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Starting Small

Back home in Delaware, the first week in April has always been the start of trout season.  When we were young, my Uncle Jack used to take my cousin John and I out for opening day each year.  We’d hit White Clay Creek, Delaware’s Mecca for trout fishing, where the anglers would line up that weekend, literally elbow to elbow, along the more accessible sections of the stream bank.  It was not only always crowded there but the veterans not interested in having kids next to them, getting in their way.  My cousin and I though, being spry little kids, would sometimes crawl, climb, and hop, to reach fishing spots that offered us a bit more breathing room.  I have a particularly fond memories of the year we crawled across the spindly branches of a small, fallen tree that was far to flimsy to support any of the “more seasoned” anglers, to reach a small gravely island in the middle of the stream.  While fishermen were crowded along the banks not 20 feet to either side of us, tangling lines and catching nothing, they got to watch us with our own little piece of real estate that was not only otherwise unpopulated, but put us in the perfect spot to fish an eddy that was producing well for us.  We were hauling in fish after fish in front of an audience of frustrated anglers.  Each trout we caught was a middle finger we got to raise at all those guys who told us there was no room for us to fish near them.  It was one of those priceless moments in a young lad’s fishing career that he would always cherish. 

Sometimes, you just need to get a line in the water.

When the first week of April arrived this year, I felt the urge to share some distant camaraderie with friends back East and do a little trout fishing out here.  …. Alright, to be perfectly honest, sometimes you just need to get a line in the water.  My boat wasn’t out of winter storage yet, we were having the first warm sunny weekend of the year and I had “the itch”.

Washington State has some wonderful trout fishing locations, but as I mentioned, I’m currently boatless and I was also somewhat limited by available time.  However, I had just read on the WDFW trout stocking page that Green Lake, right here within the Seattle city limits, was just been stocked with over 6000 catchable trout.  A lake barely ten minutes from home, freshly loaded with trout; how sweet is that?

Trout fishing throughout my life has mostly been about using spinners.  I briefly tried fly fishing back in my teen years with, shall we say, limited success.  That’s a story for another time though.  Someday I would like to try to relearn fly fishing, but that will have to wait for now.

I’ve tried casting spinners for local lake trout a couple times, but I’ve only been able to entice bass to bite on those.  Bass are a lot of fun to catch, but they weren’t what I was after that day.

Once again it seemed I was encountering one of those instances where things that worked for me on the East coast, failed to produce results out here.

When you don’t know what the fish are biting on, there are a few ways to get the advice you need.  One way is to ask the experts at a local tackle shop.  So this fishing boat owning, salt water angler needed help catching little lake trout at the local city park. No problem, I just marched straight to my usual outdoor store, walked right up to the fishing counter, looked the guy right in the eye and …. made up a bullshit story about a friend’s 12 year old kid he’s taking fishing for the first time.
That’s right, when I asked this sales guy who had seen me buy tons of gear for salmon trolling and halibut fishing, about catching local trout, he assumed I was going to be trolling one of the big lakes for cutthroat or kokanee trout and started talking about hoochie lures and herring dodgers.  Rather than just tell him that I was simply planning to go to local park with a folding chair and toss a line in the water to fish for 10 inch hatchery trout, as if there were anything wrong with that, my ego grabbed control of my mouth and made up this spiel about taking my girlfriend’s 12 year old son (which she does not have) out fishing for the first time.

I am such an enormous douche sometimes.  Oh well, as they say, pride goeth before the fish.
At least I laughed pretty hard at myself afterwards.  That makes it a little a little better, doesn’t it?  No? ….. shit

I did get the information I needed though.  It seems Berkley PowerBait Power Eggs are the common bait on these little hatchery trout.  They are simply spongy little fish egg sized foam balls, with some color and flavor the fish seem to like.  The set up is simple, a 1/4 ounce sliding egg sinker above a swivel, about 18 inches of leader and a #8 hook with two of the power eggs on it.

I’m not certain if using two power eggs makes a better presentation for the fish or not, but it seems you need two for it to be buoyant enough with the weight of the hook, for the bait to float up off the bottom.

 

 

I took my jar of the green power eggs down to Green Lake with my chair, and was using them for about an hour with no luck.  Meanwhile, a very friendly guy with a thick Greek accent named Pete was fishing near me with almost exactly the same setup and he had caught two and gotten a few other bites in that time.  The only difference between what we were doing, was that he had one green egg and one orange egg on his hook, while I was using two green ones.    I know … right?

Well, Pete being a good guy, hooked me up with a few orange eggs and I set my rig up with Miami Hurricane’s colors.  Sure enough, about ten minutes later….

The two tone effect seemed to be the magic bullet.  I ended pulling in 6 over the next 90 minutes or so, although I sent 3 of them swimming because they were pretty small.  The other 3 though, while certainly not large, looked skillet sized to me.

Fishermen are, by and large, friendly people.

