Monday, October 30, 2006

Smoked and grilled Mackerel dishes

For more recipes

Here's a few ways to cook all those mackerel that are biting:

Spanish Mackerel have a stigma attached because of Boston mackerel and other mackerel that make good bait and little else. Spanish tastes more like Wahoo than they do like King Mackerel and are very tasty if properly prepared. To prepare Spanish for smoking, I fillet them, leaving the skin on and then zipper the fillets. This is accomplished by cutting down both sides the bone/bloodline in the center of the fillet and pulling the line out. I soak the fillets in salt water and ice for fifteen minutes or so just to make sure the fillets are really chilled and clean.

There are a variety of brining solutions you can use and most of them are great. I rarely brine my fillets before smoking. Normally all I do is season them with salt, pepper, paprika for color and a little cayenne pepper.

I have a fairly elaborate electric smoker that will hold about 150 pounds of fillets that I heat to 250 degrees. In the smoke pot, I use, button wood chips soaked in water and a little apple juice if I have it. Cover you grates with foil and lay the fillets skin side down on the foil. I don’t over cook mine, usually 4 to 6 hours is plenty, depending on the thickness of the fillets. I want the fish cooked but still moist.

Once done, let the fish cool for a while, 5 to 10 minutes, with a large spatula, take the fish off the grate. Most of the skin will stick to the foil making clean up easy.

Smoke mackerel is best served with several cold beer around a cook fire.

Smoke Mackerel Dip

This is my version. There are lots of other great ones.

4 pounds approx. smoked Mackerel crumbled coarsely
1 cup slice green onions
½ cup dice celery
½ cup soften cream cheese
½ cup sour cream
1 package dry ranch dressing mix.

Throw the first five ingredients in a large bowl and blend it all together, clean hands is the best mixer. Sprinkle the dressing mix over it all and mix again. If the smoked fish is properly seasoned, no extra seasoning is required. A little mayo can be added if the fish was smoked a bit dry. The dip should be a little stiff, but should spread with a little difficulty. If you want it to spread more easily, add mayo and/or sour cream.

If you don’t have a smoker or don’t want to smoke the fish, then fire up your grille. Place foil in the center of the grill and place the fish skin side on the foil. I normally mix all my spice in a half cup of mayo and baste the fillets once on the grill at the start of cooking. Cook 10 to 12 minutes over medium heat. Let cool as before and serve with cold beer.

If you have any left over, here’s another good dish:

2 pounds grill Spanish crumbled
2 cups plain bread crumbs
½ cup sliced green onions
½ cup dice bell pepper
1 very finely diced Scot’s bonnet pepper
Garlic and cayenne pepper optional
4 eggs well beaten

Place the fish in a large bowl and punch a well in the middle of the fish.
Put the bread crumbs in the well.

Sauté the peppers and onions in half butter and olive oil (2 table spoons each).
Once translucent, pour the veggies and oil on the bread crumbs. Mix a bit, add the beaten eggs, and mix well.

Get the skillet hot again, with butter and olive oil, and sauté small hamburger size patties of the fish mixture. Cook until crispy on the first side and turn. Cook the second side about half as long as the first. Serve crispy caramelized side up. These are great just like they are, or serve with any creative sauce you like. Duck sauce, honey mustard or hot wing sauce, to name a few. A mango vinaigrette sauce is good with these fish cakes. Just deglaze the skillet with ¼ cup apple vinegar, stir in 1 cup of mango juice and reduce by half over medium low heat.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Florida Keys Fishing - Another Fishing Trip in Paradise

My charter yesterday after noon was wet but fun. A small cold front came through and we got soaked. The wind was strong enough that my crew, a young Navy guy stationed at Boca Chica and his two friends from out of town, started shivering. So we left a great wreck we were fishing to hide in the lee of Demolition Island. They caught plenty of Snapper for dinner and had a great time, wet or not. My crew was new to fishing and was a little rough on my gear. One of my rod guides messed up so I'll be fixing that this afternoon. That got me thinking.

I've had these rods and reels for over 5 years now. Fished an average of 275 days a year for that time and have only had four guides break. That ain't bad! The rods were custom made for me, from Ugly Stick blanks, by Rick at Key Largo Rods. Now the finish on the rods is pretty rough, but they all are still in use. The reels are Daiwa BG30's and BG60's. These have been used hard, were flooded by hurricane Wilma, basically have been through the mill and they are all still in service. They don't look a pretty as they use to, but they're still catching fish. I have to clean them more often now, and I have two bearings, thanks to Wilma, that I'll need to replace soon, but they still catch big fish. Tarpon over 100 pounds, sail fish over 90 pound, Amberjack over 70 pounds, Dolphin over 50 pounds, Permit over 45 pounds, and sharks over 300 pounds, all on my custom Ugly Stick/Daiwa BG series Spinning outfits.

I can complain a lot about the weather, but I can't complaint about my tackle.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Florida Keys Fishing - Cobia but no Kings

The Ohio crew plus doc got into the Cobia yesterday as predicted. Only got one keeper though, missed shots at a couple more. Had several lemon sharks, nurse sharks, short grouper and jewfish. It wasn't a great trip because the current quit first, then crossed us up. Still the Cobia is enough dinner for twelve. Not a bad fish at all. The crew from upstate NY is due in tomorrow. Hope to get out with them Monday for some big Jewfish and more Cobia. Have a backcountry trip tomarrow, maybe the Tarpon are biting. From left, me, Doc with his Cobia and Jerry.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Florida Keys Fishing - The Season Starts

Jerry and the boys from Ohio arrived last night and stopped by for a drink. They take a few of these fishing vacations each year. The Spanish and King Mackerel fishing will be fantastic and the night life with Key West's Fantasy Festival will be great. Grouper Fishing in the Florida Bay should be good as well. I'm planing on eating nice fresh Cobia for dinner. I have several Bay wrecks where the Cobia fishing should be awesome.

