominator in all the books; I think he did most of the illustrations.

One nifty feature of the books was that they fit perfectly in a tackle box, making them easy to bring down to the fishing hole with you. (Though they would often come back from a fishing trip quite a bit dirtier and a good deal damper than when they started.)

The other day I got to wondering whether Golden Guides were still being published, and was happy to discover that St. Martin's Press had relaunched the series in 2000, with Mr. Zim's now decades-old work still prominently featured. If it ain't broke, why fix it?

So if you're looking for excellent introductions to fishing for a child (though I'm sure adults would enjoy them too) check out the Golden Guides...

Golden Guide to Fishing

Golden Guide to Fishes

I remember this one about ponds and wetlands was also pretty cool:

Golden Guide to Pond Life

Lots of interesting facts about turtles, crayfish, frogs, muskrats and other aquatic wildlife.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

What the Hell is "Grabbling"?

This is an obscure method of fishing that I've never actually tried, probably never will, but that always seemed fascinating and more than a little nuts. "Grabbling," or "noodling" as it's also called, is a technique practiced mostly, if not exclusively, in the American South to catch some huge catfish. It involves reaching into hollow logs, under rocks, and into holes where catfish like to lurk, grabbing them by the mouth, and then wrestling them to the shore or a waiting boat.

One variation I read about on this catfish forum takes a more strategic approach by placing structures attractive to catfish out in the river (in this case, 2'x3' wooden boxes), letting them sit overnight, and coming back the next day to grabble anyone who's taken up residence. Apparently the boxes are appealing places for female catfish to lay their eggs - catfish spawning season is prime time for grabblers, since that's when females seek out protected places for their nests.

Obviously it helps not to be too squeamish, or too worried about bodily harm, to master this crazy technique - there can be all sorts of nasty creatures lurking in under rocks and in hollow logs...snakes, gar, snapping turtles and alligators being some of the first that come to mind. Even if you're wearing gloves, which most sane grabblers do, there's definitely some risk involved...and a fat, angry catfish must be a pretty daunting opponent. (A tail in the face from a thirty-pounder would be pretty memorable.) But maybe that's all part of the thrill of grabbling. Frankly, as a Northern boy who used to think a foot-long bullhead was big, I really have no idea.

In case you were wondering, yes, there is a "Girls Gone Grabbling" video available. I haven't seen it (yet), but the pictures alone are making me see grabbling in a whole new light.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Ice Fishing on Lake Manitoba with the Saint-Laurent Metis

On a recent trip to Washington, D.C. I had the good fortune to visit the Smithsonian's new National Museum of the American Indian, an architectural wonder located near the United States Capitol. While exploring the "Our Lives" exhibit, which introduces contemporary Indian communities from around the US and Canada, I discovered a fascinating presentation of ice fishing traditions among the Saint-Laurent Metis of Manitoba.

The centerpiece of the Metis exhibit is a Bombardier "snow bus," a tracked vehicle with skis instead of front tires. Once used as a school bus in remote, snow-covered areas, this impressive vehicle is now used by the Metis to carry them out onto the ice of Lake Manitoba, where they set up their ice fishing rigs. The Metis drill holes in the ice and then run nets down through them, which they then haul up through another hole some distance away. (I'm still a bit hazy on the precise technique, but some kind of motorized device is used to pull the net between holes - the exhibit has a brief video showing how it's done.)

Here's a photo from the Saint-Laurent site showing a fisherman drilling a hole in the ice, with one of the snow buses parked behind him.

According to this article from Smithsonian Magazine, the Metis' main catches are pickerel, perch and sauger (a close relative of walleye).

The Washington Post offers this panoramic view of the exhibit, which allows you to scan back and forth by clicking and dragging your mouse. (You'll need Apple QuickTime to see it.)

If you're going to be in D.C. I highly recommend a visit to the Museum - in addition to the Saint-Laurent Metis exhibit, the art of George Morrison in the Native Modernism section was another of my favorites. The building itself is also amazing, with a vast central atrium overlooked by multiple balconies, and the grounds outside make extensive, evocative use of water to bring a sense of natural landscape to the urban environs of the National Mall. There's even a lovely, tree-lined pond that I half-expected to be inhabited by beavers...but no such luck. Perhaps some will have taken up residence by my next visit.

The Splendor of Fishing

"It was a long time since Nick had looked into a stream and seen trout...Nick's heart tightened as the trout moved. He felt all the old feeling."

-Hemingway, In Our Time

There is so much life concealed by water, and it is the angler's privilege to discover a small part of that life, to hold it in his hand and see the flash of its colors. The delicate roseates that mark the sides of a brook trout like gems or the green-gold fire of a pike lancing up at a lure from dark depths - these are the surprises that await us as we explore nature with rod and reel.

