It’s that time of the year when fish in small lakes and ponds move close to the shore and will swat most anything that comes their way. If a nearby fisherman is around, and has a cooler or a stringer, there will be some seriously good eating in that person’s future. So our road trip of the week is directed to a nearby pond.
I was fortunate to visit a local lake recently and put a dozen or so fat pan fish in my cooler. If there is any possibility I will catch fish that I want to clean and eat, I bring a cooler. Instead of dumping crushed ice in the cooler, however, I like to freeze small blocks of ice and keep them in the freezer.
When I fish in the afternoon or evening, it’s often convenient to keep the fish on ice and clean them the following morning. I actually prefer this way, because when they are cold and firm, they are easier to clean.
Here is another trick I have learned through they years. Newspapers have great insulating properties. When I go off on expeditions with cold food involved, I often use no ice whatsoever. I just pack the cold or frozen food in the bottom of my cooler along with a small block of ice and put several layers of newspapers on top. Even 3 and 4 hours later, the food is nearly as cold as right out of the refrigerator.
When I clean fish the following day, I make sure there is some sealed ice in the cooler and spread newspapers on top, and presto, cold fish in the morning. You’ve got to try newspapers in a cooler. It is very effective.
I really prefer to eat whole fish with the skin on and bone in. They are far more flavorful that way. If you have to filet the fish because of storage space or because you are cooking for a crowd, so be it. But whenever possible, just scale the fish, whack off their heads, remove the entrails and you’ll be in high cotton at dinnertime.
Once cleaned, rinse the fish thoroughly and put them in a pan of salted water for several hours or overnight. This helps draw out any blood and it firms up the fish. Eat the fish within a day or two if possible, but if it’s not convenient or you catch more than you can eat in one sitting, put the whole fish in a large Tupperware container, cover completely with water and freeze immediately. When thawed, they will be 95% as good as when cooked fresh.
Recently, I received an electric fryer with two wire baskets, similar to a commercial fryer. You can preset the temperature and it never varies, and you can fry an amazing amount of fish in no time at all.
The best time for your “farm pond” road trip comes in the next 4 weeks. No matter where you live, there is a farm pond or small lake nearby. Take that short road trip and enjoy some fresh fish while you’re at it.