Saltwater Catfish - Good to Eat?

It's been a fun couple of days. It was Mike's Birthday so I baked him some cupcakes.

And bought him a good bottle of whiskey.

Also we decided to go rent a boat again like we did when Chris and Stephanie were here at Thanksgiving. Our saltwater licenses were still valid so we really wanted to do some more fishing.

Last time we used live shrimp for bait and managed to not catch one keeper. This time we really didn't know what kind of fish we were gunning for so I looked up some homemade fish bait recipes on the internet. Lots of them for catfish dough balls but I had read some folks use them for saltwater fishing, too. What the heck, let's see what we can catch.

I found a pretty good deal on a 19' Carolina Skiff from Marina Mike's just off Fort Myers Beach. It's a smaller boat and  it's meant for much shallower waters. Not a problem for us, we didn't plan on going out too far. We were just looking to do some light fishing and some sun and sand.

As we're loading the boat the first thing we see is a dolphin swim right by us at the dock. I didn't have my camera ready at the time but here's a nice view shot as we headed out.

Look at Mike, he's hooked a big one! 
Okay, really he was just hamming it up. We had close to zero luck. We had chicken livers and experimental dough bait. You'd think we were heading out to Beaver Lake to some do some serious catfishing. 

We had stopped at several likely spots and threw our lines out. We couldn't get any bites on the livers and the dough wouldn't stay very well on the hook. We tried throwing some lures and I finally hooked this needle fish with a little dark minnow looking thing. 

It was hot and it was time to play in the water. We found a huge area of about 2 foot water covered in the softest sand ever and decided to walk around and do some shelling to cool off.

Here's the skiff.

We had about 2 hours left on the rental and decided to try fishing one more time. We found this mangrove canal within 5 minutes of the marina where we had originally started from.

We anchored up in a small cove-let and Mike threw out a big fat liver hook into the canal where the water was moving pretty fast with the tide. Before we could even get set up, bam, Mike's pole is bent over and mine's flopping around, too. We landed this catfish with one giant tangle and he had swallowed the hook. I guess we'll keep this one.

 Actually the action was quite fast and Mike was doing most of the catching. I managed to pull up this Blue Crab. He wasn't hooked but he had a death grip on that liver and was munching away. I suppose we could have kept him, I didn't know for sure, but we let him go. He's too pretty to eat.

We had a blast. Mike caught the most and the biggest. And the entire time we were there this Osprey sat up in a tree and watched the whole thing.

My Mikey...

Beautiful View....

Time for a selfie...

Here's the catch. Seven hardheads. When we got back to the dock, we learned that most folks don't eat the hardhead catfish, they are no good but that some people do eat the gafftopsail catfish.


There was a kid there fishing and he had just hooked a gafftop. When he heard that yes, we were going to eat the hardheads, he gave us his gafftop (the one in the middle here) in exchange for one of the hardhead tails for bait. 
As soon as I got home I read up on these catfish and what they had told us was the actual consensus from most folks, with just a few saying otherwise. What the heck. We'll give it a try anyway.

Our good friend Leo from Arkansas had popped in to visit just the night before. And it was a good thing, too
because I didn't have a good fillet knife, besides I have a tendency to absolutely maul a fish when I try to fillet it. He has done LOTS of fishing and said that he, too, always threw back the saltwater catfish. But he got right to it and we had a bowl full of catfish in no time.

Leo did say that he was a bit worried about the red parts, maybe not being good. You can see the gafftop are the two lighter colored fillets. I covered them in water, sea salted the hell out of them, and left them in the fridge overnight.

Meanwhile we had some fun in the pond.

I've been wanting to get a jon boat but this was loads of fun.

Mike and Leo just hanging out on the dock.

So here are the fish all cooked and ready to eat. I used good old fashioned yellow corn meal, a  bit of flour, salt, pepper and, at Leo's request, lots of garlic powder. Mike fried them up for us. The meat was light and flakey with absolutely no fishy smell. It was some of the best fish I've had in a long time.

So, folks I'm here to tell you. Don't throw back those saltwater catfish, not even the hardheads. They are delicious.

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