From Rod to Plate! Catching, Cleaning and Cooking Fish

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Sometimes we forget that fish come from the water, not the supermarket. But with the right equipment and a little know-how, they're pretty much up for grabs in local rivers and ponds.

Anyone can learn to fish. It's really not that hard. And learning how to fish is almost as much fun as catching something.

Equipment

Tackle

Tackle is used to lure fish to the bait, and it typically consists of a rod, reel, line, hook, sinker (weight) and bobber (float). If you're going fishing for the first time, stick to these basics before moving on to more difficult tackle.

Bait

Minnows and grasshoppers are popular freshwater bait, and shrimp and squid are commonly used in deep-sea fishing. But worms are the best all-around bait since they can be used in freshwater and saltwater. (Just keep them cool and they'll stay on the hooks better.) Artificial lures are a good alternative for the squamish, and some fisherman prefer them to live bait. Any tackle shop will carry a wide variety of man-made bait, from scented gummy worms to shiny metal lures designed to mimic fish. As a last resort, rolled up balls of bread can be used as bait (but be prepared to lose it more often.) Use larger bait when fishing for larger game.

If you do not have a tackle store in your neighborhood, you can usually find fishing gear and even live bait at most sports and camping equipment stores.

Choosing and Using a Rod

The simplest tackle is a pole, and it can not be cast to far because it does not have a reel. To set one up, all you need to do to set one up is tie a small hook to the end of a line, attach a weight right above it and the bobber a couple feet up from the sinker.

Many sinkers are made of lead, but they've become a problem for water birds, so we recommend using a slipshot made of an alternate metal. Slipshots have a split that fastens onto the line and should be tightened with pliers. Never use your teeth. We also suggest tying a knot around it beforehand to prevent sliding.

Bobbers are spheres. To attach the bobber, thread the line through the top and bottom hooks. Press the top button on the bobber to expose the bottom hook and press it again while holding in the bottom hook for the top one. But you'll probably have more luck using a rod with a reel.

The ideal tackle for beginners is a spincasting rod because it's easy-to-use and reliable. A spincasting rod has straight handle and a covered reel with a line opening in front, and what makes it so simple is that you only need to release a button to cast.

Spinning rods are a little harder to use, but they have an open-face, or uncoovered, reel that unravels faster to let you cast further.

Casting (Using a Spinning Rod)

  • Press your finger on the string until it Touches the rod.
  • Flip the line roller over and keep your finger on the string.
  • If you are doing an over-head cast, slowly bring it behind you. If you are doing a side-arm-cast, bring it near you.
  • Steady fling the rod forward.
  • Release your finger from the string when your rod is adjacent to your body.

Casting a spincasting rod is a similar procedure, except you have to hold down the reel button instead of a string and release it when the rod reaches eye level. Expert casting is all about timing and takes practice so find a secluded spot where you can hone your skills without fruting away other fishermen.

When and Where to Fish

Some say the best time to catch fish is after sunup and before sundown because that's when they're feeding, and other enthusiasts say when you have the time. Either way, be sure to check the state fish advisories for mercury poisoning warnings and popular fishing spots before you pick your own. You can also find recommendations in many local papers or tackle shops. When you get to your spot, look for fallen trees, shady spots or heavy vegetation in the water -these are the all-you-can-eat buffets of the fish world.

Cleaning and Preparing Your Catch

  • A lot of different tools and utensils available for this task, but a sharp 10-12 inch chef's knife is all you really need.
  • Wash the fish.
  • Scale the fish by scraping it from the tail to the head with a fish scraper or the dull edge of a knife.
  • Make a cut from the gills to down the belly.
  • Remove the entrails with your hands, making sure to get all of it.
  • Rinse the cavity.
  • Without cooking the fish whole, you can cut off the tail and head and use it for fish stock.
  • If cooking the fish whole, remove the dorsal fin by cutting along each side of it and carefully pulling the fin out with pliers.
  • If deboning, use tweezers instead of fingers to preserve the texture of the fish.

Cooking

Now that you're finally ready to cook, check out some of our favorite seafood recipes and wow guests with your gourmet talents. Here are a few general guidelines for cooking fish:

  • Do not overcook! Well-done fish dries up and falls apart.
  • Do not over-marinate! Fish has a naturally delicious flavor that can be drowned out with too much sauce. Try a simple olive oil, lemon and parsley marinade to accentuate the natural taste of fresh fish.
  • Cooking fish whole will help retain its juices and keep it moist.
  • When barbequing fish, brush oil on the grate to prevent sticking and crumbling.

Shopping List

Here are some other items you'll need within your trusty fishing rod:

  • Tackle box
  • Pliers
  • Scissors or fingernail clippers to cut line
  • Backup line, hooks, sinkers and bobbers
  • Bait and / or lures
  • A bucket and stringer to bring home the catch
  • Ice to keep the fish fresh on long excursions

Optional Recommended Accessories

  • Swivels – These metal attachments are not absolutely necessary, but they make it easy to switch bait without cutting the line.
  • Fishing vest – This will come in handy when you want to change location without lugging all your tackle every time.
  • Cooler – Pack it full of ice, food and drinks. You'll want snacks during your outing and you can use extra ice to preserve your catch later.

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