Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Asian Eyes' USA - Dauphin Island Crabs gaga

        I went to school in USA back in the early nineties. “Let’s go crabbing tomorrow” said Arthur one day after night class in early July. The topic piqued my interest because crabs have been stealing my baits for some time now and it will be payback time. “Sure, why not” I replied. “Get Mike, Jacky and Yon along too”. They have taken more than their share of crab curries that I churned out with some make do local ingredients. Arthur later managed to round up Jacky and Yon, but Mike cannot make it as he had to keep a job appointment. Between the four us, only Yon had the experience catching crabs. “So, Yon, how do we catch crabs” I asked. “That will be easy”, Yon replied. “I still had some old crab traps from last season that we can use. As for venue he recommended the same Dauphin Island pier for our crabbing outing. "It is the summer months and blue crab spawning season”, he added. Problem solved and we are ready to rumble the next day. As it was summer it will be too hot to do any fishing in the day. We plan on to do night fishing.
        The next day after dinner, Yon showed us 2 flimsy string baskets that had two circle wires with string mesh for body. On the top of the basket he tied a rope nearly 50 feet long. We loaded our fishing gears and the baskets into the car without further ado. We took the usual road, paying heed to the smoke direction, everyone silent in their own thoughts, maybe salivating at the fresh crabs we may caught. We stopped by the bait shop to buy some dead shrimp, but in our haste to get to our destination, we forgot about bait for the crabs! We reached the pier at 8 pm. We set our gears and took our position in our favorite location beside the entrance before Yon called out that we had missed out the bait for crabs. Again we had to crack our head on this issue; whether one person had to head back to the bait shop to buy bait, or make do with just fishing. We decided to fish since bait shop do not sell chicken carcass anyway, while dead shrimps may fell out of the trap as it was too small. 
Ladyfish is attracted to 
light source at night
        During summer months the pier was opened whole night and day. The good thing about night fishing was the spot lights attached to the pier above water edge were switched on and it attracted scores of fishes. I hooked up a dead shrimp and threw the line into the water. Moment later the rod flickered slightly and I set the hook and the rod curved as the fish tried to make a run. A minute later I caught a lady fish, about one and a half foot long, but not a good eating fish. I retrieved my line and pulled up the fish using my bare hand against the fishing line. I examined the fish and was about to throw the ladyfish back into the sea before I saw Yon ran towards me, waving for me to stop. “Wait Max, we can use it as crab bait”, he spoke in an animated manner when he reached by my side. I gladly handed over the fish to him. I was curious to see how he catches crabs using the ladyfish. Yon cut up the fish in 4, tied 2 pieces to the bottom of one basket, and did the same with another. “Now, just throw the basket over the railing into the sea” he instructed. I picked up the other basket and copied what he did, throwing the basket over the edge with the long string tied to my left hand.
        The baskets floated on the surface as the current were too strong! “No can do, the basket needs to stay down at the bottom of the sea so that crabs can crawl in for their snack. We have nothing to weigh down the basket.” Yon said, shrugging his shoulder. Again an issue presented itself when excitement ran high. What now? Need to start cracking our heads again. My stomach growled. Necessity is the mother of invention. Later I remembered something I learnt in school of hard knocks. I put down the basket and murmured something to Arthur. Arthur’s face lit up with delighted emotion. He rummaged through the rubbish bin but came out empty handed. Then he ran off to the souvenir shop. Three minutes later he came back with 4 cans of Coca-Cola and asked us to drink the content but asked us to keep the empty cans. The four of us gulped down the cola in record time and handed back the empty cans to Arthur. Arthur gathered the empty can and swiftly walked down the pier to the beach. He came back with the four cola cans, a smile brimming across his face. “Of no, I do not want any more soda” Jacky moaned. As Arthur handed over the cans to me, it was full of sands to the brim! “Oh, they are to be tied to the basket so that it will weigh down the baskets” Yon said excitedly. I quickly tied 2 cans to my basket and helped Yon tied his. We plopped the baskets over the edge and waited for crabs to eat the dinner that we served.
Blue crabs a plenty in the 
summer months
           Five minutes on I pulled up my basket. There were 2 medium size blue crabs. Yon pulled his and got one. I had beaten him in his own game. "No need to do dirty dishes tonight", I told him. We gingerly brought the baskets over to the cooler box and emptied the crabs into it. The crabs stuck to the basket as their legs jutted through the basket. I took a pair of pliers and gripped a crab on its claw gently and remove the strings that enveloping it, taking care to avoid the claws. I managed to free one, and working on another one. Yon had plunged his basket into the sea for the second time. My second crab tried to flee but I step on its carapace.  By the time I settled the second crab, Yon was hauling up his basket, this time with more crabs. We counted 3, and 2 of them were big, bigger than our palms. I immediately soak my basket then tied the long string to the pier railing before helping Yon freeing his crabs. Arthur and Jacky were feeling squeamish about handling crabs, worried that they will get pinched by the crabs which waved their claws menacingly. I on the other hand, used my trusted pliers and shifted 1 into the cooler box while Yon did the rest. He dropped his basket into the water before I hauled mine. I had 3 crabs, and moved them to storage in record time now.
Crab with roe on its abdomen was 
thrown back to the sea
            The hauling and soaking goes on for many hours.  Our cooler boxes were starting to get full, and the crabs still coming in strong. We make it an effort to throw back female crabs that carries eggs on its under belly. Every basket hauls now yielded an average of 3 crabs. Yon signed a time out and wandered off down the pier. I turned my attention to the crabs. "Hey, how do you determine a crab a he or a she?" I asked Arthur who was standing nearby. Arthur and Jacky had forgotten about their fishing rods which were still standing against the pier railing since we had started hauling crabs. Their shrimp baits had since long gone to the crabs which picks them clean. It was Jacky who replied, "you flipped a crab over to show its abdomen. If a female the tip of the shell covering is round while the male is elongated". He showed me. For someone who was squeamish of crabs, he sure knew a lot.
Female crab (top) and male 
crab (bottom)
         Yon came back a moment later, with another Styrofoam box. We had filled up 2 cooler boxes and need more storage. We moved some ice and crabs over from the first cooler box, and continue crabbing. Arthur and Jacky quickly reeled in their line and put the rods away. We handed over the baskets to them and they threw them overboard with the long string attached to their left hands. They began the process of hauling and soaking, while Yon and I transferred the crabs from the baskets to the cooler box. In next 2 hours, we managed to fill up all boxes. The ladyfish baits by now were reduced to skeleton when we called it quit. We removed the bones and threw it into the sea for crabs to clean them off. We untangled the cola cans and emptied out the sand to the sea. I kissed the can before throwing them into a garbage can. The cans saved our day.
         It was closed to midnight when we were ready to go home. All of us lined up one after another, each person holding on to a box handle, and the first and last person taking fishing gears and fishing rods. We looked like a small procession in a Disney Parade, walk in a single file as we make our way to my car. Jacky remarked how he wished the boxes had wheel. How true. We reached home well after midnight. We sorted out the crabs and stuffed as much as possible into our refrigerator. We had to wake up some friends to give half away. We have a great time crabbing.   
          We had crabs for lunch and dinner for nearly 2 weeks in a row until we were fed up with them!
This is what happens when we have one crab 
too many (picture credit: Jobe) 
Location: Dauphin Island Public Fishing Pier, 109 Bienville Blvd, Dauphin Island, Alabama 36528, USA.
Tel: +1-251-861-3607

