Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Pickled Fish, a Labor of Love

Two weeks ago our trip to Mille Lacs was specifically to catch some tullibees for making pickled fish.  As stated earlier, the tullibee is a member of the whitefish family, an oily fish, makes an excellent imitation of real pickled herring.  I have had pickled sunfish, northern, suckers, yet these fish lack the specific texture of herring.  My dad was a big herring eater and when I was young the real good pickled herring was bought at Nelson's Grocery Store in downtown Eleva.  The store was an old fashioned small town store in a brick building with wood plank floors and a full service meat counter.  Back then everyone shopped the local store as it was more convenient to simply go downtown as opposed to driving to Eau Claire.  There was also a different attitude about supporting the local business man, the level of service was superior and there was little need for going to a grocery store for things other than groceries.  Gary Hillestad was the butcher behind the meat counter and would cut up a steak anyway you wanted.  Usually in the fall Nelson's would feature pickled herring.  It was always served bulk as it came in a large wooden pail made of vertical wood pieces held together with brass banding.  The herring chunks were mixed with whole pickling spices, onions, and were sold by the pound.  Herring was in the category of oysters and T-bone steak, a special treat and it was none fresher than from Nelson's.  After moving to Minnesota and meeting my friend Earl Taylor, he was a huge pickled herring fan.  Earl always had pickled herring and his favorite was from the Day Fish Company in Day, Minnesota.  Later in life we learned that the Day Herring was really supplied by Olsen's Fish Company in Minneapolis.  Olsen's makes a pretty good herring however I have fell in love with my new favorite brand, Brasel's Dang Good Pickled Herring.  The first picture is the real deal from Lory.

Per my post a couple of weeks ago, we caught 7 nice tullibees.  I cleaned the fish and Lory agreed to make the pickled fish.  Ending up with 6 pints, it took about 12 days and holy smokes!  The fish has the exact texture of the best pickled herring with a much better flavor, less fishy and very fresh.  With my taste buds in a whirl I suggested to Lory we head back up to the lake and see if we can get more for pickling.  Stopping to see Bill, we picked up a carton of waxies, a couple new secret baits, and the latest perception of where to fish.  Deciding on a mid lake hump coming up to 30 feet, we drilled our holes and set up the houses.  Saturday was pretty cold, never getting above zero, however the fish didn't seem to mind.   Dropping my first line into the hole, the bait never reached the bottom before a nice fish hit the lure dressed with waxies.  Tullibees really put up a great fight and I was amazed at the size of the fish that came through the hole.  What a great start.  The fish continued to bite throughout the day and within a couple of hours we each had our limit of 10 fish.  I drilled a hole for my underwater camera and the fish really put on a show.  Tullibees tend to bite light and often are just at the end of the line.  A slow oscillation of the rod tip  can can be critical to pick up this bite.  When seeing them hit the lure on the camera, it's fun to correlate what you see to what you feel.  Often there were up to 6 fish in the camera's view with fish appearing every few minutes.  It's also interesting to see the fish under the hole that the depth finder is looking down and see how the fish are represented.

With 20 tullibees and a few bonus perch we headed back early to start cleaning fish.  I like to use my brother Steve's method of filleting fish for the tullibee, slab off the sides by cutting down the backbone then remove the ribs and skin.  This is identical to how we clean our salmon in Alaska.  Not being very good at the secondary operation of cutting the rib bones out, my new Cabela's fillet knife has made me an expert.  Wasting little meat, we ended up with over 9 1/2 pounds of fillets for the next batch of pickled fish.  Lory and I make a great team.  I have shown him a new species of fish to target along with locations, and technique whereas he brings his ability to turn them into a bonafide delicacy.  They won't be done for another week or so but I can tell you it will be worth the wait! 

Friday I am off to Rockport Texas to fish reds and sea trout.   A couple of years ago I fished in Jacksonville, Florida and had high hopes on catching a red drum as this is one my list of fish I have not caught.   I love watching the weekend fishing shows, especially when they are going after reds as they look like an interesting fish.  We will be fishing out of a large air boat in the barrier marshes of the coastal regions of Texas.  Reports include the possibility of seeing an alligator or two.  My host Joe Stanfield has arranged to spend the evening with a friend of his and are planning on having fresh fish for supper (notice I said planning!).  The famous Blackened Redfish starts with this fish and heres hoping we are successful.   Look for my full report next week.  

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