Yellowtail Snapper fishing is still hot on the reef. These fish are a beautiful as they are tasty. Big Mangrove and Mutton Snapper are on the reef along with keeper Grouper. One stop shopping makes a great Fishing Trip!

Get your vacation plans set and come on down to the Florida Keys for the best fishing holiday you will ever have!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Fishing the Florida Keys The Art of Yellowtail Snapper Fishing

Revised 27 November

October and November is a great time to catch large flag Yellowtails, Mutton Snapper and big Black Grouper. This is the time of the year when the Blacks move onto the reef to spawn. So I'll normally get a nice mixed bag of Blacks, Muttons and tails.

Chum fishing is the technique of choice. Count on one 7-pound block per hour of fishing using a medium large mesh bag. I prefer 45 to 60 foot of water with good marked structure this time of the year. Anchor where you have two or more good marks down current of the boat. Start chumming like crazy, shaking the first bag half empty in the first 20 minutes or so. Pre-thawing a block in the cooler the night before helps.

The bait I prefer for the tails is silver side minnows and Ballyhoo strips. Size your bait for you hook. Look at what is coming out of the chum bag, that’s the hatch to match. The rig is simple, tie a size 2 to 2/o hook on the line. The size 2 (or smaller) if the current is light, and use up to the 2/o if the current is running hard. If your bait drifts and drops at the same rate as the chum, you got it right. In a stronger current I'll add a size 7, barrel swivel 2 to 3 feet in front of the hook. Between varying the hook size and swivel combinations, you shouldn't have to add any weight. Light jigs and feathers work but aren't necessary if you get your technique down.

Fresh, clear, 12 to 20 pound monofilament, on a spinning outfit is best for tailing for Flags, yellow tails over 3pounds. Flourocarbon is optional, unless the current is nearly dead and the water is gin clear. If your spot is good, your line fresh and your chum slick kicking, you won't need it. Most people will say twenty is too heavy, until they hook into a 6 plus pound flag way back in the slick, or a 20 pound Mutton.

When you get ready to deploy your bait, give the chum bag a good shake, drop your bait in the chum and start pealing off line fast enough to keep up with the chum cloud and preferably just under the chum in the water. Initial drifts may be three times the water depth or more, but when the bite starts, you should see the fish behind the boat.

While you're tailing, take a few of the live tails and toss them in your bait well. Shoot one of these tails down on a grouper rig with enough weight to keep him from climbing back in the boat. I use larger tails, 14 to 16 inches for grouper baits. I don't like messing around with short grouper. About 6 to 10 foot of leader is recommended for Blacks. Suspend the weight 10 to 20 feet off the bottom to prevent rock ups. Don't go too heavy on the leader; 50 to 80 pound test is plenty.

Keep and eye open for Muttons. If you have a large shrimp, live or fresh dead, you should be able to feed it to them. Smaller Pinfish work as well. A lot of the Muttons you hook will be on the Yellowtail rods. This is why I prefer the slightly larger hook and the 12 to 20 pound test this time of the year.

Yellowtails to 5 pounds, Muttons to 20 pound and Blacks to 50 pounds are common this time of the year, if you have good conditions. Good conditions are an east or west current on the reef, moving with the wind. In the middle keys, the last of the outgoing or first of the incoming tide is best. This is when dirtier water is more likely to be present. Out of Key West, there is less dirty water inflow from the bayside, so any steady current will be just fine.

Come on down and let's catch a few good tasting dinners.

Captain Dallas

Addendum or whatever it is to explain stuff.

The above was written for a time of year I normally hammer bigger fish. I can catch Yellowtail year in and year out. It does get slow at times, but you can still catch these guys. The worst case is no current with gin clear water. You see the fish right there under the boat and they just won't bite. If you see them swimming from left to right behind the boat, they are telling you something. Since they don't have fingers, they are using their fins, get it.

This is the time for the Secret weapon; six-pound leader and size 8 hooks, with very small bits of bait. Look at the fish in water. If you are chumming, somewhere they are eating the chum. Be one with the chum and let your bait be one with you. Anybody can catch fish that are biting, but to catch fish that aren't biting takes finesse. With a slack current watch how the chum drops in the slick and how the baited hook you have drops. If they drop at the same rate, you get a bite. It's presentation, its not hot pink size 6 circle hooks or 167th oz jigs, it's the presentation. Get your baited hook to the same spot the tails are feeding in the slick and you have a fish.

That said visualize what's happening in the slick with a current. At some point, the tails are eating. Vary your weight, (that's add a tiny split shot, switch to a smaller hook, a bigger hook, add a swivel, slow your drift or quicken your drift) whatever, to find the right combination. Once you find the combination, you can hammer the fish.

Sand balling, Oat mixtures, cooked elbow macaroni, are all local favorite chumming additions. I use oats, wet and dry, to kick it up a bit, but plenty of free flowing ground sardines or Menhaden is all it really takes.

Yellowtail snapper will not impress some people, but they are excellent eating, have a good fight for their size and can be a challenge. From what I’ve heard, they kick Lake Erie perches butts big time and the weather is normally a touch nicer in the winter here.

Another Add-on: The new Gulf reef fish regulations require the use of circle hooks, de-hooking devices and venting tools when fish for 'tails in Gulf waters. J hooks are still allowed on the ocean side for now.