Friday, May 25, 2012

Asian Eyes' USA - Gig Squad

I went to school in USA back in the early nineties. It was near end-May and the weather was getting hotter. Fishing in the day was far and between as it was too hot. At night we have classes so we would not able to fish either, except weekends. Sam fished at night and I bought the fishes he caught in the morning. Sam has started to keep stingrays for me too, something he used to throw back into the water. The shrimper also started to go out at night. I have steady supply of shrimps and fishes to fulfill my orders. The orders continued to roll in. I shipped what I can lay on my hand on. I have occasional chat with Zak, mostly at time when his balance ran low. I remembered one particular conversation. He asked “Max, what do I do with the bags of dry ice you send me?” I was startled as I never thought of that issue before. “I don’t know. Let me check with Kmart and I will let you know” I replied, admitting my guilt. The next day I got the answer and called Zak. “Zak, according to the store, the ice is made of carbon dioxide. You open up the plastic bag and let the ice melt by a potted plant or you can put them in your coffee to make coffee ice”, I said proudly. “What have you done with it so far”, I continued. I could never imagine he had a refrigerator full of dry ice!
An excursion to a peach farm
                My girlfriend came visiting at end of May. She was on her semester break and planned to be in town for 2 weeks. We went sightseeing around local tourist areas with an excursion to a peach farm. We also went to Orlando and followed by Dallas to visit her sister who was undergoing training assignment. We met with an accident near Ruston, Louisiana. The police there had never seen an International License before, so at the end they use my IC as a license. We changed to a new rental car at Shreveport airport and was given a Ford Tempo, and boy, that was a real gas guzzler! We only arrived Dallas at 2 am that day. On the way home from Dallas, we headed south to San Antonio and then east, visiting Houston and New Orleans along the way. I told her all about the little business I ran. I took her night fishing and accompanied me in my round of fish pickup and deliveries. By the end of her visit, we discussed our future plan, going through best case and worst case scenarios. At the end she mentioned given that she supported what I did and asked to decide next step when nearing my graduation date. I was due to finished my studies by end of the year, so I have roughly 3-4 months to decide what my destiny will brings me. She went back after knowing I was doing well and enjoying myself.
Blue Crab scavenged baits cleanly 
My life went back to routine after she left. I did occasional night fishing trips during weekend with my friends, sometime with Sam. Activities were lesser compared to spring time. I noticed there was certain fixed timing pattern when fish was biting. The timing was 7 to 8pm and 5 to 6 am. These 2 timings were when the tide was coming in and predatory fishes followed. We caught Speckled Trouts and Red Drum during tide rushing in. In between those hours we caught catfish, sting ray, pinfish, croaker, whiting, white trout and flounder. We used pinfish and croaker as bait for Crevalle Jack and Spanish Mackerel. Sheepshead has spawned and moved on to deeper water where it is cooler. Sometime my baits will disappear without a trace. “Blue crab”, Sam said one night after seeing me pulled up empty hook. I thought it was Sheepshead. Occasionally I was able to pull a crab up as it tried to steal my bait. The crab was small and scuttled away as quickly as it landed on the pier.
Keeping awake the whole night during night fishing was tiring. I was always tired the next day and according to my friend sometime I talked in my dream. Luckily my classes were at night. However it was taking a toll on my health and concentration in my studies also deteriorated. There after I cut down on night fishing and let the Sam and his friends do their job. Every morning he will wait for me to show up at the pier. At times when he was not fishing, he got his friend to wait for me. 
Gig sank just behind the head
During the summer Sam and his friends were catching more flounders than usual but they seem to have some puncture holes on their body. Ever the inquisitive me, I pestered Sam about the punctures and he finally relented, "We are gigging". I was not sure what 'gigging' was, so I asked to follow them after they told me that the activity was in shallow water at night. On the following Saturday night, I arrived at the beach beside the Dauphin Island pier on a pitch black night. I can hardly make out the outline of Sam from his 3 friends. I saw 4 ghostly images, reflected by gasoline lantern light they were carrying, wading in shallow water, until I called out his name. Sam replied "Yo, over here" and I shone my flash light to him. He motioned to me, waving with something in his hand, to join him. He balanced a long pole on his shoulder, on which he hung the lantern on one end and a counter weight on the other. In his right hand was a tool he called 'gig'. It was a long shaft with 4 pointed spear tips, like a small Poseidon's Trident. Sam showed me how he catches flounder with the light and gig. He used a shield to block the lantern that faced him as not to blind himself. Then he waded slowly ahead and I followed him 2 steps behind. After a couple of yards, he stopped, pointing to a blur image on the sandy bottom with the aide of the gasoline light, as I reached by his side. He sank the spear right through the flounder just behind the head. He lifted up the fish with his gig, still flopping up and down, and showed it to me with a big grin. A big flounder that did not get away!  
Flounder with its 2 bulging eyes on top


