Saturday, August 1, 2015

Blue.... fish, crabs, berries, & fin.

The time between my postings seems to be much longer than a week, not because I have nothing to post, but because I have too much.

Let's see.... to begin with, my gal is mad for fishing. We've been out a few times in her boat and caught fish each time. The last time we found a shoal we had fished before and ran into lots of black bass (a species of grouper, apparently), but only one big enough to make it worth killing. Then we visited another favorite spot and found, along with black bass, a school of bluefish. We took turns casting or trolling the lure that they loved best until I tired and insisted she fish while I steered. Of these eleven fish, two are mine and nine are hers.

While we love to eat fresh fish, when we get a bunch of blues Cynthia loves to make smoked bluefish and put it in the freezer, so this batch got smoked and we ate the bass cooked on the grill with fennel and lemon. We usually end these days tired, smelling of fish, and happy... and this one did not change that rule.. except for smelling even more fishy than usual.

What does one do with a bunch of fish heads? Well, around here you catch lobsters or crabs, so we decided to learn to catch blue crabs. She had never caught one and I hadn't done so for years, so we loaded bait and nets and boats and explored the local tidal creeks. Apparently the blue crabs fear the white board I paddled about in, while they saw her green boat as another bit of natural debris.... at least that is the story I like to tell myself. Between that trip and another in the evening (while I walked the dogs along the marsh edge)
 she caught four beauties and I saw none large enough to keep.
Still, any time spent messing around in boats or on the water is bits of life well spent.... and she split the crabs between us and we sat and picked out the sweet savory crab together, occasionally commenting on an especially large or tasty bit.

We went off to a local farm and picked blueberries, but they seemed a bit picked over, perhaps by people, perhaps by wild birds (we saw some orioles), perhaps a bit by the turkeys the farm held in the same enclosure. I'll try to get a photo for a future post.

 Birthdays come and birthdays go. Cynthia wanted the perfect gift for her birthday and bought herself a fishing charter out of Nantucket with Captain Tom. After two charters with him, she had a pretty high confidence that we would have a great time and catch lots of bass and bluefish... but, as I love to quote "It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future": we caught only one fish. This might have been disappointing, but...

The day dawned incredibly clear and hot with nearly no wind. We took the ferry to Nantucket and Tom picked us up and drove us to the boat at the west end of the island. His son Jason and the mate, Kevin, greeted us and we chatted. The bass, Jason told us, had left a few days earlier when the water became too warm. Still, the blues were about and... he hesitated... they had reports in the last hour of bluefin tuna just a few miles off shore, just passing through. Might we like to take a few casts for the tuna or just head out for the sure thing, the bluefish?

Well, you only live once and only the two of us to please on this trip: Cynthia decided to go see the tuna first. After twenty minutes on smooth waters
 we started to see the tuna jumping, striking bait on the surface. When we spotted one within a few hundred yards, we would motor over quickly and cast toward it, something Jason referred to as "run and gun". Each of us cast different lures, hoping to find something the tuna would hit. Suddenly Jason yelled that he had one, passed his rod to Cynthia beside him, and said "happy birthday!"

Cynthia worked the fish. It tried to run ahead or back or tangle the line on the propeller or rudder, but she pulled out the skills of a lifetime of fishing and, along with advice from the Jason and Kevin and Jason's skilled maneuvering, kept the fish hooked. At about a half-hour Jason confided to me, saying that the longer the fish worked, the looser the hooks became and the more likely they were to let the fish off. We hoped it would stay on, but at least she would have had the experience of playing a bluefin.

After forty minutes, the fish tired and came alongside. Jason tried to grab it by the tail and haul at aboard, but at his touch the fish revived and dove, ripping line from the reel and the fight continued. At nearly an hour we started to see it glimmering below as Cynthia brought it in. At an hour Jason, a BIG guy reached for it and, finally, to our amazement, managed to haul the massive creature aboard.
landing the tuna

Excitement reigned as the fish slid about, then it was unhooked, dispatched, cleaned and packed in ice. We looked for more tuna, but they are fast-moving fish and the school had moved on or were feeding deeper. We thought about bluefish, but they were too far to reach in the time remaining. So we motored back toward harbor while fish cooled.

We caught the ferry with the fish fillets (they call them "loins" on a tuna) packed in ice, made our way to the parked car, bought more ice (the fish melted a surprising amount while cooling), picked up the dogs from their second home, and went home to shower and sleep...

It has now been four days with the fish packed in ice. Some went to a nice raw dinner with my folks (yes, even mom tasted and enjoyed the fish), much more fed a crowd of about twenty at last night's party at Deb's house where we served it raw, seared, or "cooked through" (well, I left SOME pink inside!). SO good! We have about four or five pounds left and will make big inroads tomorrow.

Amazing fish! Beautifully streamlined, warm-blooded, grow to huge size (at 44" (maybe 65 lbs and 3 years-old) ours was not even old enough to breed), in danger from commercial overfishing (NOT from recreational fishing!), ridiculously valuable (I am not sure if the meat runs more like $50/lb, $100/lb, or higher). I am awed by so many things about this fish and am glad that it has been so appreciated in death. Cynthia had a good birthday trip!