Fishermen decorate their boats
in preparation for the “Blessing of
the Fleet” by the local priest.
Fishing Outdoors Louisiana Style
SHRIMP BOATS ARE COMING, SO WILL I
By Guy McDonald
Fishermen decorate their boats
Shrimp boats prepare for
the upcoming trawling season.
Estuary water temperature reaches at
least 70 degrees fahrenheit.
The cleaned live shrimp from the
first drag can be stored in a live well
and used as bait.
Most old salts, like me and marsh hunters, fish and hunt the four seasons. It's a dying tradition for the younger guys, but many senior West Bank outdoor persons, who fish and hunt the marsh are usually fishing with artificial bait, live cockaho minnows and live shrimp if they are available. Old salts know live bait is preferable over plastics when the specks and reds are scattered, but not all the marinas have live bait and those who do are very expensive.
Since I've been out of commission (sick) for the past three months, I've thought a lot about my spring prep days of the past 40 years or so. That meant getting the boat and trawl net ready for the activity ahead. Let me be honest: bottom trawling is messy, very messy. With bigger nets being very difficult without power features like skimmers employ.
Prior to my past two heart attacks and other health issues, I bought a 16-foot boat, motor and trailer from a dealer I previously not had used and unfortunately got stung. The engine had a broken crank shaft and lower unit problems. I learned all this when Mike Clement owner of Magnum Marine in Harvey gave me the bad news. I needed a new engine. While recuperating at home, Mike and I agreed on a price and I bought a 2013 60 Hp 4 cycle Evinrude. Filled with enthusiasm, I also called Jefferson Fiberglass and told Pete Vicari I needed a custom Lafitte top, picking box with all the bells and whistles. I told them to take their time. My next effort to customize the new and improved boat was to contact my friend and coauthor, Dan Alario, Westwego, From Chenier to Canal, pubished in 1996. Click OR Westwego, From Cheniere to Canal. I bought a 12 foot test trawl from Alario Brothers with bridle and boards. I was now set and knew it was time to get better physically, which I did. Why? The love in me to see sea creatures of all kinds in the net, mostly live, small to medium brown shrimp. My daughter Jamie and another guest will accompany me on trips to revive my old tradition of never missing an opening day of the Brown Shrimp season in middle May.
The cleaned live shrimp in the first drag is put in the live well, and the rest, if any, goes into the ice chest for a stew or my favorite snack, dried shrimp, or used as dead bait. How about that? All that money for a few measly shrimp. I sold my Isaac damaged camp in Livingston Parish and lost a lot of money, but what the heck, it's great being back in the saddle again and look forward to the middle of May, if God permits. By the way, my brand new rig will go to my kids, especially to enjoy marsh fishing and trawling if they wish.
But again, I pose the burning question for the umpteenth time: why spend an inordinate amount of money on equipment like licenses, trawls and related hardware, including the work involved? Why? One may purchase brown shrimp (70-80 count) for as little as $1.45 per pound when bought in quantity at the dock? So why do we do it? In a word: Remember the musical, Fiddler on the Roof, TRADITION!
Sometime in mid May or as late as early June, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries sets the opening of Zone 2’s brown shrimp season. Zone 2 (our zone on the West Bank) It's that area from the eastern shore of South Pass of the Mississippi River to the western shore of Vermillion Bay and South Pass at Marsh Island. The inside shrimp season is a pivotal time in Zone 2. A good supply means more than just cheap prices for the consumer. It also relates to overall finfish production, and most importantly, the livelihood of our commercial shrimpers. Post larval brown shrimp that survive, allow the mature adults to return to the Gulf to propagate their species for the next season. Their arrival, beginning in early March, also brings with them all types of predatory fish.
Finfish, like black drum and redfish and specks, grow quickly and began to spawn at this time of year and move into the open bays feeding on brown shrimp. While oysters are black drum's favored food, only the larger specimens are equipped to crush the mature oyster shells. The smaller drum subsists on a diet of mostly crab and small clams, but they will readily take shrimp, or on occasion artificial bait. This writer caught a 6-pounder with a glow beetle under a weighted popping cork.
