Bluegill: And All Through The House...

...not a creature was stirring. Except the fish chef. Who drove home late, through a light dusting of snow, with a mess of 7- to 8-inch panfish.


Four bluegills scaled and left on the bone work for the two of us. Plenty of meat there. It's a holiday tradition, eating first-ice fish from small local lakes — a festive celebration of the wild food still available to us long after the Harvest Moon.


These fish were under a canopy 5 inches thick, camped under patches of snow and milky ice. Under clear ice, nothing was happening. Not in 8 feet of water by the cabbage line. Bluegills don't just sit in the shade of those patches. They're moving around on the best days. You have to draw them in there, where you want them to be — where it's harder for them to see or sense you. I often bait-and-switch, attracting them with a Lindy Rattlin' FlyerRattle Snakie Spoon — anything small, noisy, and flashy. Then I switch to a 1/64- to 1/80-ounce jig or smaller, something that holds 2- to 4- maggots or a thin, twitchy plastic tail. I don't necessarily see fish on the flasher before switching. I just shake a rattling spoon for a minute or so and switch. Sometimes a bonus smallmouth, crappie, or walleye comes in on the rattler right away.

Sometimes it's a 10-inch bluegill.


Those go back down the hole. I'm looking for a few 8 inchers. A 7 incher will do.  I like to gut-and-scale bluegills. I kill a lot fewer fish that way. Nobody wants to debone a dozen, but they'll wolf down a dozen fillets before the fry cook can sit down at the table.

We sprinkle bluegills with lime juice and sea salt then let them sit for 10 minutes before dusting with corn starch and frying them in 3 tablespoons of peanut oil on high heat. Two minutes or so per side. Then we slide them into a 350°F oven. But before doing all that, we make a sauce. I never thought anything could improve much on the natural and unique flavor of a bluegill until I found this Thai dipping sauce. It begins with the same foundation used to create many fine sauces designed to complement fish in Southeast Asia: In a saucepan, combine 3/4 cup water, 1/3 cup rice vinegar, 3 tablespoons brown sugar, and 2 to 3 tablespoons of minced, fresh ginger root. Stir like mad. Simmer gently until it's reduced by half (about 20 to 30 minutes). While this particular base bubbled away, I added a teaspoon of fine Japanese sesame oil, 1 teaspoon sea salt, a tablespoon of Vietnamese fish sauce, 3 chopped, red, Thai chiles, the stems of a few cilantro stalks, a teaspoon of Thai black soy sauce, two tablespoons of tow jiew (a thick, brown soyabean sauce), and two large cloves of garlic sliced in thin petals. Oooh. La. La. It explodes on every taste receptacle. Spicy, sweet, sour, salty, evened with garlic and laced with ginger that bites back. It assaults the palate with wonder. Somehow or another it perfectly compliments the unique and peculiar flavor found only in the firm flesh of a bluegill.

A big part of the solstice around this hacienda is finding new ways to enjoy the season's bounty in the days leading up to Christmas. Ways to make a festive, colorful, tasty meal with a coney, a few grouse, or some first-ice fish flesh. Some years it's a walleye, a pike — sometimes it's a succulent whitefish poached in brandy. It's like Second Thanksgiving, with main dishes personalized by game and fish indigenous to the immediate surrounds of home.

Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

Recommended for You

Recipes

Pecan-Crusted Catfish Fillets Recipe

By: Emilie Bailey

This is not your run-of-the-mill fish recipe! Buttery, savory pecans are seasoned up to make...

Bass

Buzzbaits for Bass

Dan Johnson - February 02, 2015

To help you get a handle on it all, we offer the following rundown of top choices on the...

Bass

Sensational New Softbaits for Bass

Steve Quinn - April 22, 2019

Steve Quinn talks new softbaits for bass from Berkley.

See More Recommendations

Trending Stories

Catfish

The Best Catfish Rigs

In-Fisherman - January 11, 2018

Catfish are simple creatures that can be caught using the best catfish rigs. Catching them is...

Pike & Muskie

How To Catch Pike In Spring

Dan Johnson - April 26, 2016

Spring is prime time for pike. The Prespawn and Postspawn periods offer excellent odds at...

Catfish

All About Catfish

Rob Neumann

Catfish are among the most popular groups of fish with over 7 million catfish anglers...

See More Stories

More Panfish

Panfish

Fish Attractants from Overseas

Cory Schmidt - April 16, 2018

From out of the inky abyss, they materialized like ghosts. Stirred by something foreign in...

Panfish

Balance Lures for Big Panfish

Cory Schmidt - March 07, 2019

Balanced jigging lures for big panfish may be the least understood category of ice lures, yet...

Panfish

Proven Patterns for Panfish

Dan Johnson - May 22, 2018

Proven patterns for panfish allow anglers to catch a rich diversity of panfish all year round.

See More Panfish

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

×