Volume XVII, Issue 37 # September 10 - September 16, 2009

Fish Are Biting

Breaking fish — rock, blues and macs — again dominate the mid-Chesapeake fishing report with action in the Thomas Point Light area joining the Poplar Island-to-Eastern Bay bite. Spot and croaker are still holding in our area, but cooler autumn temperatures will soon begin driving them south. Sea trout are rumored at the Bill Burton Fishing Pier in Cambridge. Fall is advancing fast. Better fish hard.

Starting Up a Savory September

Our traditional perch fry begins the month of plenty

Our quest started at the old bridge. Its shore-side supports were protected from erosion and accidental boat collisions by large rock piled around them. This time of year, the rocks attract hordes of small silversides and anchovies. They feed there and use the structures for sanctuary. These baitfish in turn attract white perch. The white perch had attracted us.

Working small Roostertail spinner baits around the rocks, my son Robert and I tried first one support, then the next and the next. We slowly discovered where the best perch were holding. They weren’t in large numbers, but we had the time and a mouth-watering goal: our first September fish fry.

Feeling the advent of autumn — signaled by chillier evenings and shortening days — white perch are getting ravenous. They are fattening up for winter, and Bay anglers know that chubby perch are extra delicious perch.

As we moved on to another rock pile, Rob had a giant hit. The drag on his small reel buzzed as line pulled out faster and faster. When we finally saw a heavy surface swirl at the end of his line and got a glimpse of the striped creature, the mystery was solved: Rockfish, and a good one.

After a long and tentative battle, my son finally eased the fish close to the boat. His easy hand and the light rod had exhausted the striper, and that was fortunate because we didn’t have a regular landing net on board.

The small, long-handled net we were using for the perch barely held the front two-thirds of the rockfish. It was dicey, but I finally lugged the rascal on board and into the ice chest. That added some significant weight to our fish-fry efforts.

We continued perching until another dozen or so good-sized white perch rounded out our bag. Then we sped home to wash out the boat, clean the fish and get ready for our meal. I was especially looking forward to this because I was trying out a new twist in our traditional perch fry operation.

Frying the Feast

A cooking magazine to which I subscribe, Cook’s Illustrated, had a recent article on Japanese tempura-style frying. One of the techniques advocated a chilled batter for an extra crispy effect while at the same time minimizing absorption of cooking oil.

That evening, fusing the tempura techniques into my operation, I whisked an egg into water mixed with crushed ice (one cup total) then added in a lean cup of self-rising flour to make the batter. Nesting the bowl of batter in another, larger bowl of crushed ice helped to maintain the chilled temperature.

First I dipped in finger-sized pieces of fish that had first been blotted dry with paper toweling. Then I rolled the well-coated fish in a plate of panko (Japanese-style bread crumbs) and stored them on a chilled plate. From there they went into a deep, heavy-bottomed skillet with a half-inch or so of hot (350-400 degree) peanut oil.

When both sides of each piece of fish were golden brown, I accumulated the crispy pieces on a large newspaper-lined baking sheet in a warm oven until all were done.

Within 20 minutes, my family sat down to an enormous mound of beautiful perch and rockfish pieces. Oohs and ahs cascaded across the table as the fish were devoured. Everyone agreed that the breading was extra light and crispy. It was well worth the additional effort.

Conservation Alert

Maryland commercial fishermen are making a strong lobbying effort to increase the length of gill nets used to catch rockfish from 2,400 yards to 3,500 yards. That will extend the legally permitted length of each net to almost two miles. There is no rational basis for a gear expansion as commercial netters are already easily catching their quota of rockfish.

This particular gear is also deadly to other fish species, river otters, ducks and seabirds. Gill nets are virtually invisible, particularly difficult for our already overextended Department of Natural Resources staff to monitor effectively and prone to abuse. Voice your opinion at 410.260.8280 or e-mail at [email protected].

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