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Sheepshead: Might be Ugly, But Good to Eat
By Jonie Maschek
Feb 14, 2008 - 5:48:17 PM

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Go fishing today and surprise the love in your life with a nice catch for dinner tonight. It is Valentine’s Day, so cook your catch for her and eat it by candlelight.

Local captains of charters and commercial boats are shocked this week by the outcome of gag grouper harvest. I have reported gag grouper are plentiful, but regard­less of all the captains’ testimony, it made no difference.

The minds were set by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management. If the rule gets final approval this spring, it will close gag grouper catches from Jan. 15 to April 15. Bag limit will drop from 5 fish to 1. Their reasoning is that this will let the gag grouper survive to full spawning and maturity. If this passes, forget the grouper sandwiches on the menus in most restaurants or finding them in local fish markets.

We are supposed to look at the brighter side and think that they are looking out for us and trying to improve our fishing. So many restrictions have come up lately, it is sad to think that this might just bring about a shutdown on many businesses that are associated with fishing.

We are the fishing capital of the world, are we not, but if people arrive here to fish and have so many restrictions, are they coming back? Many of you voice your opinions and go to these meetings, but it seems they are not listening to you and have the situation “cut and dried,” before you arrived. The only thing we can think of is to keep going in numbers and continue with your opinions.

Mullet netters are happy with the healthy catches in our canals and rivers. The Big Game weekend saw many mullet frys in backyards. The beauty of this is that you can throw a cast net and get twenty or more fish at one time and have enough for the backyard cookout. It is a different situation for the commercial side of the netters, under restricted catch regulations. This may be lifted this month.

Flounder catches have been great with many anglers bottom fishing and boating some larger than usual sizes. This is a white lean meat fish. Some have difficulty in cleaning them as they are so flat. To my knowledge, if you have some crab traps out, you are allowed 5 -- hope this hasn’t changed. Stuff your flounder with a crab dressing made from your fresh blue crabs caught in your traps. Buy a regular Stovetop Stuffing, add crab, stuff flounder and bake at 350° until fish is flaky. Don’t overcook.

Trout have been great catches this week, and what is better than fresh fried trout for dinner, served with your favorite vegetable and some sliced Ruskin tomatoes.

Sheepshead have been the number one catch for the bridge and landlovers, fishing from piers. It is an ugly fish with black and white stripes and sharp fins. Don’t think for one minute that they are not good to eat. They are a lean white meat and can be cooked so many different ways. If you want a stew for dinner, fillet and cube your sheepshead, adding cubed potatoes, carrots, onions, tomatoes, green, red and yellow peppers. Cook your vegetables until about done, then add your sheepshead cubes. Add salt and pepper to taste and you have a great main dish for dinner.

A black tip shark or two were boated and this might be hard for some visitors to believe that we Floridians eat shark. The recipe that I have for deep frying shark came from my neighbor, Juanita Sehorne. She soaks the fillets in milk, prior to deep frying in a light flour batter. I served mine with cheese grits, a recipe which came from Liz Brown in Plant City.

Redfish catches are restricted to one per person per day. There are some anglers who can’t wait for Simmons Park to open each day; at times they arrive before the gates open. To them, Simmons Park is the best and only place to fish for redfish. The most popular spot is on the banks of the canals on the west side of the park. Most redfish are baking size. I saw one baking in a backyard over a brick homemade grill. They left the fish whole, slit down the middle, stuffed with whole small onions and tomatoes, and wrapped in foil with ears of corn on one side of the grill and potatoes on the coals. Smelled good, and looked like a good healthy meal.

Pier fishing was good this week for not only sheepshead, but for trout, redfish and a lot of black drum. The smaller black drum are fine to eat, but look carefully as you clean the larger ones; you might find some worms.

Whiting have been a good catch, with some thinking they are trout. You may fry them as you do trout. Freshwater fishing in the upper rivers has been great -- anglers enjoying the sweet tasting freshwater catfish and hush puppies for dinner.

Bass catches are few this week, but those caught were of good size. Some consider bass the only fish out there. I found that a bass fisherman is like a snook fisherman; they tell you that they are the only fish that they catch.
Have a safe, great weekend.

Happy Valentine’s Day from Fish Tales.

-- Aleta Jonie Mascheck is a member of Florida Outdoor Press.

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