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Fishing Myths, Misconceptions and Downright Lies: By Dr. Bogus

            There is much fishing folklore out there based on rancorous rumor, personal bias, and indeed even some “bogus” misconceptions which have been passed down from generation to generation. Here are a few that are often heard and can use a little good-hearted debunking.

  • Pinfish, a.k.a. “bream of the sea”, are good for nothing…except bait stealing. Pinfish are in the porgy family with the likes of sheepshead and have earned the well-deserved reputation as “bait stealers” because of their incessant nibbling.  Nibble, nibble, nibble and your bait is gone. To their credit, they themselves make great baits. Small pinfish are exceptional live bait for flounder, trout and red drum and larger ones are effectively used on king mackerel rigs. Pinfish are also fine as strip baits for flounder or split for grouper.
  • Flounder are wimpy mealy-mouthed fish. Boy this sounds like flounder fightin’ words. Much of the wimpy flounder press comes from the fact that most fish for flounder with live bait, which minimizes the “feel” of the flounder. Read my lips, flounder can swim fast, have BIG mouths which when open can suck down a good size blue fish, a nasty set of teeth and powerful jaws (I have the scars to prove it) and a disposition to go with them. They can hit a moving artificial lure as hard as many other fish and their ferocious head shake has thrown many a hook.
  • If you see bubbles in the sand on the beach it must be mole crabs. Although neither flea, nor related to the backyard subterranean ground mole, the sand flea or mole crab (especially the softies) is a wonderful bait. They are found along with the colorful coquina clams in the ocean surf  “swash”, apparently coping well with their Sisyphus like unending cycle of back and forth, up and down on the rise and fall of each wave. Their characteristic “Vs” in the retreating waves give them away. Hand, net, or commercial gathering devices readily gather mole crabs along the surf on the retreating wave. By the way, the bubbles are actually escaping air, as the rising tidal surf is forcing the air out and not mole crabs.
  • A common cry is that there is so much bait around; the fish will never find MY bait. So is it bad to fish when there is lots of bait around. Answer is NO. Fish are where the bait is and NOT where the bait isn’t. You just need to make your bait more visible.  Just like us, fish are opportunistic feeders and will take the easy way out all the time. The injured, the slow the obvious.  Presentation and location are key. Work the edges of the bait schools, give it action of an injured fish, use artificials with flash and rattles and clangors that say; “here I am, eat me!”
  • We have often heard the axiom “match the hatch”.  But is this ALWAYS the best thing to do? Sure it makes sense and it’s the obvious starting point, but when things are slow, be a little crazy, take the road less traveled, sometimes it’s just the thing to turn on the fish.
  • The best fishing is on incoming tide. Anytime I am asked this kind of a question, i.e. what is the best… (you fill in the blank)… for fishing, may it be tide, time, lunar phases, wind, season, whatever, I always answer with the annoying response, “what are you fishing for and where are you fishing”? For example to answer the above tidal question I might say yes to the likes of fishing for flounder in the ocean surf or on the pier, I may nod affirmative for red drum fishing on ocean bars and shoals, or up in shallow water oysters beds, grass marshes and, a yea for the likes of spot and sea mullet in the surf. On the other hand, I prefer the outgoing tide while fishing inlets for the likes of flounder, blues speckled trout and Spanish. I also like to fish a falling tide for speckled trout in surf. A falling tide often will have a concentrating effect of schooling fish like trout. The potential locations where they can be found diminishes as the tide falls making the specks easier to find, that is fish the holes.  So always think what and where when asking such generic questions. It really matters.

How about some culinary fish food for thought, that is lore on what’s edible and what’s not.

  • Contrary to common lore, the pinfish is edible but rarely reaches sufficient size to warrant keeping unless it is cooked whole, if cooked fresh the fish is indeed acceptably palatable. I can personally attest to this. And don’t forget other culinary forgotten edibles, dogfish, sea robins, skates and rays. Garbage fish to some, excellent table fare to others.
  • Many tunas are outstanding table fare, but how about the false albacore?  As a game fish they are great and I, release most, but sometimes when they do not survive their frenzied run to freedom, I will keep and eat them. I know that you’ve heard that they make terrible table fare, and if you don’t fillet them right their dark, bloody can be almost inedible.  However, properly filleted and “loined” into four nice loin strips they make great sashimi when dipped in some nose clearing wasabi-soy mixture make an excellent raw tuna treat.  I have also blackened the loins as one might blacken redfish, or boiled the meat for a enjoyable tuna salad. They are as good as it gets.
  • How about those abundant bluefish?  As fun as they are to catch, many people don’t like the bluefish on the plate, but frankly, it’s mostly from fish abuse. Fresh bluefish are a delight and I have many appetizing recipes. If you have the chance to land a few, here is a quick and tasty recipe. Place bluefish fillets on a lightly buttered aluminum sheet on your broiler pan. Prepare a thick paste of mayonnaise, horseradish lemon juice and a dash of Worcestershire sauce and spread it over each fillet. Garnish with slices of onion, sprinkle some freshly ground pepper over the fillets and bake at 400-degrees until the paste is has a bubbly brown crust and the fish is moist and flaky. Yum! The key here is FRESH fish. Blues that have sat on pier, boat deck or beach, getting sunburn and that by the end of the day resemble fish jerky are indeed truly inedible. Keeping them on ice and removing the dark strip of meat at the center-line of the fillet does the trick. Many bleed them as well. Personally I find bleeding is not necessary for 1-3 pound fish, so I only do bleed the big ones. Finally, although speckled trout, flounder, spot or drum survive the freezer well, blues do not and are best eaten FRESH.
  • Now blowfish is another story. Talk about names, that like Rodney Dangerfield, get no respect, they go by such unappetizing monikers as blow toads, swell fish, and puffers, but the notion that these delectable critters also known as sea squab or chicken of the sea are poisonous is wrong. Sure, their kissing oriental cousins have a history of death and destruction for those who dare this culinary “rush. Puffers are of the family Tetradontidae includes many species that are notably toxic, but NOT our NORTHERN PUFFER. Japanese torafugu is one of the culprits. The toxicity of these fish is largely influenced by their reproductive cycle. Prior to and during their spawning season they are most poisonous.  Many researchers believe that toxic algae may be a component in the production of deadly tetradotoxin.  The skin, liver, ovaries, and intestines are generally the most toxic parts of the puffer.  The musculature at times may be poisonous. The poison acts mainly on the nerve centers of the victim as a sodium channel blocker.  Death is the result of suffocation and cardiac paralysis.  Cooking the fish can’t destroy the toxin and there is no known antidote for puffer poisoning. Our northern puffer variety of these inflatable fish actually do taste and look remarkably like chicken and are nicely and safely prepared by gently sautéing them in lemon butter. Yum!

I know that there are many, many, many more fishing myths, misconceptions and even some out-right lies out there, but enough debunking for today. Knowledge is power and veritable information on fish habits, habitats and habituations will help you catch and enjoy more fish.

2 Responses to “Myths, Misnomers and Outright Lies”

  1. Ron Ehren

    Good info on myths, my question is, will the wiskers of a catfish sting you? ever since I was 8 years old I was told that my big brothers so I never touched one to fine out, is it true or a myth?

    • Doc

      Whiskers are for “tasting” and finding food, not to sting, but be careful of the sharp spines by their pectoral fins. Glad you liked the article Ron.


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