As an aside, this is a good reason to get out of the boat every once in a while and shore fish in a public place.  Fishermen are, by and large, friendly people.  Over the course of a few trips to the lake I got to meet and chat with a number of people like Pete.  Some who had been fishing for years, others were teens of both genders, who were quick to ask for advice and to hear about how to expand their pastime from the lake to salt water.  On two occasions I was approached by fathers who looking to share boyhood experiences with their young sons.
Of course, all that made me feel even douchier about my performance at the outdoors store.   Sometimes one needs to catch himself a stringer full of humble pie.

Ok, I’m getting hungry.  Let’s talk cooking.

Pan frying has always been a favorite way of mine to prepare trout, and as I considered that on the short drive home, I was reminded of something that had been in the back of my mind for a few weeks.

I had recently taken a business trip to Southern California and while I was down there, I went out on a party fishing boat.  A couple ladies on that boat told me they like to pan fry their fish with a coating made of crushed up Cap’n Crunch cereal.  They swore up and down that it was delicious and ever since then I’ve been curious to try this rather unusual idea.

It took a couple tries and some serious tweaking before I made this approach into a recipe worth sharing.  Coating the fish in a straight “Cap’n” breading with only salt & pepper as the ladies suggested, was too sweet and had almost no depth.  Also I used a food processor to crumble the cereal the first time and I discovered that the Cap’n grinds to a fine powder almost instantly.  So I switched to putting the cereal in a large ziplock bag and crushing it with a rolling pin, simple enough. If you don’t have a rolling pin, a can or wine bottle works just fine.
Then I needed to cut it with something so the sweetness wouldn’t be too cloying.  I decided to stick with the breakfast cereal theme and use corn flake crumbs.  Then it was just a matter of adding some depth and complexity to the breading.  Granulated garlic and onion are go-to seasoning for breadings, so I went with those.  I also thought the aromatic fragrance of coriander would marry well with the vanilla-y sweetness of the Cap’n Crunch.  Finally I wanted a touch of heat to balance things out a bit, so it got a touch of cayenne.  What I ended up with was a nice crispy breading that had a flavor that complimented the fish really well without steam rolling over it.Saffron

I wanted a sauce to go with it, but since I didn’t want anything acid against the sweetness of the breading, I decided to stick with the aromatic theme and make a simple saffron cream.  That turned out to be a delicious idea.
Don’t be afraid of saffron’s reputation of being expensive, that really is only a concern in large amounts.  Small packages of it can be purchased at specialty stores and Whole Foods fairly inexpensively.

Finally the trout could be breaded & prepared whole or with just the head removed, but I decided to filet them so that the cereal breading is more featured and you need not worry about chunks of it falling off while the meat is being lifted off the bones.

 

California Girl Cap’n Crunch Crusted Trout with Saffron Cream Sauce

Saffron Cream Sauce

1 tsp butter
2 Tbs minced shallot or sweet onion
1 clove minced garlice
1 pinch saffron threads
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup heavy cream
kosher salt to taste

Melt the butter in a small sauce pot over med-low heat until it starts to bubble.  Add in the minced shallot and sauté until it begins to turn translucent: 4 to 5 minutes.  Stir in the garlic and cook for a minute or two until it begins to become fragrant, then stir in the saffron & pepper.  Again, use your nose here. It will take only a moment or two for the smell of the saffron to begin to waft up out of that pan and that bright yellow color start to release from the threads.  As soon as that happens add in the white wine.
Raise the temperature to medium and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half.  Then add in the cream and continue to reduce by about 1/3 or until the sauce in to your desired thickness.  Adjust the seasoning with salt if needed.

Cap’n Crunch Trout

6 small or 4 medium trout filets
2 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp granulated garlic
1 tsp granulated onion
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp Old Bay seasoning
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 1/4 cup Cap’n Crunch cereal, crushed with a rolling pin or can
2/3 cup corn flake crumbs, or 1 cup corn flakes crushed
1/2 cup all pupose flour
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup cream or buttermilk
2 Tbs butter

Make sure the trout filets are clean, free of scales and patted dry.
In a small bowl, combine all the spices.
Mix together the cereal crumbs and 2/3 of the spice mixture in a flat shallow dish.
In a separate flat shallow dish, combine the flour and the remaining 1/3 of the spice mix.
Then, in yet a third flat shallow dish, combine the egg and cream.

In a heavy bottomed skillet (preferably cast iron) heat the butter over Med-low to Medium heat.  You don’t want to cook this dish too quickly or too hot; or the sugar in the breading will burn.
One by one press the filets into the flour, pat off the excess, then dip them in the cream/egg mixture and then press them into the cereal crumbs, evenly coating both sides.

Brown the filets on both sides to a golden brown color.

I let them rest on a paper towel for a couple minutes to let the excess oil drain away before plating them and topping them with the saffron sauce.  As you can see from the photo, I served them with pan roasted brussel sprouts.  You’re on your own for now on how to make those.  I’m tired of typing and I hope I never need to type the word Cap’n again.  😉

Enjoy!

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