Off the Porch: Summertime catfish
I know hot dogs are the traditional food of the Fourth of July. I don’t know how things got that way and I certainly do enjoy a good red hot dog with mustard, chili, onion and red barbeque slaw, but, in the South at least, catfish should have a place in the Fourth of July menu. Fried catfish, stewed potatoes, butter beans, and sliced tomatoes from the garden are as good as eating gets.
There are people who won’t knowingly eat a catfish. There are folks who consider fishing for catfish below their dignity. I suspect those closed minded people are missing out on a lot more in life than just catfish. I visit Alabama from time to time, and people there know how to appreciate catfish. In Alabama, there’s a catfish eatery every ten miles. They serve up domesticated, farm raised catfish in most of those places. Cherie’s favorite way for catfish is the smaller ones, skinned, beheaded, and fried with the bones in. Frying catfish is the only traditional option, but I once had blackened catfish in Louisiana and it was nothing short of spectacular. Cherie likes sushi but I’ve never seen her eat catfish sushi. I don’t frequent sushi restaurants but so far, I’ve never seen it on a sushi menu.
I fish for catfish every summer and I’m laying off to do it within the next few weeks. We like Badin, but every lake in North Carolina probably holds catfish. All the Yadkin Chain lakes are catfish havens. We use shad when we can, sometimes we use other baits, but shad are the best. We start in the late afternoon and fish until well after dark most nights. Most guys get more fish after dark, but the last couple of years we’ve done really well just before dark. Having a boat helps, but there are a lot of catfish caught from the bank.
I know that catfish are not glamorous, like largemouth bass, stripers, or trout, but they put up a pretty good fight. This a few years back, on a striper trip on the Roanoke, my nephew, Jeremy Baker, hooked up with a 14 pound blue cat that took him about ten minutes to get to the net on light tackle. It’s a different kind of fight than a bass or a striper, it’s a down deep slug it out kind of fight, but they are tough.
I see all kinds of tackle being used on cats, and most of it is oversized. If there are a lot of roots and rocks where you are fishing, you might want to use a heavier line, but normally bass tackle is just fine for even really big cats. You don’t need super high line capacity because cats slug it out and don’t make long runs. Oversizing the tackle takes the fun out of catching a 3 or 4 pound fish and they’re the most common size. When you do hook up with a 20 pound fish, you’ll have the time of your life on light tackle.
While I’ve heard of eating every species of catfish I know of, the finest of the catfish for the table is the blue cat. Not only are these the best eating, they are also the largest, weighing up to and over 100 pounds with the world record blue coming from Virginia and weighing a whopping 143 pounds. While I’ve never sampled the flesh of a really huge blue catfish, I have eaten fish in the 20 pound range and they are certainly good to eat.
I’ve heard the redneck joke about the Redneck Zoo where the signs in front of the cages have the name of the animal, where it comes from, and the recipe. I am redneck enough to give you the recipe. I filet my fish that weigh over a pound or so and skin the little ones for Cherie. If the fillets are really big, I chunk them up in two or three inch squares. I add more salt and pepper to House’ Autry Seafood Breader and fry my fish in olive oil on the hottest setting. The dial on my stove goes up to 10 and I cook on 10. Cooking on high gives you a nice golden crust without over cooking the fish. When the fish is done enough to separate when you cut though it with a spatula, it’s done. I don’t like overcooked seafood and most folks overcook fish.
OK, I realize it’s too hot to fish in the middle of the day so why not get some bait, launch the boat a couple of hours before sunset, and spend a languorous evening pursuing a mess of catfish this week. Sure, you can eat hot dogs, hamburgers, and potato salad, but plan at least one meal over the summer holiday for the traditional Southern summer delicacy, fried catfish.
Dick Jones is an award winning freelance writer living in High Point. He writes about hunting, fishing, dogs, and shooting for national magazines and websites. He recently finished his first book, Off the Porch. If you’d like to have him speak to your group, or would like a copy of his book, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or offtheporchmedia.com.