Before coming to Saint Petersburg, Florida, we spent a few days in Palmetto fishing in a remote park. We bought our fishing gear in a store called Outdoors Living not far from Naples, $250 for two fishing poles, pliers, a knife, hooks, and a book telling us all about Florida’s fishes. The store is an impressive two-storey building full of fishing and hunting gear, ornamented with ponds and huge fish tanks full of live fish, all sorts of stuffed animals and wonderful archival black-and-white photographs of hunters and fishermen showing off their catch. There is also a restaurant with heavy wooden tables and the same kind of old photographs decorating the walls, where fish and game are served. The whole place is like a museum or a gallery; there is even a signed first edition Hemingway book. One can spend a full week and lots of cash shopping here.
At the park, we catch couple of small sheep’s heads, a grouper, and four catfishes (according to the book). Maya is a natural fishergirl, she has lots of fun catching her first fish ever! So does Viktor too. I don’t catch any, because I don’t fish. I photograph the birds instead. The same evening, Ivo and Viktor clean the fish, I cook it, and we have a pretty decent meal.
We learn how to cast, catch, clean, fillet, and cook each type of fish from the fishermen we meet every time we go near a shore or on the pier. They are more than happy to show us which bait and hooks to use for which fish. We got our first bait from a guy who gave us a bag of leftover shrimp as he was done fishing and ready to go home. After that we started using cut fish from our catch. So far, we haven’t bought any bait and we have more than enough in the freezer. We also learned that to catch small bait-fishes or shrimps with a long-handle fishing net is harder than fishing with a fishing poll; maybe even impossible. People do that with cast nets. We didn’t have a cast net until yesterday, when a new friend, Jackie, who lives on a house boat in the Municipal Marina in St Pete, gave us one. Thank you Jackie!!! We will try it today or tomorrow!
Since that first time, we now fish regularly, once or twice a week, whenever we feel like it. We have a spot in St Pete where we go out at dusk and we catch grunts, about 15-20 for a nice family meal. The grunt is a small greyish fish, who tastes pretty good and is not too bony. When we pull him out of the water, he starts complaining, making these heartbreaking snorting noises like small burps that sound just like his name repeated fast a few times: grunt, grunt, grunt, grunt, and that is why he is called a Grunt. I wonder what he is trying to tell us in his last moments of panic. I wish I could speak grunt language so that I could understand his plaintive moans, but he remains mysterious, as fish always do. I’am pretty sure he is swearing, calling us bad names, screaming unspeakable insults at us as he realises how fatal his cannibalistic gluttony is. Last time, Viktor and me were catching grunt after grunt, a whole burping chorus, and Ivo was trying to gut them and clean them on spot but he couldn’t keep up with us pulling a fish every few seconds, and so finally we had to stop fishing and wait for him to finish the dirty job before we go home. We had a decent meal that evening, and even Maya who has been reluctant to eat fish until then, liked it! I cooked it in the oven with some oil, salt and garlic for 30 minutes, as Jackie instructed me, and sprayed it with lemon juice once it was ready. Thanks again Jackie, I wonder what would happen if I had baked it for one hour and a half as I planned to…
I hope you don’t think that we are cruel heartless people killing innocent fishes… We only take what we need for supper, as we are trying to learn “to live off the land”. You should see what happens to the romantic mullets who gather in great orgies and come in St Pete each year to make love near the shores blissfully unaware of the pack of fishermen awaiting them. This year the school arrived in the harbour just in front of the park where we are staying and we accidentally became first-row spectators of the greatest fishing-drama ever witnessed in our lives. I will tell you all about this in my next post.