You know that most marine fishes prefer live shrimp, so it is essential that you keep the live well water cool with a piece of or two so called trash fish: Black Drum and Sheepshead. Now comes the fun part that this writer enjoys. Occasionally, one will catch blue crab, drum and sheepshead in your net. Don't throw them away because they are great for stuffing or in salads. Bongo sized (small drum), 16 inches or over, may be poached, broiled, barbecued or fried. The flesh is white, flaky, and quite delicious. Bass drums (bull drum) 12-25-pounds or more should be filleted or cut into chunks. The lateral line (blood line) should first be removed and the fish poached in seasoned water for about a minute or two in a nylon sack; season as you would crab, shrimp, or crawfish. Drain, let cool, and flake the meat off the bones and watch for pin bones. Do not be concerned if you notice a few white parasites in the bull drum sheepshead 's flesh. They should be removed but are harmless and do not pose any threat for consumption. Use your favorite fish cake recipe; pan or deep fry. Fresh, flaked drum meat is also excellent when used in chowder, salad, and soup dishes. But the crowning glory would be to mix the flesh with a real or imitation crab meat (generally Pollock or a variety of Alaskan fish) and prepare as stuffed crab or fish casserole. Chopped, deveined, brown shrimp may be added for a delicious variation of taste. So for a change of pace in your fishing fun and eating enjoyment, add a little music and fun to your life: try Barataria Bay’s Manila Village version of dancing the brown shrimp, Cajun style, with a bongo or bass drum beat.
One of the downsides in preparing any type of coarse-flesh fish, even large redfish and sand shark, is cleaning and processing them for the table or freezer. Smaller, delicate flesh fish such as reds, specks and flounder are relatively easy to clean and filet with a conventional sharp knife or serrated electric blade. I hope the following information I’ve prepared may help the reader.
Those tempered pieces of steel sheltered in the confines of your scabbard or tackle box since last season, will now be called on to perform their job, again. They are, at this point in time, about the most important pieces of sporting hardware imaginable. The moment of truth is at hand: you’ve got a limit of big reds, black drum, and sheepshead and are ready to make the first cut. It's a ritual, no big deal, you think. After all it's just part of the game and you're used to it; well, maybe not entirely. Anyway, everything is now in readiness for "the operation."
With the deftness of a heart surgeon, the first cut is made. Nothing happens! You press harder and harder. Scales around the gill areas, the area in which you are about to begin the filleting process, are tough, almost impossible to get through. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is unwilling, unyielding. The fillet knife is hopelessly dull. Switching to the electric knife, one is usually overjoyed that he is able to make that first incision, but cannot complete the cut. He switches to the electric knife and discovers that the two serrated blades are misaligned, dull . . . . Sound familiar? Stuff happens!
Louisiana sports persons spend millions of dollars each year to make sure they have the best fishing tackle, boats and hunting equipment to indulge in their favorite outdoor activity. At last count, the sporting equipment industry estimates that we spend over a billion dollars annually on sporting equipment. We all contribute to that statistic and for good reason. Quality outdoor equipment enhances the likelihood of catching more fish and bagging more game. All too often, though, we fishers and hunters don't spend enough time choosing, or taking care of their equipment, particularly sporting knives.
It is a fact that most outdoor persons have acquired their inventory of knives through the thoughtfulness of well-meaning relatives or friends via the gift giving route. Some of the knives are quite good while others leave something to be desired. For example, the so-called survival knife made popular by movie hero Sylvester Stallone in First Blood and his Rambo Series, has been the biggest joke of all. The product looks good but lacks the quality steel necessary for it to maintain a keen edge over a long period of time. This writer, perhaps you, also received one as a gift.
- Use a good, medium fine whetstone, moistened with light oil.
- Never lay a blade flat against a stone. A 10 degree angle is good for most fillet knives, and a 20 degree angle should be used for sporting knives with thicker blades.
- Be sure to maintain the same honing angle during all strokes. That's easier said than done. It really takes practice.
- Draw the blade to you, beginning with the heel edge first, while sliding it against the stone toward you. Repeat several times, counting your strokes, then turn the blade over and hone the other side an equal amount of strokes away from you, starting from the heel to the point. As you near the edge of the stone, raise the knife a bit to sharpen the point.
- Maintaining pressure is important. Start with heavy pressure strokes and finish with light strokes.
- For extra keenness, strop the blade on leather. Be patient. Sharpening a knife takes time.
DRYING SMALL SHRIMP
Bring water to a rolling boil, season, put shrimp in and take off burner. Add a little ice to cool mixture, and spread out on a flat surface. When thoroughly cool, add a little extra salt over the shrimp. Sun dry and cover with a piece of cheese cloth. When the shrimp are done, or the outer layer of shell has to be removed. Place in an old pillow case, shake and rub shrimp together.
Place contents on a piece of wire screen and shake excess off. When removed place them in an airtight plastic bag and save for use in gumbos and as a snack.
Have a great month, and I'll see you in the marsh, a cleaner marsh!