     Sam passed me the pole and the gig for me to try out, before giving a caution not to let water splashed onto the lamp. "It will explode", Sam explained, referring to if cold water met hot glass from the lantern. I had had trouble balancing the pole, let alone catch fish with the gig. I waded some 10 minutes awkwardly, making great effort not to dip the lantern into the sea. My four eyes were not trained to look out for flounder. At one time I thought I saw something big on the sand. Excitedly I approached closer, but alas, it dashed off before I can even raised the gig into it, stirring up a cloud of sand as it left me behind. "Stingray" Sam chided me. He told me I was lucky not to step on its body or else its tail will whip around and impale my leg. At that instance I immediately passed the gigging tool and lantern back to the 'professional'. Sam laughed while he took over. He continued gigging and managed to spot 6 more flounders, speared all but 2, which scooted off before he can sank his gig into them. We took a break after the last flounder was caught. Sam's 3 friends caught a total of 20 plus flounders. Very good catch indeed for them but not Sam, who only got 5. Maybe with me tailing Sam may have spooked the flounders away. I bought all the flounders for that night and bade them good night. They continued to gig well over  midnight. It was truly a great experience to witness and participate in a gigging exercise. A big check mark.
Watch out for the twin stings on stingray!
I dreamed of being stung by a sting ray on the foot that night. Ouch! 


Location: Dauphin Island Public Fishing Pier, 109 Bienville Blvd, Dauphin Island, Alabama 36528, USA.
Tel: +1-251-861-3607

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Asian Eyes' USA - Mobile Forrest Gump

I went to school in USA back in the early nineties. It was already 2 week since I started my first UPS shipment. I was busy fishing, sometime with friends and sometime alone. Not all days I went fishing I will come back with fish. I befriended a couple of fishing guys, both blacks and whites, and was close to one particular one black chap named Sam. Sam was a Vietnam War veteran and he walked with a strange gait but it did not stop him from showing up at the pier fishing almost every day. We spoke and strike a deal to buy his fish from him, agreed on deals like $1 to $3 per fish, depending on the type and weight. Sam had been fishing for quite some time, started with subsistence, then move on to get some extra cash. He bought yearly pass to the pier, so he did not charge high price for his fish. However he do no delivery and the payment was cash only.
Forrest Gump, the movie
I also found a shrimper boat (they catch shrimps, just like you see in the move ‘Forrest Gump‘) who end up supplied me shrimps. Zak and other customers had a liking for fresh shrimps. In fact with shrimps you would not go wrong. One can cook it with anything, on anything or just by itself, it will turn out great. There are 7 different sizes in shrimp are colossal, jumbo, extra-large, large, medium, small and mini. The colossal had 10 or less shrimps (heads on, shell intact) in a pound, jumbo had 11 to 15 and so on till small size at 36 to 45 shrimps count a pound. Bobby, the owner, sold his shrimps both head intact and headless. For my own consumption I always buy those with head intact, particularly the large one and they are very good in curry. I like the fresh shrimp heads, especially the goey stuff that was supposedly part of the brain. Some shrimps that are past due are sold as baits. I may have unconsciously bought some of those indirectly. Bob sold most of his shrimps headless. "They stay longer, may keep up to months" Bob told me after I inquired about the head. No wonder. The shrimps I shipped to Zak were always headless thereafter. In the hit movie Forrest Gump, Bubba mentioned more than 20 ways to cook shrimps but he did not mention curry shrimps. Maybe his mama does not cook curry!
I have sent many consignments over to Zak. Flounders were in season and I send a box with 20 flounders twice a week. They are flat and can fit in more per box. Shrimps are year round and in great demand but I do not make much out of it. White Trouts are plenty round the year while Whiting are seasonal. Occasional I had mixed shipments of Sheepshead with Spanish Mackerel. At times there were Pompano, Snapper and Red Drum. These were premium fishes and Zak let me charged him extra for them. He mailed me a check every other week. I tallied my first month sales was now nearly $250. Not bad for some incidental income. Almost all the fishes I send Zak I bought from Sam and his friends. My fishing skill was not good enough to fill even a consignment.
Me and a pompano in hand, a 
fish similar to our golden 
promfret.
Another fish that we normally threw back to the sea was stingray. I was just joking one day when I stuffed one in a consignment box and shipped out to Zak free of charge. I had the tail carefully cutoff as it was not only dangerous but has little to no meat to it. It turned out to be a winner where he requested for more stingrays. I did not asked Zak what he did with it but I have since started to keep them and asked Sam and company to keep for me as well. Sometime I shipped Zak whole shipment of stingrays only. Not bad for some thrash fish and I made good money. There is always a ray across the sky, somewhere, if we care to look for it!
Stingray was considered a thrash fish, 
now sought after
Location: Dauphin Island Public Fishing Pier, 109 Bienville Blvd, Dauphin Island, Alabama 36528, USA.
Tel: +1-251-861-3607

