By: Andrew Pelletier
Opening day of trout season, a long awaited event after a long winter. While much of the Farmington River is now open year-round to fishing from the base or the Goodwin Dam in West Hartland to the riffles of Unionville, it is strictly a catch and release designation. Those of us who wish to take some trout home for supper have to wait until the 3rd Saturday of the month, this year on April 21st. Pair trout fishing with spring turkey hunting, which begins on the 25th of this month, and you’re sure to have a month of great sporting action and, with luck, some excellent eating!
I’ve heard it time and again – “I’ve never liked trout. They’re too bony and muddy tasting.” I’ll offer up some pointers on how to care for your catch from the minute it’s unhooked to the kitchen table. Trout is delectable and sweet and if you take the steps necessary, you will never think of trout as muddy ever again. We’ll look at what’s in season for April and tell you about how you can register to win cash prizes in the 6th Annual New Hartford Fishing Derby coming up in May, which is a full week in duration this year. As I stated, spring is not only for trout fishing. Spring offers the chance to harvest an Eastern gobbler, or two, if you’re prepared. Check out this month’s spring turkey hunting primer for some tips to be ready for opening day and your chance to call in that tom of a lifetime. I’ll also show you how to make your own tasty, smoked trout fillets for use in a variety of ways, all of which will have your family and guests asking you when you’ll be smoking up your next batch. The lawn and spring cleaning can wait, for now, enjoy the April Special Edition of the CT Sportsman’s Journal.
From Net To Kitchen: Tips For Tasty Trout
A friend of mine opines that trout is awful, but he keeps them for family and friends who want them. He claims that “they’re muddy and full of bones.” Frankly, I don’t know why anyone would want to eat trout that have struggled and died on a stringer, then were stowed in a car trunk or pickup bed for the ride back home. What a sad end for such noble fish. Mottled, dried-out and decomposing from the inside out; most likely, the cause of my friend’s aversion to eating them. Trout is a true delicacy, but only if they’re handled properly immediately after they are landed.
If you see me on the river with fly rod in hand, it’s a safe bet that I’m fishing for sport and releasing whatever takes the fly. However, when I go trout fishing with the intention of taking some home for the table, I have with me a few essentials that will ensure the trout reach my kitchen in peak condition and freshness. First, a small cooler with a bag of ice is most important. A trout “priest,” which I will explain, and a filet knife, are worn on my belt (Fig. 1).
Immediately after I land a trout, I dispatch it with, what I call, a trout “priest” which some may also call a “fish billy.” I fashioned mine from an old drumstick with a clip on one end so I can attach it to my belt loop. A sharp rap on the noggin above the eyes is all it takes. Cruel as it may seem, I pose the question of what is crueler? To quickly dispatch the trout with a rap to the head or a slow, drawn out death, struggling at the end of a stringer? Using the filet knife, I dress the trout and remove the gills. The viscera and gills go into the bag that the ice came in and is put in the cooler to be added to the garden when I get home. I run the knife down along the backbone and remove the blood line and rinse the trout thoroughly.
The dressed trout is then put on ice in the cooler with minimal chance of decomposition. Trout handled in this fashion are the finest eating and smell as fresh and clean as the cold, clear water they came from. If I’m fishing from a canoe or boat, I’ll wait until I get back to shore to dress the trout. The most important thing is to get them on ice immediately to slow down the decomposition process.
When I get the trout home, I rinse them off and pat them dry with paper towels. The trout can be cooked a number of ways dressed as they are, but there are numerous bones to contend with. (Fig. 2). Usually I “butterfly” the fillets, which virtually eliminates all the bones.
To butterfly a trout, remove the heads and set them aside if you’d like to make fish stock. Start by separating the ribs from the backbone, then run the knife along the backbone in a straight line to the top of the trout’s back and cut towards the head, being careful not to cut through the skin (Fig. 3).
