Wouldn’t really fresh fish taste good about now?
We do a great job of caring for our catch each year, assuring the best possible quality all winter long.
But in the end, it’s still frozen fish. And when you love fish as much as we do, there is a difference.
But it’s still a long ways to summer and great fishing, right?
Not so fast.
Any time the weather and sea state are right for boating, you too could be enjoying the sweet taste and tenderness of really fresh fish.
You only have to extend your craving beyond halibut and salmon.
Lots of folks on Kodiak bypass lesser-known species that are incredibly popular in other ports, and in fact in most fish markets. I’ve always wondered about that, writing it off to halibut- or salmon-snobbery at worst, or lack of familiarity at best.
Everyone who has eaten these other species at our table has relished them. But as we do with salmon and halibut, we take pride in handling them and freezing them with the care they deserve.
What species am I talking about?
The answer is easy to see on our freezer shelves.
Cod, Pollack, black rockfish, dusky rockfish, greenling, rock sole and lingcod are the most common.
Of course you’ll have to wait till this summer for the ling cod season to open, but in the meantime all those other species are prime candidates when you locate them.
I’m amazed every time I look online or read in magazines about saltwater fishing in the Northeast. Can you imagine that folks actually pay good money and plenty of it, then take long boat rides just to catch cod?
And to look at the happy anglers and their catch, you’d guess they’re catching our local Alaska Pollack rather than cod, the fish are so small. An average Kodiak cod would be a trophy and the really big ones might make the front page of a newspaper if caught in the Atlantic!
But cod and rockfish are “wormy,” right?
Yeah, but halibut can be as well.
It’s simply a matter of using the point of your knife to flick out the worms at the time you fillet the fish. Hold the fillet up to a bright light, whether the sun or the light in your kitchen and have a look. They show right up.
Of course you might want to complete this final step in dressing your fish beyond the view of family members, but it’s really that simple.
Canneries do it as a matter of course on tables with bright lights shining up from below, calling it “candling.” Their happy clients might not now it’s been done, but rest assured. They don’t want wormy fish under their label any more than you want it in your freezer.
Another important step in getting the best quality from these other species is the same as you probably do now with halibut and salmon. Bleed the fish.
Just cut one or more of the gills right after you bonk the fish on the head as it goes into the fish box.
Finding the fish this time of year is a little more involved than later in the spring and summer, when they seem to be everywhere.
All the species are in deeper water and food is not as widely distributed.
You need to have a good fish finder or fathometer to confirm their presence, but you need the steer your boat to likely locations in the first place.
First off, I expect to find most fish in water deeper than about 150 feet or 25 fathoms this time of year, and often they’re over 300 feet down. Headlands and capes are always worth exploring, but don’t overlook other areas with moderate currents such as channels and drop-offs.
I particularly like channels with good gravel bottom for cod, because they’re also attractive to halibut. While I’m pleased when I find cod, I’m elated with the occasional halibut I catch as well.
You can certainly catch fish while using bait under a sinker, but when cod are on the menu I prefer to rig my hooks above the weight. That way, even when the weight is resting on bottom the baits are hovering just off bottom where cod seem to prefer to feed.
And of course, halibut have no qualms about swimming up a little to take a bait.
But as I’ve said before, it’s a long way from the bottom to the top and back down again to check bait. Herring is certainly one of the best baits, but it is awfully soft and easily pulled from a hook by hungry lips.
You can improve its life on a hook by salting smaller herring or filleting and salting the larger ones. But it’s still going to come off the hook in pretty short order.
I prefer tougher baits like squid, especially when cut in strips so it “swims” in the water like a living creature. It’s tough enough to stay on the hook well, yet very active when jigged or moved by the current.
Even better is to use some kind of lure along with the bait.
Commercial cod jiggers use “lures” that are little more than a section of colored rubber tubing cut at an angle for a little more action.
I prefer yarn tied onto the leader just above the eye of the hook and streaming back past the bend. It has more action and is cheap as can be.
If you think about the rigging, you can also use hoochies. I slide mine onto the leader before tying on a hook, then either crimp and open-eyed siwash hook onto a barrel swivel or sliding a little rubber hoochie “button” onto the leader before adding the hook, both methods for keeping the hoochie from being pulled too far down onto the hook.
Any of these work best with a little bait added to the hook. The smell adds to their “allure,” but the hook will continue to fish even when you lose the bait due to the tubing, yarn or hoochie.
In fact I prefer the hoochies because they always seem more attractive to king salmon which inhabit the same waters. I’m no salmon snob, but I appreciate fresh king salmon as much as the other species!
If you don’t want to be bothered with that general style of rigging, you can always resort to conventional jigs.
My favorite for all the species is a “dart” style jig, the elongate metal jigs that resemble needlefish. They come in a myriad of color combinations, but in deep water white seems to work as well as any other color. They sink quickly and are easy to real up in spite of their weight, great advantages when fishing deep.
I have best luck with dart jigs when I “sweeten” the hook with a small sliver of salted herring fillet. I just cut the large fillets into long strips no more than half an inch wide, then cut these at an angle into tapering morsels no more than about an inch long. Keep the bait small so it doesn’t interfere with the action of the jig or slow its sink to the bottom.
The jigs will certainly continue to fish once the bait is gone, but action is always faster with that little tab of bait on the hook.
We still have to wait a couple of months for spring and summer, but that’s no reason to miss out on great fishing and fresh fish when the seas and weather cooperate!