The Sportsman Chef

Outdoors: Bluefish often make better sport than entree for some

 

By Ken Perrotte / The Free Lance-Star

KEN PERROTTE/THE FREE LANCE–STAR
Scott Leysath (left) and Chuck O’Bier add another feisty bluefish caught in the Potomac to Saturday’s menu plan.

FEW SALTWATER fishing experiences are more fun and exciting than launching topwater lures into a boiling blitz of bluefish, frantically feeding on baitfish near the surface.

The fish weren’t hard to find last week. Seagulls were doing all the scouting. Capt. Chuck O’Bier, fishing out of Lewisetta aboard the Sea Fox, picked up a huge flock of birds with his radar shortly after the boat reached the main Potomac River. He ran downriver toward Smith Point and soon we could see hundreds of birds working an area of water about three football fields wide.

Bluefish slashed near the surface, occasionally coming out of the water. O’Bier eased in and we waited with spinning gear at the ready. Several rigs had a deep running jig at the terminal end, but two rods had topwater lures, a Heddon Saltwater Chug n’ Spook in a red/white pattern and a red/white Pop ‘R.

The bluefish annihilated our baits as only feisty, hyper-aggressive bluefish can. I was throwing the spook and saw the flash of a fish nailing the lure. The fight seemed exceptionally tough for the Taylor-sized blues (about 1–4 pounds) we were catching and as I cranked the fish closer to the boat, the reason became apparent. Each of the lure’s two treble hooks had a bluefish attached!

Alas, both fish got off before I could swing them aboard. There were no worries about lost fish, though. Over a couple hours of chasing the blues, we probably had 150 strikes and hook-ups, and put 54 fish in the ice chest.

It was a spectacular example of late summer/early fall fishing on the Potomac and the Middle Chesapeake Bay. And it was all being filmed for an episode of The Sporting Chef television show on the Sportsman Channel.

Host Scott Leysath has been a friend for a decade, ever since I brought him a big moose roast that he turned into some delicious chili at a writer’s conference in North Carolina. Last year, we trekked to Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where we learned about trapping and cooking muskrat for a previous show of his called “Dead Meat.”

This time, we were showcasing Virginia’s wondrous Northern Neck and its many outdoors opportunities over three days of activities. It culminated with a deer roast party at my place in King George, where we’d demonstrate how we’ve adapted Argentine “asado” slow cooking methods over open wood coals to whole white-tailed deer.

Some people love to eat bluefish. Others tolerate them and some believe they’re best used as fertilizer. I’m in the middle, preferring to smoke them, then crumble them up and mix with some unique fillers (such as salt and vinegar potato chips) to make bluefish cakes.

Leysath assured us that he’d be able to transform the blues into a taste treat as he and King George fisherman Dan Josselyn carefully filleted and trimmed the fish at the dock. I had no doubts. Leysath is widely recognized as one of the preeminent wild fish and game cooking authorities in the country and probably would make moose noses palatable.

TOADS AND TURKEYS

Later that afternoon, Josselyn and Bob Ackerman, who owns King George welding and made the custom spit for the asado deer, donned their chef personas to cook a couple recipes on-camera for the show.

Josselyn is a fan of oysters and feels he is doing a small part to help preserve oyster beds every time he catches and keeps an oyster toad, one of the slimiest, ugliest, shell-crunchingest fish in the sea. Most people don’t eat them, but Josselyn carefully cleaned them and cooked up a low-carb fish taco dish that met everyone’s approval.

Ackerman thawed out a wild turkey breast and made a skillet dish taught to him by the late Ted Klopsis Sr., who owned Spiro’s Sporting Goods. O’Bier capped the day by cooking up some hard- and soft-shell crabs.

After early Friday morning preparation for Saturday’s asado event, it was time to grab the shotguns and head to Warsaw for the Virginia Wheelin’ Sportsmen “Ultimate Dove Hunt” at Sabine Hall Plantation.

It was exceptionally slow in the corner of the property where Leysath and I planted our seat buckets. On the couple of birds that did fly by in range, well, let’s just say we didn’t cover ourselves in glory with our shooting. Still, cameraman Brooks Hansen, who is also with Camp Chef (makers of excellent outdoors cooking gear), moved about and captured some good shooting action.

Virginia Wheelin’ Sportsmen leader Robin Clark shared how the program works to provide disabled hunters with opportunities to get out in the beautiful, bountiful Virginia outdoors as hunt participants moved through the buffet line featuring pulled pork and barbecued chicken prepared by Bryan Oliff, owner of Angelo’s Pizza in Montross.

Sharing the details about the incredible history in our area, the wealth of outdoors beauty, flavors and experiences that await, trends in aquaculture and more had me sometimes feeling like a pitchman for the tourism bureau, but the good news is it’s all true. We’ve got it good in this spectacular region of Virginia. I hope we can keep it that way.

I don’t know yet when the show is expected to air, but will relay it when I find out,

Leysath’s website is sportingchef.com. Chuck O’Bier is at chuckscharterfishing.net. For more on the Wheelin’ Sportsmen, go to vanwtf.com/wheelin.aspx.

Ken Perrotte can be reached at The Free Lance–Star, 616 Amelia Street, Fredericksburg, Va. 22401, by fax at 373-8455 or email at outdoors@freelancestar.com.

 

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