For the first time in a long time, redfish, snook and trout are all open for harvest. The bad news is that we still have red tide and other issues that have led to a lot of anglers wanting to avoid keeping these top-tier gamefish.
The good news is that there are lots of other fish you can eat if you’re hankering for a fresh seafood dinner. One of them is the humble gafftopsail catfish or sailcat, which I have eaten and enjoyed despite their unsavory reputation.
I think the world record for a sailcat is less than 10 pounds. I have caught several from my dock that I thought about weighing, but I was just too lazy. However, I did decide to eat one of those snot rockets one time, and it wasn’t bad at all.
Now, I haven’t done the same with the hardhead cats, partly because everybody says they’re awful. I do know that the Calusa Indians ate them, and they must have had a recipe that would make them palatable.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a Calusa cookbook. I do have a cookbook from the Apaches, but there’s no recipe in it for hardhead catfish in it. Even if there was a recipe for hardhead cats, I wouldn’t bother trying it for the simple reason that I don’t want to get stung by one again.
I like to think I can handle pain pretty well, but a hardhead catfish sting is on a whole other level. I was fishing my favorite sandbar one day and I got popped on my thumb.
That pain was so bad I almost fell off my kayak. The pain quickly traveled up to my elbow and lasted for about 10 minutes. Nowadays I just cut the hook. I don’t want to go through that agony again.
I don’t how true it is but, an older Florida Cracker gave me a catfish sting remedy. He told me to rub that slime that’s usually on your leader line all over the spot where the fin stuck you, and then squeeze the spot hard to try and bleed out the toxin. If the price of hooks gets to five bucks apiece, I might give it a try. Maybe.
When I caught the sailcat I ate, I also had some ripe tomatoes in my garden. I decided to sauté the fillets with some white wine, garlic, my tomatoes and some fresh-picked garden herbs. I had a few red potatoes on hand as well, so I simply wedged them and roasted them until tender.
That was a few years back, but I have to admit that Lauren and I enjoyed that meal, and I just might prepare that dish again one day. If you’d like to give it a try, here’s the recipe.
Chef Tim Spain is a Florida native and has years of experience cooking professionally, both in restaurants and in private settings. He offers private catering and personal culinary classes. For more info, visit ChefTimSpain.com or call 406-580-1994.
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