Turn the knife and run the blade down along the backbone toward the tail. Stay to the outside of the bones of the anal fin and cut through the skin on the bottom towards the tail, still avoiding cutting through the skin at the top, until you reach the tail end. Repeat on the opposite side (Fig. 4).
Using kitchen shears, cut the bones of the dorsal fin, then remove the backbone with tail attached and retain for the stock pot (Fig. 5).
Remove the ribs from each side of the fillets by running the knife as close as possible between the ribs and the filet. Repeat on the opposite filet (Fig. 6 below).
Trout also have small bones that run along the lateral line to roughly mid-filet, which you can feel with your finger tips. Run your knife down along one side of these bones to the point where they stop, being careful not to cut through the skin. Then cut on the opposite side of the bones and remove the thin strip of filet and bones. Repeat on the opposite filet and save these for the stock pot, too (Fig. 7 below).
Now what you have are butterflied trout fillets (Fig. 8 below), flayed open and boneless. From here it’s up to you… smoked, baked or pan seared. Whichever cooking method you choose, you can be sure it is going to be delicious because you took the proper steps to ensure that the trout you caught will be as fresh as can be. A difference that you and yours will, no doubt, notice at your next supper of spring trout. Check out how to smoke your butterflied fillets in this edition’s, “CT Sportsman’s Wild Game Cookery” (below).
What’s In Season For April?
OPENING DAY TROUT SEASON BEGINS APRIL 21st
For current Fishing Regulations, Creel Limits, Size Limits, Special Restrictions and other important information regarding the areas you fish – GO TO: 2012 CT Freshwater Fishing Guide
For current Hunting Regulations, Licensing, Tagging & Reporting, Permits, Bag Limits, Hunting Areas and Special Conditions – GO TO: 2012 CT Hunting/Trapping Guide
TURKEY SEASON BEGINS APRIL 25th AND ENDS ON MAY 26th
State Land – bag limit is 2 bearded birds
Private Land and Landowner – bag limit is 3 bearded birds
A current firearms hunting license or a Small Game and Deer Archery Permit is required to apply for spring turkey permits. If you obtain a Landowner Spring Turkey Permit, you are not eligible to purchase a Private Land Spring Turkey Permit.
Coyote hunting ends on April 24th and resumes on May 28th
Woodchuck hunting ends on April 24th and resumes on May 28th
Know and completely understand all hunting regulations BEFORE you head out!!!! Questions? Go to www.ct.gov/dep/hunting
LOCAL HUNTING AREAS
(Maps for most of these areas can be found at www.ct.gov/dep/hunting)
- People’s State Forest – Barkhamsted (2942 acres)
- American Legion State Forest – Barkhamsted (1037 acres)
- Nepaug State Forest – New Hartford (1367 acres)
- Tunxis State Forest – Hartland (9518 acres)
Wildlife Management Areas:
- Cedar Swamp WMA – New Hartford/Torrington (278 acres)
- Roraback WMA – Harwinton (1975 acres)
- State Leased and Public Access Areas
- MDC – Greenwoods Pond – New Hartford (400 acres)
- MDC -Colebrook Reservoir/ Hogback Dam – Colebrook/Hartland, etc. (4159 acres)
Register To Win Cash Prizes In The 6th Annual New Hartford Fishing Derby
It’s that time of year again, folks! This year’s New Hartford Fishing Derby is now a full week in duration and starts next month on May 19th and runs to the 25th. This year there will be a daily CASH prize of $100 each day of the derby for the biggest fish weighed in! Also, Whoever holds the bragging rights for the biggest fish for the entire derby week will win $300! The GRAND PRIZE of $5,000 goes to the fortunate angler who can land the derby’s special tagged fish!
The registration is free, excluding a $10 entry fee that puts you in the running for the $5,000 award for catching the tagged fish. All participants must be pre-registered to win any prizes and all fish must be weighed in at Upcountry Sportfishing on Route 44 in New Hartford before 6 p.m.