Asian Eyes' USA - First customer

I went to school in USA back in the early nineties. One morning in early May, my phone rang for some time before I grabbed the receiver groggily. I had a headache the previous night and had trouble sleeping well. At the end of the line was a male voice asking for me. It was from a fellow international student named Zak, from Memphis, Tennessee, who enquired if I could to supply fish to him. I told him that he got the wrong person as I do not supply fish. He was very insistent and patient, describing a dinner that he had when he visited my neighborhood weeks ago. His friends happened to be someone whom I gave some fishes to. Tennessee is a land locked state, so the fishes they got there are mostly not freshwater fishes with catfish the most. Very few shop sell sea fish, let alone one with the heads and tails intact. Zak, who had tasted some fresh sea fish meal his friend’s house, is now reaching out to me. That was cool. My reputation as a fish giver had spread to other states!
 “Let me know if you are OK with this” Zak said. “I will pay you $5 for every fish that weigh 2 pounds (slightly less than 1 kg) or more”. I have no idea how he derived at 2 pounds cutoff. I was enticed, but there was a problem. Tennessee was some 300 miles away from the coast. “How do I send them to you” I asked. “I do not think you will want to drive more 300 miles both ways, do you?“ I continued. “Of course not” Zak replied. “How about sending it through post or courier service? If you send them by overnight ground, it will reach me the next day” he continued. “Will it still be fresh by then?” I asked again. “I am not sure myself. Is there any other way?” replied Zak. I thought for a while and then said “alright, I will enquire with UPS or US Post if they have any suggestion. If it is workable, I will send you some free fishes as trial run. Let me know if it is still fresh and the deal is on, OK?” Zak replied affirmatively and gave me his contact number and address before hanging up.
 After breakfast I set out to my neighborhood UPS store (www.ups.com) to inquire how to send my fish overland. The lady behind the counter was very helpful and she showed me some different boxes size and said I can use them free. When I mentioned about shipping fresh fish, she raised her eyebrow, mentioned that she had never shipped any fish before. She got up from her chair and walked over to her superior. They spoke for a while, he scribbled something on a paper before she returned to me.  My face lighted up when she showed me the paper that her boss wrote – dry ice. “Got it” I said. “Where do I buy them?” I continue. “Try grocery store that sells seafood” she replied. I thanked her and left with 3 different sized UPS boxes.
Medium size UPS box can fits in 
10 fishes

