This blog originates on the banks of the Atchafalaya River, in Louisiana. It proposes to share the things that happen on and by the river as the seasons progress. As the river changes from quiet, warm, slow flow to rises of eighteen feet or more, there are changes in the lives of the birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles that use the river. And the mood of the river changes with the seasons. I propose to note and comment on these things.

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Location: Butte La Rose, Louisiana, United States

I transitioned a few years ago from a career as a water-pollution control biologist. I want to do this blog to stay in touch with a world outside my everyday surroundings, whatever they may be. I like open-minded company and the discussion of ideas. Photo by Brad Moon.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

River to Freezer

Sunrise behind the clouds this morning.

The line had ten more catfish on it and two gous. I didn’t rebait it, shrimp are scarce. After I ran the line, I set up to clean the fish I caught yesterday and today – a pretty good bunch. Catfish are easy to clean compared to gous, for me at least. Even with skinning the gous instead of scaling them, you still have to take off the dorsal fin by running a sharp knife along both sides of it and then grasping the tail end of it with the skinning pliers and pulling forward. It kind of unzips and all the little bones associated with it come out. Same for the anal fin with that big spine in it. I shouldn’t complain about the spine though, it is one of the easiest things to identify in American Indian kitchen middens in the Basin (will put that stuff into a future posting). But, back to cleaning gous. You have to remove the fat along the back, if there is any, and the fat inside the body cavity. Finally, the kidney, the dark tissue along the top of the body cavity, is hard to reach because it is actually nested back between the ribs. I take out as much of this as I have the motivation to, which is mainly measured by whether my wonderful wife is watching me clean the fish. Once it’s cooked, she doesn’t ask. Catfish, as mentioned, are easy to clean. In the old days when our income depended on how fast you could do all the chores involved in commercial catfishing, I could do a catfish in seventeen seconds. I think I can still do one in less than 30 seconds. But gous take a while longer. After all the mess is cleaned up, I use the new double guard plastic ziplock bags. They really seem to protect fish better than anything else on the market. Freezing in water is best but it takes a long time to defrost them, at least I feel that way.

Ever notice the difference between a channel cat and a blue cat once it’s cleaned? The channel cat has a golden hue to the meat, while the blue cat has pink flesh. Take a look next time. Which is which in the picture? Click on the picture for a full sized image and a better look.

Anyway, after cleaning the fish I usually take the heads, skins, etc. out to the middle of the river and recycle them. Today the recycling started with a single ring-billed gull picking up anything that floated in my offering. It must have been doing this for at least 30 minutes, and I thanked it.

The river is at 8.1 feet at the Butte La Rose gauge, and will fall slowly to 7.7 feet by Sunday. Both the Mississippi and Ohio are falling pretty fast. I have to watch this because if the big logs on the raft get left up on the bank in falling water, it will take a good rise to get them off. This happened a couple years ago and it looked crippled until the water came up and rescued the raft. If this happened and the water didn’t come up enough to refloat it, it would be stuck on the bank for most of the next year. Prevention pays.

Rise and shine, Jim


Blogger Randy said...

Jim, I used to freeze Red Fish and Black Drum in water but found that it generally made the fish waterlogged when kept frozen for several months. Maybe there would have been an absorption difference with catfish. Anyway, I now freeze individual fillets (or maybe 2 or 3) wrapped in plastic wrap on a cookie sheet. The fish are very wet when I wrap them. After frozen I place these in a ziplock bag. This has worked well for me (no waterlogged fish) and they never dry out, in part because my freezer is not frost free. It also allows me to defrost the proper amount for the occasion.

I noted that you skinned the catfish which was my starndard procedure. Someone told me that if you fillet the catfish they won't curl when cooked. I tried this and sure enough they don't. However, the filleting vs skinning does add substantially to my cleaning time.

Have you ever calculated or estimated how many pounds of cleanded catfish you harvest off of your lines each year?

February 16, 2006 9:14 AM  
Blogger jim said...

Your way sounds good, especially being able to take out only as much fish as you need. And yes, they do absorb water, which is another objection to freezing them in water. I tried filleting the catfish without skinning them, but the taste of the skin, even if you peel it off of the meat after cooking is objectionable to some folks. My wife can taste catfish skin from across the room.

No, I never kept track of how much catfish comes off the line in a year's time. When we needed catfish for my retirement party, it took three weekends to come up with 310 fish. I give a lot of fish away for others to clean and use. I also trade fish for homegrown vegetables, etc. Thanks for the comment, Randy. Jim

February 16, 2006 11:40 AM  
Blogger Randy said...

I guess I should have added that I fillet the fish completely.. meaning I fillet the fish off of the bone and also off of the skin... hence the additional time involved (at least for me anyway). I usually use an elecric knife to separate the fish from the bone and a standard fillet knife to remove the fish from the skin. I'm sure I would eventually get faster if I did this regularly. But sometimes I just have to resort to the much faster skinning method.

February 16, 2006 2:40 PM  
Blogger jim said...

For some reason the last comment by Randy didn't post. Anyway, the basic thought he had was whether river shrimp would work on lakes. River shrimp don't seem to exist in lakes, at least not that i've heard. As to whether they would make good bait in lakes, I wouldn't count them out until I tried them. I have used them all over the Basin to catch goggleeye and chinquepin so I don't know why they wouldn't work in other places. Good luck. Jim

February 18, 2006 9:24 AM  

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