In a phone interview with the Chairman of the Economic Development Commission of New Hartford, Mr. David Childs stated, “We’re hoping that extending the derby to a week-long event will generate more interest this year and see fishermen returning to the area for more than just one day, which may also encourage fishermen to visit restaurants and shops in New Hartford.” Mr. Childs also said that local businesses will offer “derby discounts,” such as reduced rates for lodging and dining. According to Mr. Childs, the $5000 trout will be purchased at Harding’s Trout Farm in Bethlehem, CT and will be tagged in their tanks. It will then be released in an undisclosed section of the Farmington River within the town’s borders. When asked for further comment, Mr. Childs enthusiastically replied, “Come out and FISH!”
Head on over and see Grady Allen and the gang over at Upcountry Sportfishing at 352 Main Street on Route 44, in the Pine Meadow section of New Hartford and get registered to win BIG and have a lot of fun to boot! Derby Sponsors this year include: Northwest Community Bank, the Farmington River Anglers Association, Torrington Savings Bank and Hurley Manufacturing Company.
For more information about the fishing derby, please call: 860-379-1952.
Let’s Talk Turkey…
Mark April 25th down on your calendars, turkey hunters. That Wednesday is the opening day of the spring turkey season here in Connecticut. I hope some of you are able to get some time off from work to enjoy a morning or two afield. Nothing is more satisfying than walking out of the woods with a fine Eastern gobbler slung over your shoulder on a pristine, spring morning. Thoughts of a Sunday dinner of roasted wild turkey and all the fixings come to mind. It all came together like clockwork: You did your homework, formulated a plan and the birds cooperated. The keyword is plan. Here are some tips to formulate your game plan this year.
Make sure your shotgun is patterned and is putting the maximum amount of shot in the kill zone. Go to the range and set a life-sized turkey target out at no more than 40 yards and try a variety of loads until you find the one that consistently puts the most pellets in that small head and neck area. Resist taking shots much farther out than 40 yards for a quick, humane kill. Turkeys are tough and the farther out the target is, the more spread out the shot will be, often resulting in an injured bird that flies away. If you’re using a decoy, place it ½ to ? the distance away from your blind to the maximum shooting range you’re comfortable with.
Scout your area well and look for an area with ample cover. I like to have my back to a stonewall or a tree that is twice the width of my silhouette. Sparingly remove any branches that may obstruct movement of your shotgun, but leave some to ensure concealment. Rake away leaves that may make noise if you have to slightly shift your position. Make a plan for gobblers that come from the left, right and even behind your position and run through each scenario in your mind so you’ll be prepared. Make sure you’re completely camouflaged from head to toe and keep your movements down to a minimum. Remember, turkey’s eyes are bigger than their brains and they’ll pick out the slightest movement you make. You need to have your gun up and at the ready at any time, even when you don’t hear a gobbler closing the distance.
Not so much the case with those lucky enough to have private land permission or who own land, but always have a plan B ready in case someone arrived earlier than you did at your pet spot. Sometimes you can use the other’s calling to your advantage and setup on an intercept lane where you know the birds travel as they approach a field. Always have at least a couple of alternate sites in mind, especially when hunting public land and always call out your position when you encounter another hunter afield… it may save your life.
Practice your calling… purrs, clucks and yelps. You need to sound convincing to that lovelorn tom. Don’t over do it either. Start off with soft, fly-down calls at first light, then sit back and listen. Give a few minutes in between each set of calls. If you get a response, call back and wait and listen to see how hot the bird is. Sometimes they come running in and other times they’ll hold back. Sometimes completely hanging up on a bird that is being shy will pique his curiosity and he will start to search and then gobble when he sees your decoy. Always have a broad vocabulary and try a variety of calls. If you only know how to yelp, you’re only saying one thing to that bird when he wants to hear something he likes.
