Sunday, June 3, 2012

Cod Fishing in Puget Sound

I try to get out and go fishing at least once a week if at all possible. My friend Patrick has a boat, so he and our friend Jim and I are the Sunday crew (a different group goes on Saturdays), and we go out for, well, whatever Patrick says we do. Lately, it's been ling cod.

Ling cod is a time-consuming and labor-intensive catch. Cod don't like spoons or spinners like salmon do; they're far pickier, maybe a little smarter, and prefer live bait. The live bait of choice is usually sand dabs. Sand dabs can grow to a size that is worth catching and eating, but there are a lot of smaller ones, and those are the ones we go after. We spend about an hour or so catching dabs and putting them into a giant bucket full of water. You want a good 10-15 dabs, just in case; they can wiggle off the hook, or be swiped off the line by predators other than the elusive cod, so it's good to have several on hand. Ideally the best size is around the length and width of an adult human hand, a little larger. They're dumb as rocks, so they'll take a bite of anything you lower into the water, but there is a specific kind of bait we use. It's this stuff that sort of looks like a flat sponge (I cannot remember what it's called, exactly)- you cut it into smaller pieces, toss it on the hooks, and lower the line into the water until your line weight hits bottom; they bite in no time.

After we got a bucket full of those little fellows, we sped up to an area off the south shore of Whidbey Island called Possession Point, strung the dabs on our hooks, and lowered the lines into the water.
I don't know how long we were out there before I finally had a tug on the line, but Jim noticed the rod bending and thought I was caught on something. He pulled the rod out of its holster, and realized that he had just set the line in the fish's mouth, and told me to come and get my pole. So I started reeling up what felt like a 50lb weight. With Patrick manning the net, we pulled this fellow into the boat...
He was 36" long, which is 3" below the legal limit of 39". He was full of snapping and teeth! Jim took the liberty of bopping him over the noggin with an aluminum bat kept on board specifically for that purpose. And everyone who gets a catch - especially the first of the season - has to have their picture taken, of course! Excuse the lack of makeup, bed head and sloppy dressing; I have to get up early to make it to the marina, so looking good is not high on my list of priorities.
They are fearsome and strong creatures.
I took him home and put him in the fridge for a while. My filleting skills are still under development, so it's easier to get the meat off the bones after rigor mortis has set in. I don't mean to be morbid, but it's the mean truth of the matter. I took a few more photos of him with my regular camera and then one more of his awesome little fishy face.
Then I started in on the filleting. Rubber/latex gloves are a good idea for this job, because they give you more of a grip on what is a very slippery fish. Take the fillet knife and place it at an angle right behind the pectoral fin and gills. Slice down and toward the head until the knife hits the spinal bones. Once this is accomplished, you want to turn the fish in a direction that will make it easy for you to run the knife down along the spine all the way to the tail.
Repeat with the other side, and you should have two nice fillets.
Since my plan was to use one fillet to fry into fish and chips, the skin had to be removed. This is a delicate process and there really isn't anyway for me to describe it, since today was the first time I've ever had to do it, myself. All I can say is that you need a really sharp knife and some patience. If you have both of these things, you will be able to cut the skin away from the flesh without damaging the flesh too badly. I think I did ok for my first try.
That is a regular-sized dinner plate. It made enough fish for myself and two of my friends that came over for the event. Tom didn't have any because he has a lifelong hatred of our friends from the sea, but he was a trooper and fried it up for us, using a deep fryer normally reserved for hot wings. Frying fish may taint the fryer, but he was willing to take the chance, and I did not try and dissuade him. He made a beer batter out of Guiness, flour, Cavendar's Greek seasoning, a little Lawrie's seasoning salt, and black pepper. It was amazing.
And with the chips!
Shush, I love ketchup.

It's not really cooking or recipes, but I thought it might be fun to do a blog entry following a food from its source to its final destination on a plate. Sea to mouth in about 7 hours; you can't get much fresher than that.

If you have FaceBook, you can "like" Patrick's page here. He shares recipes and photos of his adventures on his boat, and he's an all-around cool guy. Bon appetit!


  1. Your adventures never cease to amaze me and Brenda. -Chann

  2. Aw! Well, if we lived in the same city, I'd definitely bring y'all some fish! :)