Kmart at one time was 
Walmart's main rival 
I went to Kmart (www.kmart.com) to buy some dry ice and some ziplock bags. Kmart have some in dry ice in stock at $2.99 per 5 pound bag. I have no idea how much I will use, so I bought 2. At home I put the dry ice in plastic bags. I spliced old newspaper in between box and dry ice, and between dry ice and fishes for insulation and to avoid direct contact of fish and dry ice. Dry ice is nasty, one must not want to be in contact for long.  I pulled out 2 sheepsheads, 1 red drum and 3 flounders from refrigerator, wrapped them in the ziplock bag individually and stuffed them in the box. There was room for some more fishes, but I just filled it with more crumbled newspaper, including on the top. I finally sealed the box with clear tape and wrote Zak’ name, address and contact number. I only used 1 pack of dry ice, and kept the other pack in refrigerator.    
Dry Ice is actually solid CO2
Before lunch I was back at the UPS station to mail my box. The lady who attended to me earlier smiled as I walked in. After filling up the documents, she mentioned, “that will be 8 bucks, sir”. I did a behind the envelope calculation in my head. The medium box can fits in 10 fishes, meaning each fish will incurs about $1 in logistic and packaging cost. No bad. I paid cash and was given a tracking number. “This parcel will be delivered tomorrow. I am also curios if we are able to do a delivery that will still be fresh. You let me know, OK?” she said, handling me a copy of the consignment note. I left feeling mixed, not sure if I may be off to a first step in making someone overland happy or someone will have DIY salted fish. Talking about salted fish, I once fried some for dinner. The American couple who stayed down stair ran out of their apartment after they smelled something funny in the air and called 911. It was a ruckus but hilarious scene. Many people gathered outside, some of them pinching at their nose. I had to do a lot of explanation to the cop. That was how I get to know the couple. Salted fish rocks!
Back at home I called Zak but he was not in. I left a message and he called back an hour later. I gave him the UPS tracking number and reminded him to call me when he received the shipment. I had lunch and then headed off to library for some revisions before starting class in the evening. At the library I read about the fishes found in Gulf Coast. Then I came to a section that showed how to see sign of fresh fish. The tests: Gill test – uncover the gill cover to expose the gill. It should be nice red. Eyes test – glistening and not opaque. Finger test – poke at the fish. Its flesh should be firm and springy. Smell test – should smell of ocean with no strong fishy smell. Flesh test – translucent and one can see meat pattern. Look test – should look shine, metallic and clean, not dull or discolored patches. I still use some of the tips when I go marketing nowadays.
Red gill tell tale of a fresh fish
The call came the following night. It was Zak’s wife who called. Zak was washing the dishes but he asked her to call ahead, to inform me that the shipment arrived in the afternoon. The box was slightly crushed, damp a little but inside the fishes were OK. They cooked 2 fishes, gave 2 fishes to another family and kept 2. Since I did not label them, she retorted to describing the fishes; fish with prisoner shirt and teeth that protrude out, fish with spots at the tail and ugly flat fish. I had a great laugh.They deep fried 2 flounders (which they called flat fish) and cook a sheepshead (they described it as the fish with prisoner shirt and teeth that protruded out) in curry.  She mentioned that they still look fresh and taste good. I was ecstatic and did a fist clench with a hand down ’yes’ movement!
Moment later Zak came to the phone, thanking me for the fishes. Then he said, “Tell you what Max, I will mail you a check for $100 advance payment, OK?” I thought for a moment and then replied, “Zak, I can accept the offer, but I do not know what type of fishes I may catch, how many or when. Sometime I got no fish”.  Zak immediately replied “That is OK. Send me any fish you can get. Any edible one that you will eat it yourself will do. If you can send me the fish names every time you send me a new type, and put in a recipe how you cook them, that will be great.” he continued. “Also when the fund nearly runs out I will send you another check. You keep a tab on that, OK?” 