Have all your equipment ready. The night before the hunt, I like to boil a small pan of water and soak my mouth calls for about 15 minutes to kill any bacteria on them. I’ll watch the Weather Channel and choose camo and undergarments that will suit the forecast. Then I go through the list: shotgun, calls, shells, wool socks, decoy, gloves, small knife, head net, hat, boots, air seat, bug spray. I’ll pack the small items in my coat, lay out my clothes on the chest at the foot of the bed and stow my shotgun, decoy and air seat in the car. With everything ready, I can finally hit the hay. Opening day of turkey season always makes me feel like a kid on Christmas Eve. I finally drift asleep with visions of a big, mature tom in full strut, gobbling his heart out and making his way toward the decoy. When was the last time you were psyched for waking up at 4:30 in the morning?
CT Sportsman’s Wild Game Cookery
So, you’ve got a limit of butterflied trout in the fridge and you want to try something different? Why not try smoking some this year? Long before the age of modern niceties we all take for granted, smoking was a method used to preserve fish and meat by removing moisture and by permeation of smoke, which inhibits bacterial growth.
Today, smoking can be done in a store-bought smoker or on a charcoal or gas grill. It’s not so much for the preservation of food, however: My smoked trout rarely last more than a couple of days in the old ice box before it’s time to get another batch going! It’s more about that combination of rich, sweet, smoke flavor that melds with the delicate taste of the trout and the herbs and seasonings you choose to go with it. I have a Little Chief Smoker that’s stood the test of time, but you can get the same results by adding a foil packet of damp maple, alder or cherry wood chips with holes poked in it and laying it on the coals or heating elements of a charcoal or gas grill.
Experiment! Go wild! Use different spices, woods and types of fish. You can even find great ideas online and get as crazy as you dare. To get you started, I’ll just give a simple, basic brine which chemically changes the fish before smoking.
- 1 quart water
- ½ cup non-iodized salt
- ½ cup brown sugar or maple syrup
Heat water in a pot to get it warm, add salt and brown sugar (or maple syrup) and thoroughly dissolve. Let the liquid cool completely (to room temperature), then transfer to a glass or plastic container. Put the brine in the fridge to chill, then put the butterflied trout fillets in the brine. Cover and return to the fridge for at least 4 hours.
After the brining period, remove the trout fillets and give them a rinse under cold, running water, then pat dry each fillet with paper towels. Put the trout fillets on a rack and allow them to air dry for an hour. The fish will take on a shiny, sticky character or “pellicle”, a direct result of the brining process. This is what all that nice smoke flavor is going to adhere to. At this point you can flavor the fillets with anything you’d like: garlic or onion powder, dill, parsley, rosemary, thyme, basil, oregano, etc. I like using ginger, tarragon and cracked pepper. Never use salt – it has quite enough!
Since I am not concerned with preserving the trout for Doomsday, I like to simply get just enough smoke flavor (1 pan of wood chips) and enough cooking time so that the fish is cooked through and is still moist. In other words, I’m not out to make trout jerky, you see? I spray the racks for the smoker with Pam cooking spray, fill the smoker pan full of alder chips and set it on the heating element. I put the trout on the racks and into the smoker, then go do something else for a couple of hours while sweet wood smoke bellows from the vent holes. When I come back, I’ll check for a nice, golden-brown color and fish that flakes from the skin. You can get similar results on a gas or charcoal grill with the aforementioned technique using a foil pack and wood chips that have been soaked in water for an hour or two. Try to maintain the lowest heat that will generate smoke but not cook your fish too fast and keep the fish as far from the coals or flames as possible.
You can find some recipes in the archived editions of the Ct Sportsman’s Journal on NewHartfordPlus.com that utilize smoked trout.
Try smoking some trout or salmon for your family and friends this year and be prepared for all the deserved kudos!
Share Your Photos & Experiences With Us!
We encourage those who hunt, fish or observe wildlife to share their pictures and stories with us and other readers. Please send your photos with and stories to: email@example.com and we’ll be happy to post them in future editions of The CT Sportsman’s Journal. We wish all of you a safe and successful season!
[ Editor at work: Rest of Journal being added as Andrew "the sportsman" & Bob "the techie" fish on the lake and the guests are on their way to Great Barrington... 12:30 p.m., April 21]