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My son Domenic loves to go fishing. Since I am not much of a fisherman, when the opportunity came to go fishing on the Rappahannock River with a family friend who is an expert fisherman, we couldn’t pass it up. Catfish were our quest.
Prior to heading out, I needed to buy a fishing license. I assumed there is one state fishing license. Wrong. When I went to the state website, I found dozens of choices for different species of fish, times oft he year, and types of water. After careful deliberation, I selected a freshwater permit for right-handed people of ltalian descent fishing on a Friday afternoon. I paid my $16.00, and I was legal.
On the way to the river, I stopped to buy night crawlers. The worms were in the refrigerator on the same shelf with the milk products. The store had only Canadian night crawlers. I wondered if I was paying more for imported worms. I expected Canadian worms to be very polite and let out only a little “Ehh” when impaled on the hook.
The Rappahannock was calm and our expert friend motored us to the perfect spot for catfish -along the river bank just under trees that overhang the water. No sooner had the worms gone airborne then we had a bite. I am completely inept at fishing, but once that bobber went underwater, I imagined myself as Jacques Cousteau pulling in an 800-pound marlin. So what if it’s just a two-pound catfish, I was experiencing the thrill of the hunt.
We caught eight catfish before the sky threatened a summer storm. Catfish live out of water longer than most fish, so when it was time to clean them, they were quite alive. Our expert fisherman employed a very humane method to send them to catfish heaven.
After this, the fish were filleted. We had 16 beautiful catfish fillets, and so nothing was wasted, the fish carcasses were placed in the woods to feed the raccoons.
A few days later I doused the fish in House Autry breading and put oil in the frying pan. Never having fried fish before, it seemed logical to me to put the stovetop at its highest setting. I let the oil get good and hot. I took two fillets and plopped them into the frying pan. As the fish landed, oil shot up and landed on my arm. I had small second-degree burns. I remembered as a child when I grabbed a handful of lit sparklers and burned my hand. My parents gave me a stick of butter to heal the burn. Today, we know it’s better to cool a burn with water than to use butter to saute our flesh.
Once in that hot oil, the fish immediately turned black and smoke filled the kitchen. I removed the pan from the stove, but the oil was too hot.It just wouldn’t stop cooking. As the smoke filled other rooms of the house, it was like the fish were getting back me. We opened every window in the house and turned on every fan. The house smelled like charred fish for days.
I started with a new frying pan and heated the oil to a medium heat. The remaining fillets cooked to a golden brown delicious. I sampled the cooking with a guilty heart. My burnt arm ached. Before this experience, I never considered fried catfish a guilty pleasure.
Eight catfish and numerous Canadian worms were expended for this quest. I love meat and fish, but I haven’t had to spend a lot of time figuring out how they go from live animal to my dinner plate.
Like the fisherman who brings seafood from the river to our dinner table, the great effort and care in performing our work of public service is often invisible. Fishing for a good community is hard work.
My arm still hurts today. The catfish have the last laugh. Thanks for all you do.
Submitted by Anthony Romanello.