So a Filipino guy, a Japanese guy, and two Chinese guys walk onto a fishing boat…
The Japanese guy takes a deep breath of fresh sea air and says, “Looks like a good day for fishin’! Hopefully we can pull something up I can sashimi.”
The Chinese guys nod, look out onto the horizon and say, “Or maybe we can steam our catch.”
The Filipino guy snorts, looks around and asks, “This boat come with a deep fryer?” (Hey-ohhhhh! Insert rimshot, groans, and forced laughter here.)
And so it was this past weekend, when I joined my buddy Marc and some friends on a two-day fishing odyssey on Bodega Bay in Northern California (and no, I didn’t really ask for a deep-fryer).
Prior to this outing, I had only gone fishing twice. The first time was back in college, when the afforementioned Marc and I hopped on a half-day vessel and fished out of Santa Barbara. Marc, a life-long fisherman, caught the majority of the fish that day. I, on the other hand, caught nothing but a case of the sea-shakes and puked my guts out overboard. Despite spending most of that trip lying on my back, or hunched over the side of the ship, I had a blast. Seriously.
Many years later in San Diego, I found myself on a fishing boat for the second time in my life. I actually reeled in quite a few fish that day, but it came after a late night of carousing and only 2 hours of sleep (it was for another buddy’s bachelor party), so much of that excursion is a blur to me. Strangely though, I didn’t get sea sick on that trip.
So when Marc recently invited me out on his personal boat for a couple of days fishing the Boogie-Down Bodega Bay, I knew I couldn’t say no. And besides, I made sure that this time around I’d have plenty of rest, minimal cocktails, and prescription-strength dramamine to keep my wits about me and to keep my insides on the inside.
Despite a crew that could deftly sashimi, steam, or deep-fry (ahem) anything pulled from the depths, our first day out at sea was somewhat uneventful. High winds and big swells kept us from escaping into the outer bay, but we did manage to putter around closer to shore.
I reeled in the first fish of the day–a small scorpionfish:
Not a keeper
Although I was ecstatic to reel something in, my more experienced shipmates advised me to throw the scorpionfish back into the waters–not because it was too small, but because scorpionfish aren’t good eats (at least not the ones in NorCal waters, they told me). So I unhooked the fish and let the little guy go. This would be a recurring theme for the rest of that first day–because the winds didn’t let up, we only found the undesirables at the end of our lines after each bite.
But not all was lost on our first day on the Boogie-Down Bodega Bay. Since we weren’t hauling in any fish, we decided to park the boat, and drive the truck up the coast a ways to find a spot to dive for other sea creatures. Yes, dive.
Because I can only hold my breath for maybe a 5-Mississippi, I dared not attempt to see if my doggie-paddling skills could translate to diving for sea creatures. Luckily, Marc and his friends were very experienced divers, and were armed with snorkels, wetsuits, spearguns, and big-ass flippers.
While my wet-suited companions risked life and limb diving for tasty mollusks within the frigid and rocky depths, I took in the scenery on shore. After a couple of hours of diving, my companions finally made it back to shore with a boogie-board full of goodies.
That’s right folks. Red Abalone. Not a bad haul for a day without catching any fish. Not a bad day at all. That night, we feasted on a surf-and-turf meal of grilled rib-eye and abalone sashimi (something for which I would pay a princely sum at a high-end sushi joint). I’ll have a separate post about the Red Abalone soon, but trust me, it was the freshest and most delectable thing I’ve eaten from the sea.
For day two of this fishing excursion, I woke up and looked out of the window of our rented house to see the bay below socked in with fog. Fog is a good thing, I was told. If there’s fog in the bay, that means there’s no wind, and if there’s no wind, we could take the boat out further to sea. Score!
Our first stop of the day wasn’t to cast our lines, but it was to pick up some crab pots that Marc had left behind earlier in the week. Yes, crab pots. We were hoping that there would be some dungeness crabs that made their way into Marc’s traps, and sure enough, when we pulled the pots up we had some lovely crustaceans on our hands.
Dungees in the cooler
After pulling up four crab traps, we ended up with 8 dungeness crabs, 4 rock crabs, and a stowaway starfish or two (we threw those back in). It was barely 9am in the morning, and I was already looking forward to a dinner of steamed crabs.
After hauling up our crabs, we finally got to some fishing. And the biting was fast and furious. Again, I pulled in the first fish of the day (beginner’s luck), and this time it was a keeper.
Not a stunt fish
I believe I pulled in a black rockcod first that day, but there was a steady stream of everything from black and yellows, ling cods, and grass rockfish (I have no idea what any of those are, btw).
We also managed to fit more diving into our schedule. Except this time, the diving took place directly off of the boat rather than from shore.
Freshly harvested abalone
At the end of the day, we caught a total of 28 fish–eight of which I personally reeled in (yes, I was keeping track).
We eat fish
That night, we ate like kings. Or like Neptune. Or like that old dude in The Little Mermaid–assuming he ate fish (I never saw that movie).
OK, so we ate a lot of seafood that night.
Rice, seafood, wine
Chinese-style steamed fish
It’s hard to say which sea creature I enjoyed devouring the most. The steamed dungeness crabs were incredible (I much prefer dungees over blue crab). The fish we steamed were great too–one was steamed with scallions and ginger, and the other was steamed with chopped scallions, ginger, and preserved turnip and then drizzled with hot peanut oil (gotdang!). But I must say that the fresh abalone was my favorite–probably because it’s so rare that I have abalone, let alone abalone that’s only been out of the water for mere hours.
Since we caught so much fish, and picked quite a few abalone, I was able to vacuum pack some fish and abalone, freeze them, and then fly them home with me. I’ve since had some rock fish sinigang, as well as some abalone lightly dressed in kalamansi.
Next Post: Abalone Kinilaw
In my next post, I’ll delve deeper into Red Abalone, how to shuck and clean it, and how to give it a very basic kinilaw treatment. Stay tuned for Abalone Kinilaw!