I received the check 3 days later.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Asian Eyes' USA - Sheeps Frenzy

              I went to school in USA back in the early nineties. It was end March and two weeks after our Speckled Trout run, we itched for another trip to Dauphin Island public fishing pier. This time there were 5 of us (Arthur, Jacky, Yon, Tony and I) on that Wednesday trip. We took the usual route, noticing the smoke from the chimney tilted slightly to the right and even stopping at a blinking yellow light. I was driving and it was the first time I saw a traffic light with yellow light blinking. “Hey, you can go where there was no one in sight” Tony told me. From that day on I learnt about blinking yellow light, blinking red light and what they meant. We picked up some live shrimps, fiddler crabs and a pound of dead shrimp from the bait shop.  
           We reached the pier but could hardly find a parking space. It was be full of cars and pickups! We unloaded our gears before I parked my car some distance away. As we approached the pier entrance, we saw the big crowd. Nearly 300 peoples and almost everyone had some activities, some pulling up fish upon fish from the sea, some picking up fish for the pier floor. It seems to be like a scene from a movie than in real life. It was spring time and fish spawns in spring. That was why it was such a frenzy scene. 
Sheepshead, the banded prisoner 
          Our normal spot by the pier entrance had been taken. We can barely squeeze in at the end of the jetty. We often heard shrieks of delight when fishes were landed and grunts when lines were cut. I used a light sinker, tied a float a foot above it and hooked a fiddler crab to my Eagle Claw size 3 hook. I hooked it just beneath the 2 eyes and threw it near a pier leg. I was hoping to hook the same fish that everyone was catching, a fish called 'Sheepshead'.
     It is a fairly nice eating fish, especially cooked in curry. The body is banded like light zebra stripe and has protruded teeth like a goat, hence the namesake 'Sheepshead'. Its human like teeth are used to crush shells and it can nip off a line in no time. When you look at it face to face, it is downright ugly. Here is a photo:
"You like a kiss?" (picture 
credit - Terence Teoh 
from Round Rock, TX)
Sheepsheads are abundant around pier legs or any submerged structure, and eat crustacean like barnacle, crab and clam. They also takes dead shrimp and cut fish meat, but fiddler crab are their favourite. The tip of my rod nodded softly, and I wanted to check whether the bait was still there. As I lifted up the rod, it became heavy and suddenly the line became stout.” A fish, a fish” I shouted to my friends, who were busying hooking their bait, looked up. As I struggled with my rod, my friend gave encouragement and cheered me on. My rod arched like a question mark, but in a moment my line snapped and I nearly fell backward, caught by a bystander. Alas, the big one got away. I swear it was a 12 pounders, plus minus, 10 pounds. Hee hee, fisherman tale!
All my friends fished near pier legs, each with a float tied a foot above their fiddler crab bait. Sheepsheads were famous bait thief. They eat ever so gently that one does not realised their bait was gone until too late. After my bait was stolen many times I changed to live shrimp.  Tony caught the first sheepshead, followed by Jacky. Then my rod started to twitch and my float disappeared under the water. I yanked the rod hard and the fish makes a run. “Watch out for the barnacles” Arthur shouted. He meant the barnacles near the pier legs. The barnacle can shred a fishing line in no time. I fought the fish for some time and when it surfaced, I can see it was no sheepshead. ”It’s a flounder!” I exclaimed excitedly. This will be a different fish species from sheepshead everyone were catching. I pulled up the flounder in a hurried manner, worrying that its sharp needled teeth would sever my line. It weighed like 2 pounds, with one side dark and the other light. Both eyes are on the top, bulging out with a mouth that still shut and open as to breathe air.  “This is one of the nicest tasting fish in Gulf Shores”, said Tony. “What bait do you use?” Tony enquired, evident that he urgently wanted to catch one too.


