Friday the 13th began not unlike many of the days before it. I awoke, ate breakfast, and prepared myself for a day off work fishing on the Thornapple River. The night previous I had watched the red Wings loose game seven and had wallowed in suffering with a few of my friends; so as memory serves I did wake up much later than usual.
With my late start I was afraid my great plans of fishing were dashed as I had slept through the great fishing hours of the wee morning. However, I had the day off; if I didn’t go fishing what else was I going to do? So at the bright hour of eleven o’clock I began to prepare my affairs for a day on the river.
Thursday night I had arranged a fishing spot at my friend Del’s mom’s house who lived on the river. Finally at one in the afternoon I had my line in the water. My plan of attack was to go after Catfish. Her house is situated on the right bank of the river at the beginning of a long slow left curve meaning the current and depth of the river are right along her side of the river. Perfect for bottom fishing for Catfish. I was fishing with a (guesstimated) size 5 hook with half of a big juicy night crawler impaled upon it and a large split shot sinker about 3 feet back on the line. I cast it out into the current and waited.
The sun was approaching its zenith and the fish were jumping all over the place, needless to say I felt real good about my location. Sure enough it wasn’t too long before my bait was hit. I love the way Catfish take bait. Not a nibble nor a half assed bite, no Catfish take the bait strong. With my first fish on my smile grew from an inquisitive smirk to a full grin as I felt the familiar slow, strong pulses of fighting a Channel Catfish. When I got the fish to shore I was surprised by how big it actually was, nearly 17 inches! I dispatched the hook from his mouth with my pliers making sure to avoid his spurs and placed him in my waiting live-well.
With my first fish on land I prepared my hook again and cast back into the same hole. It wasn’t 5 minutes later that I had another fish on! It seemed I had found where they were hiding faster than I had thought I would. After another battle with a fish I pulled up a 12 inch Catfish. Things were really looking up. By now the sun was high in the sky and the fish had stopped jumping it was the perfect time to drink a few beers and soak up some sun as the full heat of the day came to bear.
At three o’clock I was joined by my friend Del. We fished together for quite some time with neither of us getting as much as a snag. Finally Del broke the spell and brought in a nice 15 inch Catfish. Like a gentleman he practiced catch and release.
Not long after Del’s success I too had my third fish on and landed a 15 inch Catfish. My live-well was now quite full of fish. With the hour approaching six in the evening and dark clouds rolling in Del took his leave and I prepared to take off. But just as I was preparing my things I decided to toss my line in and see what happened, and Bam I had a forth fish on!
This fish was no Catfish. It hit my bait in a very similar fashion but it acted very different in the fight. Catfish keep constant pressure and pull in slow rhythmic pulses against you. This fish however, was swimming left then right, giving slack and then taking out line and finally jumping clean out of the water. I had hooked my first Bass of the summer!
I tell you, sport fish are sport fish for a reason. They are so much fun to catch. The 12 inch Small Mouth fought twice as hard as my largest Catfish and was half the size. Sam and I won’t be able to keep the Bass we catch until after Memorial Day but it is a great pleasure to catch one. With my grin a full on jovial smile I released the Bass back into the river, re-baited my hook and cast again. Not too long after I caught the fifth and final fish of the day and my second Bass of the summer.
With the clouds looking meaner by the minute I released the Bass and began gathering my affairs and loading them into the car. Before long I was home and it was time to begin the process of turning whole Catfish into Catfish fillets.
The process begins by cutting the skin back just behind the gills and then using a vice-grip pliers to pull off the skin from head to tail.
Once you have removed the skin it is as simple as cutting down the spin on either side avoiding the guts and taking the fillets off.
This was my first time in a long time filleting a Catfish and I was bit rusty, but even though the fillets look rough they should taste great just the same.
Now, I know what your saying. For such a long winded story Sam and I didn’t eat a foraged meal yet this week. That is true and false at the same time. Saturday morning I ran the 10k in the 5/3 River Bank Race and then had the work in the afternoon. Fortunately we had been invited to a fish fry being put on by my boss at Bill & Paul’s Sporthaus so we decided to let him do the foraging for us this week. Saturday night we indulged our selves in fried Blue Gill, Perch, Crappie and Salmon as well as…. MORELS!!! That is correct Sam and I finally ate Morels this season though on someone else’s labor.
All in all it was a great weekend. Sam and I are still clinging onto the hope that we may find Morels on our own. Until then we may have to keep mooching off people who are generous enough to share their morels even though will never divulge where they found them. Until then we’ll be eating Catfish and telling more stories of our time spent outside.