Hi guys. Have you ever Googled a free recipe for something but before you can actually get to the meat and potatoes of the meat and potatoes dish, the author writes a few hundred words about their personal life? Well, don’t worry; you’ll actually have fun this time. So don’t turn the page yet! Before we turn on the stove, let me take you back to how I got my hybrid striped bass on a frying pan in the first place:
This past spring, I decided to go trolling again with my friend Bruce Litton. No, we didn’t post intentionally nasty internet comments. Trolling is another method of fishing. Rather than standing in one place, you go out on a boat and keep it moving. You leave your hook in the water and travel very slowly, keeping the engine as quiet as possible. By staying on the move, you’re increasing your likelihood of finding a fish. Hybrid stripers in particular reside closer to the surface, right where your bait will be dragging along.
Bruce has used many different fishing methods throughout his life. We first met for my interest piece about ice fishing, and then we went trolling the following spring. Although I had fun, I never got to bring home dinner. This time I kept my expectations low and focused on enjoying the beautiful Lake Hopatcong morning. Bringing home a fish would be more of a bonus souvenir.
So one Spring Sunday at 5am I pulled up to Dow Boat Rental, at Lake Hopatcong. We got the boat, got my fishing license, and off we went with rods and gear, as the daytime, hampered by clouds, nevertheless slowly approached.
We started our now-usual pattern of visiting various coves for extended periods of time and using lighter lures. We were trying to find the hybrids when they’re most active: in the cool twilight hours. Not long after we started, Bruce saw action, hauling in a nice four pounder. We took pictures of the catch and then he tossed it into a small holding tank on board. It’s about three cubic feet of water, meant to keep the fish alive, aka fresh. I didn’t even know the boat had this feature last time because, unfortunately, we never needed it.
The thing about fishing is that when you’re not actually catching a fish- more often than not- you have a lot of free time. We talked a lot, but as the conversation naturally died down, I, “dove deep into daydream land” as I later described it. It’s not every day that I’m sitting out on the middle of a lake after all, and the change in physical perspective can affect the philosophical perspective. Being in wide open space usually gives me the feeling of openness too, like the world is suddenly all within my grasp and anything is easily attainable with the right willpower.
That’s typically not the case in New Jersey, where tall trees blot out the horizon everywhere we look. Unless we’re in the middle of a lake (or perhaps the top of a mountain or skyscraper), we can never see more than roughly a couple hundred feet in front of us at all times. I love nature, but there’s much more to it than walls of trees to me. I’m much more of a fan of open spaces. I know I’m moving in the direction of my destination not because my GPS tells me so, but because I can see it with my own eyes. Open spaces like the middle of Lake Hopatcong, where I can see for miles in any direction with the sun rising over the mountains, and the houses rolling across subtle hills, feel empowering to me. You just don’t get this perspective from a drive on the Parkway.
All of a sudden, Bruce caught another fish and my head was back in the game. With the tally at 2-0, I knew I was due for a good catch soon. Sure enough- bang! The feeling leaves you with little doubt. I reeled in, slow and steady. A couple times he pulled himself back out. But I persisted as the battle raged beneath the surface, just out of view. I could feel him making circles as he came into view. “Don’t reel up too high, you’ll snap the rod,” Bruce warned me. That heavy huh? 3 pounds, 18.5 inches to be exact. This one was a keeper, at long last.
I’d later catch another hybrid that was just a little too small to take home, but that’s okay. I already had dinner. And I didn’t have to go to the store for it either. Now, before you cook your own fish, you’ll need to clean it first. I’d recommend having an experienced person show you this part. But if you’re curious, both sides of the fish, from behind the head down the length of the body before the tail, are edible. Make sure it’s dead (a good bop on the head does the trick), then rub off the scales. Then you can just cut off the two filets.
Trolling is really a fishing sport like no other. It’s calm and…oh yeah, I promised you a recipe. Here you go:
Self-Caught Bass with Lemon Butter
Ingredients: Lemon Juice, Olive oil, Butter, Garlic, Salt, Pepper, Fish
First, thoroughly wash your filets, removing any pieces containing blood or bones. You want just lightly colored meat and some skin. Dry the filets with paper towel, then add salt and pepper on both sides, then add lemon juice. Next, heat the oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add the filets, skin side down. Press them down occasionally until crispy and golden brown. Flip and sear until crispy. Then add in the butter and garlic just until the butter melts. Enjoy!