As I was about to answer him, his rod that he left leaned against the pier railing bend and nearly tripped into the sea. In the nick of time, he managed to grab the rod and started pumping. At the end of the line was a big sheepshead trying to pull the line towards a pole full of barnacles. Tony pulled with care and managed to get the sheepshead out to the open water. As it was too big, he cannot pull the fish up to the pier 20 feet high platform without the hook tearing out the fish's mouth due to the weight. Luckily, someone came over and lowered a basket to scooped up the fish. Yes, it was a big fish indeed. Later we found out that the fish tipped the scale at 8 lbs flat!
Me and the 'sheeps' that did not get away
There was no limit in catching sheepsheads then. We caught a total of 18 sheepsheads and 4 flounders which filled up 2 cooler boxes. Everyone wore a big smile. We called it a day when the sun was directly above our heads. At home we gave more than half of the sheepsheads away and kept the rest in our refrigerator. Some pressed $2 or $3 bills into my hand and said “It’s for the gas”, referring to the fuel for my car; or simply a gesture in bringing them fish. 
 It was Yon’s turn to cook as he was the last to catch a fish. He filleted the flounders, coated them with bread crumbs and whipped out a fish and chip meal. Since no one knows how to cook curry, I took the lead and cook 2 sheepsheads, including Tony’s big sheephead. Again I have to use canned coconut milk, with added ladies finger (a.k.a. okra in America) and brinjal (a.k.a. eggplant) in the curry. It may not the most delicious curry in the world but I was hoping it could at least satisfy 5 poor home sick fellas. Alas, Tony’s big sheepshead turned out to be a big letdown. The big fish meat was too tough and coarse. "It is a loko fish" ( * loko means old fish- which the fish meat is hard and there is certain smell on it), Yon said, after spitting out his mouthful. Just waste my effort in cooking it. At the end we had to throw the big fish away. Luckily I cooked the 2 fish curry in separate pots. We had to make do with just one sheepshead curry and flounder’s fish and chip. We make mental note to throw back any big sheepshead caught in the future. 
I dream of a sheepshead kissing me that night. Yuck!


Location: Dauphin Island Public Fishing Pier, 109 Bienville Blvd, Dauphin Island, Alabama 36528, USA.
Tel: +1-251-861-3607

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Asian Eyes' USA - Dauphin Island Fish ghost

