I am aware of a certain fish that you can’t buy in a store, yet there is no more flavorful fish found anywhere. Furthermore, they are
basically free. All you have to do is catch them, or have someone catch them for you. The fish I speak of is a bluegill, which is classified as a game fish in Virginia; therefore they cannot be sold commercially.
Bluegills, sometimes referred to as “bream” in the South, are ordinary sunfish found in nearly every pond and lake in Virginia. The flesh is sweet and firm. When properly handled and cooked, they put the finest steak in Chicago to shame. And they are easy to catch.
Here’s how to catch them.
If you have a pond or know of someone who will let you fish in theirs – perfect! If not, a courteous tap on the door of a landowner usually gets permission.
You’ll need a lightweight fishing rod and reel – about $20 for a combination outfit. Also pick up some size 6 hooks and a small plastic bobber –about an inch or less in diameter. The next stop is at a pet shop for a carton of large mealworms. Now you’re in business. At the pond, put a mealworm on the hook and start off fishing near any dock or visible structure. Make a cast and watch the bobber. When it goes under, lift the rod tip and set the hook. Odds are good you’ll have your first bluegill. Put it on ice in a cooler and keep fishing until you think you have enough.
There is really no such thing as a “too little to keep” bluegill. Even the little four-inch fish are good, maybe even better than their larger cousins. Depending on their size, about 4 bluegills per person should do the trick.
When you get home, spread out some newspapers on a table outside, get a butcher knife and scrape off the scales. Next, whack off their heads and remove the entrails. Your bluegills are now ready for the frying pan.
Note that a filet knife was never mentioned in the cleaning process. That’s because whole, cooked bluegills are infinitely better than small filets. A fish cooked whole exploits all the flavor of the bones and skin. And if you cook them properly, they flesh lifts neatly off the backbone. The fish are done when you begin to see the cooked side bubble. You can also test with a fork. They should flake easily.
It is sacrilegious to even consider cooking bluegills any other way than frying.
There are two critical rules for frying fish. Never put the fish in oil that is not crackling hot and don’t overcrowd the pan. There should be room between each fish. They fry quickly, so put the done fish on a platter in a warm oven, and then serve when all the fish are fried.
Once you catch a few bluegills and cook them properly, you’ll surely say: I need to do this more often.
Southern Fried Bluegills
About 4 fish per person
House Autry Seafood Breading
1 Cup Milk
Rinse the fish thoroughly in cold water, taking care to remove any lingering scales. In a bowl of House Autry Seafood Breading, roll each bluegill in the flour mixture, then dip in a wash of milk and eggs, then roll again in the flour. Shake off any excess flour and put the fish carefully in the skillet of hot oil – about a half-inch deep. Turn only once when the bottom size is golden brown. They are done when the flesh flakes easily with a fork. Enjoy!