Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report
Dashcams don't lie ...
Sunday, May 03, 2015: The bluefish bite has gone from kinda-freaky status to fully-freaky. I won’t verbally wax poetic about the ongoing attack of what are more-and-more being appropriately called “gator” blues. Just cursor down this blog and see an absolutely small fraction of the overall number of pics and reports from juts yesterday.
A victim of the bluefish action, via Darren Dorris:
Surely, think the weather for its wonderful part. As the winds backed down from a NE SCA to much lighter easterly and southerly flow, the clean water and likely a load of bait brought the big blues back on scene. While it’s folly to say it was “can’t miss” in many places, you almost had to go out of your way to sidestep what seems to be yet another northward wave of fish to over 10 pounds. It’s not just me saying this: These fish are both long enough and heavy enough, even when spring thin, to represent at 20 pounds in the fall -- Below: Fall fish filled out.
I’ll obligatorily note that a super-strong bluefish spring fling means absolutely nothing in terms of what we might see this fall. Still, one has to hope a massive showing of fish like we’re seeing might just translate into a fall run – something we haven’t seen for many years.
Expectedly, we've already had some savage finger bites, as bluefish and hook removals go badly awry. Been there, done that -- though I heard there arose the needs for stitches on one ER case.
I got a “Please don’t publish” photo or what had to be five-pound-plus fluke absolutely annihilated while the angler – jigging with a Spro, by the way -- was reeling in the untargeted flattie. You might be able to guess why he didn’t want me to go public with the pic.
I’m asking around for stomach contents of the blues but nothing much is showing, literally. Empty bellies are the rule. However (and this is huge), these blues are so strong and fighting medium gear for so long that they are surely regurgitating anything within. During the first wave of bug blues, I did get the expected siting of grass shrimp in the bellies of bluefish taken in west Barnegat Bay.
Below: These mantis shrimp will surely be showing in bluefish and bass bellies: Pic: Bassbarn.com
While bluefish aren’t the greatest fish to freeze, this is the better time of year to do it. The fish are slim and lack much of the oiliness they’ll acquires after eating bunker and similar forage in months to come.
I prefer to dry/smoke my bluefish (spring or fall) but hard-freezing (in milk cartons and such) with water is ideal if you have a big freezer. Just don’t keep them frozen too long. You know as well as me that superior fish meat – fluke, bass and tuna – will soon demand prime storage space in the freezer. The blues will end up being thrown out, used as fertilizer, or (actually not the worst thing) used as pet food – though a couple folks I know say blues can cause gas in certain homefront critters.
Baggies can also be used to hard-freeze fish filets:
Easy drying: Marinate one- to two-inch wide strips of bluefish filets -- similar thickness matters – and place (not touching) in now very-cheap fruit dehydrator. The marinade makes or breaks the dry.
Below: The exact (cheap) model I use. It's going on its fifth year and still going strong.
I go big on Bay Seasoning, celery seeds, Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce, Wasabi powder (to taste – careful), finely chopped garlic (prepared is fine), finely diced green onions or scallions, a few dashes of onion powder and any favorite herbs. No extra salt. No lemon – which will cook the meat!
Place ingredients in large glass (not metal or plastic) “overnight” bowl – I use old Pyrex bowls – the largest made. Lightly mix/whisk ingredients.
Below: It gets no cooler than using these throwback to the past. Color dictates size.
Now, slowly add one or two cups of pure bottled water – even more water, based on how much bluefish you’ll be marinating.
Since the final product never gets overly hot, you really want the cleanness of top-quality spring water.
Thoroughly mix ingredients and water to make the marinade. It’s at this point you can do a finger-dip taste-test. The marinade should be quite strong. Add more ingredients or water as needed.
Gently place in nicely trimmed (no dark meat) bluefish strips in the marinade. You can go to almost the top of the bowl. Then, even more gently, hand turn the bluefish strips until fully covered in marinade. Don’t skimp on the hand turning. Also, make sure there is enough marinade to fully cover all the fish. IF any fish are high and dry, above the liquid, place in a another bowl – or simply fry up.
Trick: With bluefish strips in bowl, slowly press down. The marinade will squish upward at first; watch for overflow potential. Then, release. The fish will rise up, fully absorbing the succulent liquid.
Cover bowl(s) in tin foil and place on bottom shelf of fridge. Allow to marinate for 12 hours -- tops. Too long in the fridge and fish actually begins to cook in the marinade – which is actually a way to cook fish. But when any marinade cooking takes place when drying fish, the final product is pretty soft. Not good.
As to the drying, I spray the plastic trays (and some dehydrators have a slew of them (which is good) with some Pam or the likes. No spray and bluefish can get stuck in the small opening on the bottom of the trays.
Place as many pieces as possible per tray without pieces touching. There is some messiness via dripping at this point so stack the filled trays – either separately or atop on and other – atop a cloth, newspapers or paper towels to allow for the initial dripping process; maybe five minutes.
Begin the drying process in an out-of-the-way place. It can make an entire house smell mighty delicious.
Drying time is anywhere from eight to 12 hours. However, the fish in the tray nearest the coil heat source (at the bottom of the dehydrator) gets dried quicker. Occasionally cycling of the trays by moving the bottom tray to the top.
Always keep an eye on the dryness of the tray that started at the bottom. The fish gets done there sooner.
When the fish become fully dried and bends, give it a taste test. You don’t want it to snap. It’s pretty much too dry by then. When ready, dried bluefish should have no moisture or fattiness within. You know how jerky should eat.
Pull competed trays, even if other trays have some drying time to go.
Wait until you taste the dried fish warm from the drier. I liken it to the impact of freshly-baked cookies. However, it’s best to store finished product in coolest part of fridge. That’s one difference from jerky.
So, what are the differences between my process and official jerky-making?
Not a ton. In fact, I often call my final product jerky, since it tears and chews just the same as a jerked product. However, jerky is technically a process of grinding (often mechanically) all the ingredients and meat/fish together. Once fully fused, the thick mixture is power-extruded through nozzle pieces, most often into strips. Also, jerky mixtures are often pre made so you don’t get to play with ingredients as much.
Jerking is a fine method, especially for meats. It produces an identical thickness and flavor blend with each portion. The problem is it just doesn’t work that well with fish. Oh, I’ve tried many time and ways. Mako and sometimes tuna can jerk decently.
But, using my fruit dehydrator method, I consistently make a far superior fish product than when jerking. What’s more, each dried piece offers subtle taste differences between the fish being used. You’ll often hear me talk about the taste change on bluefish between those eating shrimp/crustaceans in spring and those fattened on bunker/herring in fall. Needless to say, I add more spice in fall.
Between paddling and the big bluefish, it feels like my arms are going to fall off.
Killed them today!