The more my son and I (John) fish—and the more fishermen we meet—the more we’ve discovered that these rugged and weathered souls approach fish preparation with the same attentive detail as rigging their lines. And the results are delicious.
On a couple trips to sea with Fishing Headquarters, the leading sports fishing and group party-boat charter operator in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., we’ve had a chance to try just about every type of salt-water fish possible, attempting to hook a trophy, like a sailfish, or just fill up our ice chest full of snapper, porgies and grunts.
Unlike the Florida Keys, where the Gulf Stream and deep waters can be more than 3 miles off shore, we approached water depths of 200 feet less than a mile from the coast. True to most sports-fishing charters that take out groups of four to six, the only people to join us on our most recent trip were a father and son, both named George, from Long Island, N.Y.
“We do what we have to do to catch some fish,” says Captain Mike Semko, at the helm of our 48-foot-long v-hulled Ray Davis sports fishing boat.
At one point, Semko, who has been fishing for 42 years, stepped over to help my son reel in a blue runner that we’d use for bait.
“There are a lot of factors that determine where we’ll find fish,” he adds. “The current, wind, weather conditions, water temperature—even the moon phases.”
In addition to our captain positioning our boat at different depths and locations, our first mate, Alan Wessling, set out five lines on the outriggers as we trolled for dolphin fish (mahi mahi) and wahoo. Then we waited. Unlike bottom or drift fishing, the first mate does all the work—until it’s time to reel a catch in.
“This is wahoo fantasy fishing out here,” says Wessling, clearly someone who loves his job.
Unfortunately, the conditions weren’t just right during our day at sea. After about 40 minutes of trolling, we gave up and headed over to bottom fish 400 feet down. Success! There we snagged grey tilefish, a great tasting catch that you’ll never find at a store or on a restaurant menu.
After that bottom fishing, we dropped anchor on a wreck site to see if we could catch some snapper or porgies. The more experienced Georges did, including one sizeable porgie.
At the end of the trip, we even tossed out goggle eyes, fish used as live bait, which helped us catch one of the biggest barracuda we’d ever seen. We returned this toothy carnivore back to the water and called it a day.
Not content with our daytime catch, we decided to give night fishing a go. It’s a totally different experience, one where you’re just about guaranteed to catch some snappers or other fish fit for the dinner table. We climbed aboard Fishing Headquarters’ 85-foot Catch My Drift at 8:30 p.m. to do some serious bottom fishing.
After a quick refresher course by first mate Jimmy Weir, my son and I took up our coveted positions along the stern of the boat—coveted, because when the chum is tossed overboard to get the fish biting, the small pieces of fish tend to float toward the back of the boat where we were.
Dropping our weighted lines over the side after baiting our hooks with squid, we worked on perfecting our ability to feel the bite, set the hook with a swift pull up of the rod, then reel in our catch. My son proved far more adept than I. Together we netted enough fish for several meals.
In addition to cleaning our fish at the end of the night (around midnight), Weir was kind enough to share his savory fish recipe below. Combining steaming and poaching, cooking fish in an aluminum foil pouch is an easy and healthy way to enjoy your fresh catch. The foil-pouch method helps keep the fish moist and flavorful without the need for any cooking oils.
“I recommend a saltwater rinse before cooking the lemon-garlic fish in a pouch; otherwise, the tap water will pull out the salt and dry the fish out,” Weir says, as if he’s been to a fancy culinary school. The truth: He’s been working on the water since he was 12 and loving every bite of the fish he’s reeled in.
Recipe: Pouch-cooked Lemon Garlic Fish
Recipe courtesy Jimmy Weir, First Mate for Fishing Headquarters
Yield: 4 servings
- 4 8-ounce filets of fresh snapper or other mild white fish)
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- 4 T. butter
- 1 T. capers
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Rinse fresh fish filets in saltwater, and place each portion in its own aluminum-foil pouch. Divide garlic, lemon juice, butter and capers evenly among the pouches. Tightly seal each pouch by folding foil sides and pressing together.
Place pouches in oven for about 10 minutes. Remove and allow fish to continue cooking in pouches on counter for 10 more minutes. Fish is done when white and flaky. If using meat thermometer, cook to internal temperature of 145 degrees F.
Serve immediately, garnished with chives or paprika.