This past Sunday I finally achieved something that I have long wanted to accomplish. I was able to create a full meal completely from food that was available with in walking, and paddling distance of Eckerd. While the garden has been a reliable and rewarding source of fresh produce, as an omnivore I was always left wanting the sustenance provided from some sort of meat. While the vegetarian lifestyle is admirable it is just not for me. The animal part of my meal was always the hardest to provide.
With a plan and a few words of advice from a close friend who has been feeding people with fish he catches for many years, I went to the waterfront with some shrimp for bait, a fishing pole, and not much else. I checked a fishing kayak out from the waterfront and pushed off from the dock headed out toward Indian Key just south of Eckerd. My targeted prey was speckled sea trout. I had been given a few pointers on bait selection and the areas where I could find the fish, shallow grass beds are the best place to start. There are many of these grass beds surrounding the island so it made sense to start there.
I put a shrimp on the line and threw it out. The plan was to let the shrimp drift with the boat and see what happens. Within about five minutes the drag on the reel started to scream indicating a strike on the line. I panicked and grab the rod and reel and started frantically reeling in the line. Not having an exact plan, I reeled the fish in next to the boat and sure enough there was a 22 inch trout on the line. I had brought a mesh dive bag with me that I used to keep diving equipment in, and I figured it would work to keep the fish contained, but still in the water. I grabbed the fish and threw it in the boat. It took a few tries to get a good grip to take the hook out, trout are quite slippery. After that I opened the bag and threw the fish in. I tied the bad to a cleat on the kayak and that was that, I had caught dinner.
It all seemed so easy, why hadn't I done this before? I think the overall idea just seemed much more daunting than it really is. People had been surviving like this for thousands of years yet most of us, myself included, seem to think it is impossible, or at the very least improbable. Yet I managed it in less than half an hour. While I was getting the fish situated in the boat I was being pushed by the wind toward the opening of Indian Key. Those who are familiar with it know that there are old cement pilings that stick out of the water across the entrance, remnants of an old shrimp farm from what I'm told. As I looked up I realized that I was only about 20 feet from colliding with a piling. I also noticed something sitting on the piling, a bald eagle. It was just sitting there, watching the comedy of errors it seemed, hoping I would drop the fish and it would have an easy meal. I slowly paddled away back out toward the grassy area to cast again, and the whole time the eagle just watched, sort of an inspirational reminder of the balance of things.
I stayed out for about two hours and caught another 5 or 6 trout, but none were big enough to keep, they need to be at least 15 inches. I paddled back to the waterfront and went through the normal docking procedure of rinsing and returning items. I grabbed the mesh bag with its contents still struggling and put it in a bucket full of ice. After a short walk back to Omega the fish was still and I was in my apartment faced with the task of filleting a fish...something I have no experience with. I again called a friend for guidence, and watched a few youtube videos on how to fillet this exact species. It all all seemed easy enough. I grabbed the fillet knife that came with the knife set I had bought years earlier and went to work. I soon realized there is in fact a bit of an art to filleting, and that the tools, aka the knife, make a huge difference. I managed to get most of the meat without completely butchering the fish. After being rinsed the fillets went in a bag and in the fridge for later that night. I cleaned up myself and the kitchen and headed for the garden. I grabbed a couple of carrots, some bush beans, a small squash, and an onion with thoughts of stir fry vegetable hash. By the time I started walking back to Omega it was starting to get dark, and the day seemed to all make sense. I had secured the food I needed and was ready to begin cooking.
I chopped the veggies, and tossed them with a clove of garlic and some olive oil on the stove. The fish was treated with a healthy amount of cajun spices, a small amount of butter, wrapped it all up in tinfoil and then popped it in the oven. 15-20 minutes later everything was tender and ready to eat. All in all it was one of the most satisfying days I've had in a long time. I had provided entirely for myself with food provided to me by the land and sea all within half a mile of where I lived. I'm excited to try my hand at fishing again, and trying different preparation techniques. Now that I have an idea of what it takes, the options seem endless, all it took was a little bit of time, work, and knowledge.