I've always found bodies of water to be mysterious, inviting places. We can never know exactly what's in them, and that is their wonder. We come to them as air-breathing guests, lacking the natural equipment to spend much time below, limited mostly to puttering or paddling around on top. Even the placid surface of a local pond, a submerged quarry, a suburban stream, is the roof of a realm utterly detached from ours. And when a fish noses the surface to take a fallen fly, we catch a momentary and elusive glimpse of life below, and cannot help but be intrigued. The rest is inevitable - the rest is fishing.

Half the splendor of fishing is its suspense - the play of chance. You simply cannot predict what will happen at that distant end of your line, dangling there like a lunar lander above some remote crater. You can only guess, imagine and wait. The line is your connection between worlds - a telegraph cable bringing reports from the deep - and who knows what the news will be. Perhaps an urgent call to haul in something splashing, shimmering, astonishing.

The other half of fishing's splendor is its peace - the sense of calm that wells up from the water, seeping up through waders, through the hulls of boats, through bare feet dangling from docks, to soothe aches you might not have known were there. Each time I return from time spent on the water, between sun and waves, I feel refreshed, relieved of tedious, everyday burdens, and above all, content that I have fulfilled a promise to myself.

Friday, April 22, 2005

John McPhee's "Founding Fish" - The Shad

I've been reading a great fishing book lately, John McPhee's "The Founding Fish", which discusses the lives of shad and shad fishermen in vivid detail. Shad are an anadromous fish which, like the salmon, spend much of their lives at sea but return to their ancestral rivers and streams to spawn. During shad runs anglers descend upon rivers like the Kennebec in Maine, the Pamunkey in Delaware, and the Sacramento River in California to cast out spoons and shad darts (a type of jig) to try and lure one of these giant, silvery herring (the largest of the herring, in fact) away from their reproductive mission, onto a hook and into a net.

By all accounts shad are tremendous fighters, and one of my favorite passages in the book describes McPhee's two-and-a-half hour struggle with a fish that he and his friends theorize might be a catfish, a muskellunge, a sturgeon, even a tarpon, it fights so hard and feels so huge. In the end, it turns out to be an extraordinarly feisty four-and-three-quarter pound female shad. Besides wearing out McPhee and keeping him on the river well past dark, she also manages to wreck his Daiwa reel before finally being netted. It's well worth a read if you enjoy a good fish story illuminated with insights from biology, geography, and history.

If you ever get your hands on a shad, here's a tasty-looking recipe for smoked shad you might want to try out.

Incidentally, another excellent (non-fishing) book by McPhee is "The Pine Barrens," about the unique lives and landscapes he discovers in this remote, undeveloped region of New Jersey. Definitely worth picking up if you like his spare, precise prose style.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

First Post, First Fish - The Bowfin

Welcome to Anglerama, a blog dedicated to fish and those who feel compelled to chase them around in boats and waders, through mud and weeds, while in turn being chased by mosquitoes, flies, leeches, and worse. I've been fishing since I was 4 and I can't seem to shake the habit - and since I'm so thoroughly hooked (hah! funny guy) starting a blog on the subject seemed the logical next step.

Rather than honor a popular fish you can find on the cover of a fishing magazine any week of the year (hello, bass), I've decided to dedicate this first post to the bowfin, an ancient, underappreciated fish you'll find lurking in ponds, lakes, and waterways around North America.


These strange beasts have been around a long time - much longer than us, though that isn't really saying a lot. You could find them chasing down insects, crustaceans and unlucky fish way back in the Mesozoic Era, over 100,000,000 (yes, that's one hundred million) years ago.

Today they're pursued by a rare and noble breed, the bowfin angler. They even have their own club - check it out! They've got some amazing bowfin pics in their photo section.

Bowfin are found throughout much of the American Midwest, down into the South and Florida, and over into Texas as well. They're found in many of the same places you'd catch bass, and will respond to bass tackle as well as live bait - in fact, I suspect a lot of bowfin fishermen first hooked into one while out casting for bass. But be warned, bowfin are renowned for fighting like crazy...and watch out for the teeth!

Some fun bowfin trivia:
  • They can reach over three feet in length and weigh over 20 pounds.
  • Bowfin have a primitive lung and can actually breathe air . In fact, they're often seen gulping air at the surface. This is one of the reasons they can survive in adverse, low-oxygen conditions that would have other fish turning belly-up.
  • Bowfin eggs are sold as "American Caviar" and considered a bit of a delicacy. Does this mean there's big money in bowfin fishing? Hmm...I kinda doubt it.
  • The bowfin goes by many names, including: choupique, cypress trout, dogfish, gaspergou, grindle, grinnel, lawyer, mudfish, runner and shoepick.
Looking for more details on the bowfin? That bowfin anglers page is a great place to start, and the National Wildlife Federation provides this detailed profile of the species as well.

Happy angling!