And not catching. So goes the old saying, a mantra oft repeated when bites are few and far between. I found myself thinking that a lot on Sunday, as I bobbed along the 48-degree waters of Stellwagen Bank, jigging for cod some 150-feet below.
While last year’s inaugural fishing trip netted an almost instant success, the fish were more elusive last weekend. There were some bites, but everything that got hauled up was tiny. Not a single cod made the size limit. By the sound of the talk on the radio, we weren’t the only ones faring poorly. There were plenty of fish being caught, but there weren’t many being kept.
Much has been written about New England cod stocks lately. In case you’ve missed it, commercial cod limits were cut by 22 percent this year and many warn that the East Coast fishing grounds are on the brink of collapse. Whole Foods is no longer selling Atlantic cod caught by trawlers. Last weekend, Let’s Talk About Food hosted a sustainable seafood teach-in in partnership with the Museum of Science and the New England Aquarium. I couldn’t help but wonder at the state of it all as my cooler sat empty.
It wasn’t my best day at sea, either. I slit my index finger on a hook during my first cast, slicing the skin from nail to knuckle and then proceeded to bleed all over the boat. Later, I took a face full of water when I snagged my jig on the swim platform and bent down to free it just as we went over a swell. I lost a few fish before I even got them to the boat because I failed to set the line properly. And I dropped a mackerel rig overboard, a newbie mistake that had me cursing at myself for a while.
And yet, in other ways, it was a miraculous day. I fished for the first time with lures I’d made myself. I saw no fewer than 10 whales gorging themselves on sand eels. At one point, a pod of twenty or so dolphins surrounded our fishing party, jumping out of the water in a feeding frenzy. There was homemade capicola, whimsical cupcakes, and a very good nap.
We also netted two mackerel. Few people I know will eat a mackerel. Most fishermen consider them a disappointing by-catch or bait, used to snag something bigger. But I happen to love them, and with all this talk about fishing sustainability, they are catching on. Last summer, I ate an $85 tasting menu at an upscale D.C. restaurant that included a sliver of mackerel crudo.
Much to the chagrin of my fellow fishermen, I filleted the two mackerel, and immediately set them to cure in a bag of vinegar on ice. Much to my chagrin, the experiment was a total and complete failure. The fish turned sour and mushy, just utterly fell apart. It went immediately to the trash out back, where I’m fairly certain the neighborhood raccoon turned his nose up at it.
So I don’t have a recipe for you, or any pretty pictures or a delicious meal. That’s why they call it fishing…