Aha! Apparently the bad luck that frequently accompanies our trips is because of the “Todd” portion of “Matt and Todd”. I left the dock with my brother and nephew, and Todd was elsewhere. And it was one of the BEST FISHING TRIPS EVER!

Double Hook Up - Croaker and TroutMy nephew, Ryan, was visiting from Oregon, and had never been fishing on the East Coast. He’s not a total newbie…he has the fishing theory down, and in fact has wet a line in some of the best fishing waters in Alaska. After fishing the salmon-laden rivers there, I was afraid that any fishing I could show him would pale in comparison. I felt a bit better, however, when he told me that when he was living in Alaska, he managed to get “skunked” in those salmon-laden rivers…to the point that the tourists there felt so sorry for him that they would give him the fish they caught. So, while not a newbie to fishing, his “catching” experience was almost nil. Excellent. That’s the kind of person that I have a chance of showing a good time on the water.

The day was planned to be a bit random. It would be a mix of crabbing, fishing, and using crab pots to catch a new (to us) species. We were actually targeting Pufferfish for the first time. The Northern Puffer, also called “swell toads”, “blow toads”, or “chicken-of-the-sea”, are supposedly a delicacy. Whenever I hear the term “delicacy”, I think about food that is so awful that people pay big bucks to eat it simply for the prestige. But, the locals kept telling us that once we eat one, we’ll never throw another one back, so we decided to try it. We stopped by the fish market on the way to the boat ramp and picked up the “secret pufferfish bait”, which we put in several crab pots in the “secret pufferfish location”. We were told that the puffers would swarm the pots. Promises, promises.

We dropped a few other crab pots that were actually baited for crabs, too. Crazy kids.

We were drift-fishing in the stiff breeze, hoping to catch flounder. It wasn’t long before I hooked the first fish, which was a spot. Awesome! More bait!

Ryan, the “newbie” soon after caught a double hook-up: trout and croaker. Instant perma-grin on his face…it was priceless. It was AFTER he caught these that he shared his previous bad luck fishing. He was happy, and he could have gone home happy right then and there.

Not long after that, when he was pulling his bait in to check, a shark followed the bait to the surface and bit the hook off his line. It was exciting. I didn’t think his grin could get bigger, but it did.

Then he caught a black sea bass.

Then he caught a pufferfish…on hook and line.

It was so cool to see him experience the variety of fish that we have in the Chesapeake Bay. I was commenting on how we sometimes see dolphins. No sooner had the words escaped my lips than a pod of about 8 or 9 dolphins cruised right by the boat. It was eerie. You could not have scripted the timing any better.

Sand Shark from the Chesapeake BaySand Shark from the Chesapeake BayThe super highlight for Ryan was the Sand Shark. He managed to play the fish to the boat, keeping it calm…until I dipped it with the net, at which point it went berserk. His permagrin was about to split his face wide open. It was awesome. (That picture with him holding the shark instantly became his Facebook profile pic.)

My brother and I caught a few other fish…mostly spot for me, and mostly bluefish for him. But in spite of our lack of fish, seeing Ryan catch the most, the most species, and the biggest fish, made our day.

We went to pull the pots, and I gotta tell ya…the locals weren’t lying about the secret bait or the secret location. In 6 pots, we caught 24 puffer fish. They’re relatively small…you don’t get a ton of meat off of them. But they are also relatively easy to clean (even though their rough skin does a number on your fingertips).Pufferfish in a Crab Pot

The crabs in the pots were all sponge crabs. They were orange sponges, not yet brown, so by Virginia law we didn’t have to throw them back…but we did. That’s how we roll. Go make more crabs. Besides, we bought a bushel of live #2 jimmies for $40 on the way home…all males, and much easier than trying to catch a bushel.

We came home and had family and friends over to steam the crabs and try the puffer fish. My wife gave them a beer-battered hot oil bath. And the locals weren’t lying about the taste, either. It was the mildest, least “fishy” fish I’ve ever put in my mouth. My crab pots might not ever be used to catch crabs again…they’ll be busy catching swell toads!

Northern Puffer from the Chesapeake BayIt was definitely one of the best trips ever in terms of having fun (the joy of seeing someone catch fish like never before), and in terms of good eats.  (Even though we never caught any flounder…the puffers were as tasty if not more-so.)

Not one thing went wrong on the trip. And it does not go unnoticed that Todd was not there. I’m just sayin’.

Leave a Reply