In his own words...
"Before boarding Captain Smitty’s boat, the Riptide, at
But at 4:45 am on a Saturday morning, the ways of ocean fish were still a mystery to me. Because that was the hour -- the inhumane, cruel, ungodly hour -- that my first day of ocean fishing began. The occasion? The demise of my friend B.'s bachelorhood.
On arrival at the harbor I immediately spotted our boat, a large, reasonably comfortable looking vessel that appeared, contrary to Captain Smitty's warning, to have plenty of deck space for our coolers and even a nice sized cabin in which to seek occasional shelter from the wind. I was pleased. This was more upscale than I expected and I began to look forward to a reasonably comfortable trip.
“Boat looks nice,” I said to B. He looked at me quizzically. “It’s the one next to it, dude,” he said. My eyes drifted downward, then downward a bit more, and there, humble, a bit dirty and already crowded was the Riptide. True to Captain Smitty’s word, there was very little deck space and absolutely no touches of luxury. We boarded.
After positioning our coolers snug against the gunwale, I was greeted, along with the rest of the passengers, by a cheerful Captain Smitty. He wasn't quite what I expected. Yes, he has the long hair and beard of a pirate, but both are bright white, making him look like Santa Claus. He gave his orientation speech, introduced us to Zach, the deck hand, then concluded with a quick lesson on reel technique, warning us of the perils of a so-called bird’s nest, which is what happens when you fail to keep your thumb on the line as your reel is unspooling. Fresh from my recent
Following Captain Smitty’s orientation, we lined up for our "rigs," which is a piece of fishing line about three feet long and outfitted with two hooks and a heavy sinker. Lacking the artistry of a fly set-up and the mechanical genius of certain spinners, the "rig" was a lot like our boat: simple and functional. Hooks in hand, we each grabbed a pole and as the boat clattered to life, Zach began setting up our gear, meticulously attaching the rigs to the poles and answering any questions quickly and with confidence. We were in good hands on the Riptide, I could tell, and within minutes were were steaming out of the harbor, past Mavericks, the big wave surfing mecca, and along the coast to an area about 10 to 12 miles south of our departure point, the shore still in sight.
As I got more familiar with the Riptide, I decided it felt like a fish boat should: a little rust here and there, a little smelly, a little crowded, a little too close to the water and not fussy in the least. It was a roll-up-your-sleeves-get-down-to-business-and-let’s-catch-some-fish kind of craft. And after enduring my pre-dawn wake-up call, I was ready to catch some fish. To hell with luxury.
Turns out there are really two kinds of ocean fishing: deep sea and shallow water. Deep sea fishing is the stuff of Hemingway lore, a sport of epic battles, of giant swordfish and marlin, of large, hard-fighting salmon, of broken lines and sharks, of perfect storms. Shallow water fishing is considerably less romantic, and shallow water is what we would be doing. Our catch would be primarily rock cod, and for a lucky few, ling cod and maybe even a halibut.
Two hours into our trip, Captain Smitty slowed the boat and shouted, "Drop 'em in!" No dramatic casting, no elegant arc of a fly line, just a straight down plunk to the ocean floor below. Calm, confident, I let my line unspool and casually lifted my thumb to let it drop a bit faster and… bird’s nest. A bad bird’s nest, a blooming tangle of line that exploded into existence before I could flip the catch on the reel and arrest its evil progress. Humbled, and a bit chagrinned for not having taken Captain Smitty’s lessons to heart, I went to work on my reel, but it was hopeless. Thankfully, Zach helped me out. Fixed up and wizened, I dropped my rig in again and got down to some serious fishing.
By the end of the day, I had caught seven or eight cod. The other guys all did at least as well, and B. even caught a ling cod, shouting, “Gaffer!” at just the right time and proudly plopping the ling into his burlap bag and cracking a beer to celebrate.
As we motored back to shore, Zach sharpened his knife and went to work filleting the first fish. I was reminded of childhood dinners at Benihana: if there is a Jet Li of fish filleting, his name is Zach.
Per Ms. Food Musings instructions, I asked Zach to let me keep the bones and heads of my fish, so she could make a proper stock for part of a bigger project (which I think will ultimately involve lobster). He obliged, tossing the spiny cod skeletons into a burlap sack, while the meaty cod filets were slapped one by one into a plastic bag. As I stepped onto the welcome stability of terra firma, carrying my bounty in an ice filled cooler, I began thinking about how the cod might taste.
The next night, Ms. Food Musings answered that question by whipping up a thick eggy batter and pan-frying a few fillets. We bit in and through the crunch of the batter and found the simple pleasure of white fish, with a freshness and delicateness rarely found with store bought cod and never, ever with the frozen stuff. Was it worth rising at an hour better suited to birds and worms? Aye, aye Cap'n."
1 pound fresh cod fillets, skinned, rinsed off and patted dry
1 cup flour
¼ cup milk
1 cup bread crumbs
2 TBSP olive oil
2 TBSP butter
1 lemon, cut into 4 wedges
Homemade tartar sauce (recipe to follow)
- Line up three wide, shallow bowls. In the first, place the flour. In the second, place the egg and milk, stirring lightly to mix. In the third, place the breadcrumbs.
- Taking one piece of cod at a time, dip first in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs, turning to coat and shaking off excess over each bowl before moving on to the next.
- Heat olive oil and butter in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Once butter is melted, and a test breadcrumb sizzles when placed in skillet, lay cod fillets in pan. Once one side is browned, 3 - 5 minutes depending on thickness, turn and brown other side till fish is cooked through (it will be opaque and flake easily with a fork).
- Serve with fresh lemon wedges and homemade tartar sauce.
Yield: 1 1/2 cups
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sweet pickle relish (or to taste)
Mix together in whatever ratio suits you. Refrigerate up to 1 week.