Rough fish deserve softer treatment

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D.S. Pledger
Saturday, April 19, 2014

It’s rough to be a rough fish.

They get no respect from anyone, especially anglers, who would rather catch “glamour fish” such as bass or walleyes.

Still, there are people who feel that carp, suckers and their kin do, indeed, have their place in the fish community. Sure, we all know that rough fish stir up the bottom and destroy game fish eggs, but they also have their good points.

If sportsmen understood them better they might grow to accept them.

The name “rough” takes in quite a number of different scaly species. At last count there were about 30 of them, including several versions each of buffalo, carpsuckers, redhorse, sheepshead, bowfin, mooneye, eelpout and suckers.

It might just be easier to say that unless it’s a member of the pike, perch, bass, trout or panfish family, it’s probably a rough fish.

Considering how common and numerous these outcasts are and how our fishing resources are reportedly dwindling, it’s a shame that they aren’t utilized better.

One thing that would help is to debunk the misconception that rough fish aren’t fit to eat. No, they don’t have the table qualities of walleye, but when properly caught and prepared, they can provide decent dining.

During the spring when spawning takes place, just about any rough fish will have firm flesh and good flavor. It’s only when the water warms and stagnates that they lose their texture (which is true of most other fish).

I can attest to that personally. A number of years ago when County Line Road in Milton Township was flooded, I harvested a number of carp with my bow.

I cleaned them immediately, put them on ice, and within an hour or two, ground some of them into patties. They were breaded and fried in an iron skillet with hot oil. The results were excellent.

This method of cooking also takes care of a major gripe about carp—that their bones are too hard to get out. After a trip through the grinder and the fry pan, those small bones seem to disappear. I also tried frying a few fillets but liked the patties a lot better.

 Redhorse and suckers are prime candidates for pickling, as a lot of folks—especially in the northern part of the state—will attest to. Carp and buffalo are traditionally smoked.

When I was going to school in New York, I often saw delis advertising “Rock River Salmon,” which were nothing more than smoked carp, but priced as if they were a delicacy.

Besides being a food source, rough fish are a top-ranked sport fish in some parts of the world. Carp and their cousins are among the most powerful swimming freshwater species, and will match any bass in their ability to fight.

The English have been catching carp for sport for many years and even go so far as to have large specimens mounted. Tournaments are sometimes held to see who can outwit—carp are among the most wary species—the largest fish, and flyrods are often used, making landing a “hog” a real angling feat.

Here in America, though, most people pursue these fish with a bow rather than a rod. Carp fishing is usually done in the spring as soon as the water gets warm enough for them to head into the shallows to spawn. Slogging through the muck in waders trying to line up a shot around the cattails and brush without disturbing these wary fish isn’t easy. Allowing for the refraction the water causes on the sightline to your target makes shooting one even more challenging.

In spite of their bad image, rough fish have a lot to offer. A big part of their problem is that, as they say, familiarity breeds contempt.

If they were as hard to find as a musky and as finicky as a trout, I’m sure that they’d be a lot more popular.

D.S. Pledger is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at maus16@centurytel.net

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