To my family's surprise, I was game for the 4-hour bay fishing excursion on our
family vacation on the Texas coast. This is a big change from the last outdoorsy thing I had to do/did on a family vacation: when I was in fifth grade my parents had to pay me ($5) to ride a horse just so all of us could go on the sunrise chuck wagon trail ride and breakfast at a dude ranch somewhere in Texas.
I did not have to be bribed to do this fishing excursion, but nevertheless I am not
sure what I was thinking in being all gung-ho for as I had come completely unprepared when we arrived at Woody’s Sports Center with 40 minutes to spare (dad’s budgeting 20 minutes for an 8-minute drive into town put us ahead of schedule). So I bought some sunglasses. Bought a hat. The kids are indulged in the iconic beach vacation food: bags of nacho cheese Doritos.
Finally, it was time to make our way down the docks in the marina with all the other
early birds to board the Island Queen.
After a safety talk, and instructions from the crew on where one should relieve oneself in the event of sea sickness (overboard, not in the restrooms), the boat, at the helm of which was Captain Tom, edges out of the marina, building speed, slowly but surely. The gulls are squawking, and the sun is streaming out from behind the clouds.
I say to myself: well, hey this is all right. I am glad for the 6 a.m. wake-up call for being out on the water in the morning sun at 8 a.m. This is not so bad at all.
We go further, and further, and further. Into bumpy waters. Huge waves come splashing up in to the boat. I love it, but I am soaked. The son goes back up for more of a soaking as the boat rocks up and then down into the waves. We drop anchor way, way out there where, though we are only still in the bay, it feels like land is very far away.
“Rods in!” the crew yells. Huh?
The rod and reel thing were beyond me. And of course no way I’m touching that shrimp much less impaling them on the hook for bait. But a nice man helped me with all that. We all stand around with our rods in the water. This is it? But it’s a beautiful day.
Uh oh: 20 minutes into the fishing out here there is the beginning of an almost-epidemic of motion sickness among the under-10 group. A couple of them forget those crew instructions.... Just in the nick of time, the crew calls out “rods up.” The anchor is pulled up.
Wow, really? We’re done? Whew! Awesome! That was not so bad. I can say I did this and check it off the list.
But no. Not finished. We had only been out for like 39 minutes of the 4-hour tour.
Apparently the drill is that Captain Tom moves the boat moved around to try for different fish. From the mildly rough waters we moved around to calmer waters, near the jetty. The son was one of the first ones to claim what was then the biggest fish of the day: a gorgeous 15-inch red snapper.
Others would catch their own red snapper. But I did not care about them. I cared only that Mom caught her first fish - ever - the son caught a really awesome red snapper, and that for about 30 blissful minutes I had the entire top deck of the boat to myself to lie down in the sun, see nothing but water all around, and note with relief we only had 40 minutes left of the 4-hour tour….
Back into the marina and at the dock, the son’s fish is retrieved from where it had
been strung up. We stop by the lean-to next to Woody’s and get the catch of the day filleted. For $5. We consider how to cook it....over lunch back at the condo and then later over dinner that night at the worst restaurant choice of the trip (I'll say for the time being that there was no artisanal pizza at the pizza place, but a pizza buffet and an 80s salad bar).
We finally had the family catch – last night.
To get everyone at the table at the same time – and not have the day’s dining be just a series of snack times – and get all the kids interested in dinner at the same time, we opted for the family favorite sure-fire kid-pleaser: Taco Night. We even set the table for it. We even used real plates.
As everything else was just about done (the taco shells, the refried beans, the
taco meat (my sister Cathy’s special recipe: spicy Ranch dressing and regular Ranch dressing mix mixed into the taco seasoning mix), the queso, the chopped onions, tomatoes, avocados), it was time to fry up the red snapper catch.
There was only one prize fish - did I mention my son caught that fish? - but there were two gorgeous fillets out of it.
Recipe for Fried Fish
- Make do with whatever random items your vacation condo has on hand to get the Fish Fry poured out onto a flat surface in which the beautiful fresh fish fillets may be dredged.
2. For us, this step required using a grill pan/skillet for the (every other bowl, plate, etc. had been used to set the table and hold the Taco Night Fixins).
[Note leftover bacon grease in the bowl.
We cook a LOT of bacon on family vacations.]
3. While you were having some leftover Edna Valley Chardonnay (I can only handle Chardonnay at the beach for some reason), you should have been heating up the pan (the one in which the bacon was fried that morning) with a hefty quantity of vegetable oil.
Fill the pan up high enough to get the fish all covered up once the oil is really, really hot. Do not put the fish in too soon, i.e., before the oil is really hot.
4. Lay the beautiful fish fillets (caught by the son) in the really hot oil.
Do not turn too soon.
Do not turn too much.
Do not burn.
Do not get impatient and take out because the gorgeous fillets look about done.
5. Wait until the fillets of fresh fish are crispy golden brown, then take out the fillets with whatever implement you can find at the vacation condo and drain them on a paper towel.
6. Serve on paper plate (because all the other plates were taken...we set the table that night). [Thanks to Mom for the lemon garnish here. It really does make a huge difference.]
Good thing we had Fish Fry on hand from the trip to Port "A" Seafood Co. where we got the 1.5 pounds of shrimp the other day, thinking I would fry those up and try for my own best version (a la Tyler Florence) of a fried shrimp po-boy, which remains elusive for me.
What is no longer elusive, however, is the best fried fish ever.
We had it on Taco Night.
Did I mention the son caught that fish?