Cooking With Myra: Fishing with friends; beginner's luck lands fish
By Myra Starkey
July 17, 2012 at 2:17 a.m.
The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.
- John Buchan
I told Clay that I had a plan for Saturday night supper at the bay. Of course, he and Susan would be our guests at the table. I went on to say that his contribution would be the fish and that we would go out that afternoon to catch them. The best recipes call for the freshest ingredients, so I wanted fish that had slept in the bay the night before.
Clay is a lifelong and skilled fisherman. He said that fishing was a lot more difficult than I thought and that there was no guarantee that we would even catch something we could eat. I replied that I trusted his skills, and that I did not think I could make anything too tasty out of bait.
Clay grew up in Longview in the land of freshwater lake fishing. The salty bays of the Texas coast were six hours away. His dad didn't like fishing on lakes and passed lots of productive water on that long drive south with his wife and three kids. They had a little beach house on the Bolivar Peninsula, sandwiched between the Gulf to the south and Galveston Bay to the north.
They made the pilgrimage for two weeks each August and every holiday they could. Clay remembered the annual stop for Thanksgiving lunch at the Whataburger in Jasper. His dad must have figured that the drive was a chance for the family to be together.
Clay recalled that on summer trips, they would stop once they got a little ways out of Longview and buy a bushel each of fresh purple hull peas and corn from a farmer's roadside stand. Huddled in the back seat, the kids would shell peas and shuck corn for hours to keep themselves occupied. Once they reached the beach house, the kids would excitedly pile out and run for the waves. By evening, they would grab the fishing poles to begin the quest for trout. If they were not sleeping or eating together as a family, they were at the beach fishing or crabbing until they finally had to load up the station wagon and return to Longview. So, even though Clay is from East Texas, his saltwater fishing skills go way back.
On Saturday, we got in the boat with all our gear and ventured out of Rockport across choppy Aransas Bay to a place called Mud Island. The leeward side offered more placid waters. A local fisherman named Casey (son of Kevin) had given him a fishing tip. Clay had asked for advice because he usually fishes out of Port O'Connor. We anchored in the shallow water and Clay jumped overboard with his cast net in search of mullet. Once he returned with the full bucket, he sliced them into chunks and we were ready to fish. Our quarry for the afternoon was redfish.
I know how to clean fish. My dad gave me the opportunity to practice that a lot when I was growing up in South Louisiana. When I was a kid, we never bought fish or shrimp from stores. We got it fresh out of the bays and bayous. I know how to cook fish as well as some chefs in fancy restaurants, but I haven't fished since I was a teenager, and that is a long time ago.
My first few casts with the rig I borrowed from Clay resulted in an incurable tangle of line in the reel. This is known as a bird nest. He told me to try another fishing pole while he worked to untangle the first one. I soon handed him the second reel with a similar abominable mess. For the remainder of the afternoon he insisted on casting the bait for me. He is so helpful.
I don't want to brag here, but out of all four of us, that including Clay, Susan, Taylor and me, I am the only one who caught a redfish or any fish. Actually, I cannot brag because this was purely beginner's luck. Clay made the cast. I reeled it in. The fish instinctively grabbed the bait. It was a team effort.
We were wade fishing, so Clay took the fish off the hook and put it on a stringer. He tied this to my wading belt. I feared that a fish in distress might attract sharks, so I was not so excited about having it swim around me.
It kept bumping into my legs, which startled me because I remembered that sharks often taste you before they actually bite off a body part. Then the captive fish started to swim around my leg like I was a pier piling. I was starting to almost wish that I hadn't caught the darn thing.
I don't mind that we only caught one fish because what was really great was to be out on the water with our friends. It was such an adventure and lots of fun to learn the basic skills of fishing.
And despite the fact that it was mid-summer in Texas, the breeze off the bay and the water we were wading in was cool and refreshing. There was no noise except the blowing of the wind. It was so relaxing (except for that fish on the stringer encircling me).
We got in too late that evening to cook the fish, so I invited Clay and Susan over the following night to enjoy the bounty of our harvest from the sea. Clay taught me an easy way to prepare the fish and it was delicious.
Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.