I went fishing with the late Bruce Foster of River Falls for many years. He was a fish magnet and he taught me how to catch bluegills, steelhead and salmon. We made trips to Alaska and shipped home coolers full of fish. Bruce enjoyed feeding fish to the multitudes.
We would return from Lake Wapogasset with a limit of bluegills, clean them and set up an impromptu fish fry behind Johnnie’s Bar or bring cardboard beer flats of fried fish on newspaper from Bruce’s shop behind Lund’s Hardware across Main Street to Emma’s Bar. There, with a bit of cocktail sauce, the fish would quickly disappear.
When the fishing season opener came around on the first Saturday in May, Bruce would host a fish fry/potluck lunch at Glen Park in River Falls. There was a table with “bragging fish: of the day, most caught by Bruce. He once displayed an 18-inch brook trout caught from the South Fork under the Swinging Bridge. We had a series of old Coleman gas grills going, each with a couple cast iron pans for frying fish. We fed out fish from our freezers to get a start on the new fishing season.
Here at our winter home in Cedar Key, Florida, we’ve had a bit of a dilemma. Last year at this time, the City Commission decided to close the city to all but residents and essential workers to protect against the COVID-19 virus. With a roadblock on the highway and restaurants serving only take-out food, there were no tourists and the place was eerily quiet. Friends and relatives couldn’t come to visit us here in Cedar Key, so we had lots of extra fish.
With only clammers and residents using the city boat landing, it was easy for us to launch our boat and park our truck and trailer. It was quiet around the islands and out in the Gulf with few sport fishing boats out there.
Our friend Jennie was one of those good people who cooked and delivered meals for older folks during the closure. Jennie welcomed freshly cleaned fish fillets that we caught and cooked blue crabs that I trapped. I often stopped by Jennie’s to drop off fish because we didn’t have visitors and Carol and I could only eat so much.
This year, we and some of our over-65-year-old friends were among the first to receive COVID-19 vaccine shots here in Florida. We have had some visitors and were able to cook some fish dinners for friends at our house. I saved some redfish heads for Jennie, who is making a big pot of fish stew for some visitors she expects from Wisconsin. She boils the heads, removes the bones and makes a stew that includes potatoes, carrots and even olives.
We have been eating redfish, flounder, sheepshead, white grunts, Atlantic croaker, sea bass, Spanish mackerel and pompano. Pompano are strong silver fish with firm white meat that really needs no seasoning because it tastes so good. We have baked redfish piccata, and grilled redfish “on the half shell” (fillets with the skin and scales still on). We had friends over for a fish “taste-off” with fried sheepshead, white grunts, sea bass, and yellow perch fillets from Wisconsin. The fillets were all dipped in egg, dredged in fish fry breading and bread crumbs and fried to golden brown. All were acclaimed to be good with sheepshead taking the prize.
Carol brined and then slowly smoked some mackerel fillets on the grill and then made mackerel dip. That was a treat for lunch on a cruise on the Lower Suwannee River. We look forward to catching some big king mackerel and smoking mackerel steaks.
We will return to our Wisconsin home in May with some frozen fish to cook up for our friends who should be able to visit again and enjoy a fish dinner.