Today was a big day in our household. As I mentioned in an earlier post, it has been almost two years now since Chuck and I finished building our grand aquaponics experiment – a roughly 600-gallon network of underground pipes and lined beds that create a closed ecosystem to raise fish and grow vegetables in our back yard. We have been steadily harvesting veggies for the past 20 months but today was the day to harvest the first fish.
Mr. Catfish (no, we didn’t name all six dozen bluegills, sunfish and catfish in the tank) started out as a 2″ long fingerling that got added to the system in February of 2014 but by now he measured in at 16″ from mouth to tail. Mr. Catfish had become big enough that he was acting like the tank bully. As such, either he needed to go or else he would see that his tank mates did. And, besides, the whole point of doing aquaponics rather than hydroponics is to be able to harvest both the plants AND the fish so it was time.
We certainly could have harvested Mr. Catfish sooner. We were stalling. It had been quite awhile since either of us had gone fishing. (July,1999, to be exact, based on the Wisconsin fishing license we found in our fishing gear.) We weren’t sure how best to go about snagging the one fish we wanted. You might think it was like shooting the proverbial fish in a barrel but we were concerned about how not to catch any of the other 70 or so fish that were in the tank with the big bully…and we didn’t want to puncture a hole in the pond liner in the process.
Our first attempt was with some chicken liver on a hook. Lowering it down into the water, the blue gills and sunfish took a sniff but quickly gave it wide berth. It made me wonder what a wild fish looks like when it sees my measly bait on a hook. I could just imagine a little fish banter similar to when we exchange commentary about airplane food!
I was fully expecting Mr. Catfish to go for the chicken liver but, ultimately, we lay the chunk down right in front of his nose and he just ignored it! This wasn’t going to work!
After a few text messages to various neighbors, we found someone with a fishing net we could borrow. Attempt number two was with the net. Chuck put the net in and tried to catch the big guy. In a few swipes of the net, he caught various other smaller catfish and a couple dozen blue gill, but not Mr. Catfish. He was the bigger, stronger and smarter adversary. At this point, the muck from tank bottom was all riled up and we could no longer see. We would have to wait again.
For attempt three, we used two nets. I held one where I thought Mr. Catfish would try to escape and Chuck went straight in for the sweep. The force of that fish going into my net just about pulled me into the tank with him but, lucky for me, I kept my footing and pulled him up. He was caught. But now what do we do with him?!
Both Chuck and I have caught fish before but neither of us had ever done the dirty deed of killing and cleaning one. We’ve always had skilled friends or family around to do that. To be totally honest, we weren’t looking forward to the task. There were clear grimaces on both of our faces as we went about doing what needed to be done and am going to skip the rest of the gory details.
Here is the recipe we used to serve up our first home-grown catfish. It is an easy one. Once you get your own aquaponics system going and have catfish on hand, give it a try. Or, if you would rather, just bring some home from your neighborhood grocery. Regardless the source, we think you’ll like it.
Oven Fried Catfish
1/2 Cup Light Beer
1/2 Cup Hot Sauce
4 6-ounce Catfish Fillets
1/2 Cup Breadcrumbs
2 Tablespoons Arrowroot Starch
1/8 Teaspoon Salt
1/8 Teaspoon Black Pepper
- Combine beer, hot sauce and fish in a container and marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
- Remove fish from bag. Discard marinade.
- Preheat oven to 450.
- Combine breadcrumbs, starch, salt and pepper in a shallow dish. Dredge fish in crumb mixture.
- Place fish on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes or until the fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.