We got the blues

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Yesterday I drove back to the Cape from Manhattan, where I’d spent three days combining business and pleasure. When I was about an hour from home, Kevin called.

He asked the first question everyone asks anyone they call on a cell phone. “Where are you?”

“I’m on the bus,” I said. This is our little joke, dating back to what was probably a Clinton-era New Yorker cartoon of a bus with three guys on cell phones. The guy getting on the bus is saying, “I’m getting on the bus.” The guy getting off the bus is saying “I’m getting off the bus.” The guy on the bus is saying … yeah, you guessed it.

Very fresh fish

Very fresh fish

“No, really,” Kevin said.

“Fall River.”

“Oh good,” he said, “you’ll be early. It’s a beautiful day, there’s a breeze out of the north, and we can all go fishing. “All,” in this case, meant me, Kevin, and Kevin’s 13-year-old son, Eamon, who’s staying with us.

I was concerned about all the work I hadn’t done over the course of the previous three days, but Kevin convinced me that fishing would make for a much nicer afternoon than working. When I pulled into the driveway, the boat was ready to go.

We were after bluefish, but we weren’t sure where we might find them. Kevin had spotted a school in Cotuit Bay last week, but there was no sign of them as we tootled from Prince Cove out to Sampson’s Island.

So we headed out to the Sound, and we hadn’t gone more than half a mile before Kevin throttled back and pointed out to port. “There they are,” he said, and headed off in the direction of a boiling patch of sea.

When we encounter a particularly greedy or ill-mannered eater, the pig is the animal to which we generally compare him, but a pig’s got nothing on a bluefish. Bluefish will sink their teeth into anything they catch sight of, moving or still, living or dead.

They eat fish, shellfish, eels, and squid, but also each other, and jewelry. They prefer their prey to be smaller than they are, but bigger isn’t a deal-breaker; they’ve been known to attack humans. They eat when they’re not even hungry (although I’m not sure how researchers figured that out), and they kill just for the hell of it.

Pigs, step aside. There’s a new glutton in town.

It was a school of gluttons that Kevin had spotted and I was amazed at the melee. An area of water as big as our house was roiling with fish. They were jumping and squirming, seemingly oblivious to the presence of our boat.

Kevin handed me my pole. “Cast right into them. You’ll get one every cast.”

Every cast? Surely not.

Every cast. My lure hadn’t been in the water three seconds before I had a fish. I was using a light rod with six-pound test, and the pole bent double. The fish was taking out as much line as I was reeling in, and it wasn’t until I tightened the drag and we moved the boat toward the fish that I made any progress landing him.

Land him I did. After that, among the three of us, we landed nine more. Then there were the three that got away with our lures, and the one that fell through the hole in the net, deliberately bitten by his predecessor in a final act of rebellion.

All we had to do was follow the school and cast into them. Now this is fishing.

The bluefish were what Kevin, growing up on Long Island, learned to call cocktail blues, but are called schoolie blues out here – about a pound and a half apiece. Our ten added up to some fifteen pounds of fish, which seemed like an awful lot. I thought we should share the wealth, so I called our friend Linda from the boat.

“We’re headed in to Prince Cove with a cooler full of schoolie blues. You want some?”

Linda doesn’t hem or haw or think that politeness demands that you decline such offers. “Yeah!” she said. “I’ve got the grill fired up already, and I’ll toss ‘em on.”

We pass Linda’s house on the way from the marina to our house, but her driveway is such that it’s awkward to pull in – and then back out – with a boat in tow. So we arranged that she would stand out by her mailbox and we’d pass the fish to her on the fly.

It’s a busy road, and Kevin was skeptical of this arrangement, but it worked like a charm. Linda was even able to pass me a cucumber in trade.

It was only when I got the fish home that I figured out what I really wanted in trade: a filleting lesson. My skill set, developed over a lifetime of city living, is diverse enough to include parallel parking, subway navigation, and cockroach eradication, but it does not extend to fish filleting.

Nevertheless, there are now twelve bluefish fillets, mangled to a greater or lesser degree, brining in our refrigerator. Over the weekend, we’ll dry them and smoke them and try another iteration of smoked bluefish cakes. We’ll pan-fry them to a nice golden brown, maybe whip up a remoulade to go with them, and then I will undoubtedly prove that neither pigs nor bluefish have the corner on gluttony.

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Comments

  1. How I envy you – there is nothing to compare with the taste of a fresh Bluefish fillet! If memory serves, they do not freeze well, and the dark meat is oily and not nearly so good as the fillets. Huge scales is another issue I recall. But that son of mine, (anonymous by request here), used to bring ’em back in the Whaler and do all of the prep stuff. There is good eating!

  2. I am so glad you got your blues. Yesterday we got a call from our friend Dick to come and get some fish. He went out with his grandson and got blues and stripers; we fortunately ended up with both. Dick cleans and fillets them in the house, much to his wife’s displeasure. We had bluefish for supper and froze the bass. I dry the fish with paper towel and oil the bottom since all the skin is gone, then make up a special sauce that Don loves…soy and mayo mixed. He spreads it on and grills it to perfection. So tasty and yummy. We have frozen bluefish and it still tastes yummy with soy and mayo combo. I never turn down a bluefish.

  3. I’m having fun reading your blog. We call small (under a pound) blues snappers and blues around a pound to three tailor blues. I used to try to filet bluefish with the same technique that I employ on stripers; cut down through the “steak” behind the gill plate, then make a cut through the skin from the top of the fish behind the head along the lateral line to the tail, finally bending the filet knife to slice against the bones and down to just above the stomach.
    I find bluefish flesh, even well chilled as it should always be, to be mushy, and it was easy to damage the meat with that method. I now grasp the tail and just run the knife up the fish to remove it, first one side, then the other. Knife sharpening becomes a crucial skill as the fish pile up in the cooler and the backyard fills up with racks.