            I went to school in USA back in the early nineties. The university is by the coast of Gulf of Mexico, so I was able to do beach activities like swimming, camping and fishing. Since my classes were mostly at night, I got most of the time free. One of my favorite past time was fishing. Then there were some 3 public piers near the town I studied, and anyone who has $3 can enter and fish for the whole day (or night). Anyone who wants to fish may need to buy a fishing license from State Fishing department before they do so. The pier I went to was built on a beach full of fine sand, and the pier itself jutted out a mile into the Gulf. The three of us (Arthur, Jacky and I) traveled from our apartment in the wee morning one Saturday in early April. The long and winding coastal road to Dauphin Island public fishing pier offered good Southern countryside view. We stopped along the way to pick up bait; dead shrimps, cigar minnows and fiddler crabs, from a bait shop. At times we may use popper, spoon, lure, squid, sand flea and cut fish meat as well, but live fiddler crab and live small fish were great for predatory fishes, the ones we were after. Along the way we passed through a factory with its chimney bellowing white smokes. “Good day to fish” exclaimed Arthur, pointing to the white smokes that were shooting straight to the sky. “Smoke is straight, so no wind today, sure a lot of fish” he explained.
        Upon reaching the beach by the pier, we trudged along the trail that led to the pier entrance. I heaved our Coleman cooler box with 2 Ugly Stick rods (only 2 per person were allowed) on one hand, and baits, water and some snack on the other. The air was pleasant and March breeze blew cool air toward us. After casual greeting with the pier attendant and paying $3 each, we found our usual spot near the pier entrance.  This was the same spot where I got some great catches couple of times. This spot was closed to the washroom, a fillet station (American fillet their fishes before taking it home) and a small shop selling fishing supplies and souvenirs. Beer or alcohol was not allowed. This shop even had rods for rental to the curious sight seers who would like to try their hand in fishing. Occasionally tourists would pulled up by the pier, paid entrance fee and just wandered around the pier to gawk at us fishing, to look at our fishes we caught or just chit chat with us. Some even snapped photo with the fishes or with us heaving fish while posting for the picture.
Posing before fishing
The tide was rising and the water runs faster than normal. It was our unwritten rule that the last person to land a fish had to prepare dinner, and the second last washed dishes. I used a heavier leader than normal due to the swift current, baited a dead shrimp on the hook and was the first one to cast my rod. The moment my shrimp bait hits the bottom, it was quickly snapped up by a fish. I immediately set the hook and soon a fish, measuring some 10 inch, landed on the pier, flapping like crazy. It was a whiting (a.k.a ground mullet), a sandy bottom dweller white round fish. Someone said it was a nice fish on dinner table.  I quickly picked it up, examined for any flaws, glanced gleefully to my friend. “Dinner is caught, guys” I said cheekily, before putting it away in my cooler box. By now almost everyone had their baits in the water.


I re-baited my hook quickly with shrimp and threw it to the same spot I caught my first fish.This time as soon as the bait hits the water, it was quickly snapped up by a fish. I started to crank my reel furiously, trying to look out for the fish, expecting it to be another whiting. At last I can see the fish, but it was no whiting. What I had at the end of my line was a Speckled Trout (a.k.a. sea spotted trout). I retrieved the fish by pulling it up using my hand on the line instead of my rod. It has beautiful dots all over its body, its eyes still sparkled and mouth agape open close rapidly. Then what happens next boggled me. One after another, my friends pulled up 8 inch to 14 inches trout, left and right. It seem that everyone else on the pier, old, young, man, woman were having their hands full. Every fish caught was a trout. This lasted for like thirty minutes, and then it suddenly stopped as if some fish ghosts have passed by and frightened off all the trout.  We counted 16 fishes flopping on the pier. We picked up the fishes and put them away. I cleaned my hand and went to the washroom. After another thirty minutes with no action, with the ice chest nearly full, we broke for lunch, packed up to go home. On hind sight unknown to us at that time there was a limit in catching Speckled Trout where each person can only bag five. We are two over limit! 
Speckled trout or spotted sea trout
We gave 3 trouts to a couple who lived a floor down from us, 2 to Aunty May, our apartment manager, and the rest tucked inside my refrigerator. That night we had four grilled fishes, marinated in coconut milk, ginger, onion, garlic, chilies and peanut. We bought coconut milk in a can from our neighborhood Vietnamese sundry store and had to resort to peanut jam for the sauce. For wrappers we used aluminum foil. As additional bonus I steamed 3 fishes with salted bean, Chinese style, using a wok and a makeshift tall lid by improvise the aluminum foil to cover the wok to steam the fishes. The sole whiting, I turned it into a soup dish. The fishes turned out great and it was polished off in no time. I was glad I do not have to clean up, something I never like. We had a great dinner and slept soundly, dreaming of pulling in fish.


Location: Dauphin Island Public Fishing Pier, 109 Bienville Blvd, Dauphin Island, Alabama 36528, USA.
Tel: +1-251-861-3607