I’ve finally come to the realization that I will probably never catch a salmon or trout using spinning lures. Good riddance. I was never much a fan of that style of fishing anyway. Cast it out, reel it in. Cast it out, reel it in. Wind is another topic. Even with large heavy casting spoons, if the wind is really kicking you’re lucky if you can cast further than 20-30 ft. Then there is location. All of the good spots are either in the middle of nowhere and/or on some private property where you may need permission to fish-by paying or through contacts.
Feeling the urge to go back to the good old days of baiting hooks, kicking back, and downing a few beers, I bought myself the proper gear for beach fishing. The two most abundant species of fish here, that can be caught right offshore, are róbalo (Patagonian blennie) and pejerrey (silverside.) Depending on the tide and if you are right on a river mouth, you may get lucky with a salmon or trout but you are better off waging your bets on what is readily available.
From the start, I was just as much a failure as with my previous spinning attempts. Everyone recommended to bait with either squid, chicken and its innards, or these super long beach flesh-eating beach worms(seriously, these things are freaky) that can either be dug up or bought. Having been familiar and successful with using squid in the past as saltwater bait, I selected that as the bait of choice for the first few attempts. Unfortunately, I was left to sit alone on the beach catching seaweed and kelp, mumbling curses to my half-filled beer bottle, while everyone else around me was reeling in fish left and right. Maybe it was bad luck, it can happen for long periods, but this past weekend a friend may have fixed that problem.
Bags of blood-filled beach worms packed away, off we marched for 3 klicks to a spot off the main route north of Cabo Domingo–a prominent sandstone and clay cliff where sheep herders in the days of old would toss indigenous people to their death for reasons of getting in their way and stealing a few sheep. After about an hour of casting in shallow water while waiting for the tide to reach a more appropriate level, a member of our party landed the first róbalo. Almost immediately after, he brought another to shore. Sensing a sweet spot, I moved down the line to see if I could get in on the action and that I did. Four róbalo in 30 minutes! Each one went for the bait about 10 seconds after casting. Yeah, I know tall tales come from fishing but in this case I’m downright serious. I would have probably caught much more in that span of time if they didn’t swallow my hooks or rip them off(had a two hook rig). Must have been a hungry school because there was plenty of hooting and hollering from those next to me during this time. After that, the luck pretty much died out. I was a happy camper, however, with the catch ranging from 15-18 inches.
Róbalo is found all along the coastal waters of Argentina and part of Chile. The meat is mild-flavored with a white bluish-gray flesh that turns pink near the skin when raw. The taste and texture, in my opinion, is sort of an amalgamation of cod, sea bass, and hake. Usually, róbalo is best cooked either whole in the oven or on a grill or chopped into pieces for a hearty stew. But, I wanted to go a step further and smoke it. I’ve been craving a good smoked white fish dip or spread for quite some time. Something I can easily get when I’m back in the States but here it is non-existent. That’s not to say that people don’t smoke fish here, they do and you can often find cold smoked salmon or trout in certain stores or hear about people hot smoking fish at their homes, but I have never seen or heard of hot smoked fish dip or spread. I’m sure there are some who do but it just is not something I have come across in these parts.
For this instance, I decided cure the fish in a brine with sugar instead going the salt/sugar dry curing route. I’ll do the latter next time. Many recommend to smoke fish at around 190 F (88 C) and I tried my best keep the temp as close as possible but for the most part, it floated around 210-215 F (around 100 C). Three hours later, the fish finally reached an internal temp of 140 F. Now, I’m not sure if it was the brine or the natural water/fat content of the fish but the meat looked way too moist with liquid pooled in some areas. Perfect for picking at but I wanted a slightly dryer texture, similar to the smoked fish that we would get our hands on in Florida for fish dip. After breaking up the meat and picking out the bones–róbalo is filled with them, I spread the meat all around a cookie sheet and placed it under the broiler, set to the lowest setting, for about 5 minutes. Perfect.
Mashed up the meat in a bowl with two large cloves of garlic(minced) and a little chopped parsley. Added three parts cream cheese and one part mayonnaise until the right consistency was reached. A little salt and pepper to taste, voilà! With the sweet smoky flavor of quebracho blanco, róbalo really shined in all its glory. There ended up being around 7 cups, more or less, of the stuff so I definitely had to pass some around to a few friends and family for sampling. From what I’ve been told they killed it all in one sitting craving more.
Today, with about 2 cups remaining, I wanted to see how they would turn out as fish cakes. One diced and sautéed small onion, some Old Bay seasoning, and a small handful of bread crumbs to help hold it all together. Formed into balls a little larger than the size of golf balls, flattened a bit, and given a light coating of more bread crumbs. Fried until golden all around. Wow! Really, WOW!