Our Nation's Treasures

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Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Catching dinner considered successful day of fishing

Monarch butterflies migrate to Mexico in the fall. Early last October when Mark and I visited Dad, where he lives with my step mom on the coast of Georgia, we took the boat out and anchored at the mouth of a creek right in the monarchs’ southerly path. We pulled whiting from the sea and marveled at the monarchs flitting past. In a band 10 yards wide and from about two feet to eight feet above the water we witnessed a constant stream of butterflies. We estimated 800 to 1,000 butterflies flew by in three hours. Not many, but some, landed in the boat for a couple seconds’ rest. It felt magical being in the midst of the monarchs' natural pattern.

This year I suppose we were too late because there was no definite band of butterflies, just a few here and there flitting across the expanse of the bay.

Other things kept our attention.

Dad says, paraphrasing Forrest Gump’s philosophical aphorism, “When you fish in the ocean, you never know what you’re gonna get,” and that was surely the case on our first day fishing.

Mark fished the bottom while Dad float fished (with a bobber). I chose not to fish until it seemed worth my while. Right away Dad pulled in a trout, and Mark commented on how pretty a fish the trout is, long, thin and silver with dark spots on its upper half.

We were close to a small island rimmed with oyster shells, not much more than a sandbar. We let out enough anchor rope for the tide to carry the boat near, and I hopped out and combed the beach, looking for anything interesting that may have washed up.

Not finding anything out of the ordinary, I returned after 15 minutes and learned that Mark had caught a whiting, and a big one at that. Whiting, a mild, tasty fish, must be at least 10 inches long to keep; anything over 12 inches we consider big. Whiting are silver and not as thin as trout; they have no remarkable spotting or coloring.

Dad had switched to bottom fishing, and since fish were biting, I joined the men and tossed my line in with a shrimp for bait. Within a couple minutes I landed a redfish, also called a sea bass. Redfish are notch fish, meaning they must be bigger than a certain size to keep yet also smaller than another size. The notch for redfish is 14–23 inches. The one I caught was small but not too small.

Dad and I each caught a whiting, and both were too small to keep. Mark reeled in two sting rays, which are the bane of the south sea fisherman. They are fun to catch because they put up a fight, but getting them off the hook without getting stung can be tricky. Dad has suffered two stings, which did draw blood and were most painful. Submerging the stung body part in hot water eases the pain somewhat, but the true healer is time—five or six hours.

The day ended successfully. All-in-all, the three of us brought in eight fish species, a one-day record for us: flounder, croaker, skate, and shark, besides the trout, whiting, redfish and stingray from earlier.

One or two of us pulls in a decent size shark each time Mark and I visit. I caught the one this year: 18 pounds, my biggest catch of anything ever. We froze the filleted shark to bring back to Ohio. Mark’s brother makes a tasty marinade for grilling. Because of the mercury content, we don’t want to eat shark more than once a year.

Besides the shark, the fish we didn’t toss back into the sea were enough for dinner that night. Catching a meal is so satisfying—as is eating fresh-caught fish.