Sunday, March 25, 2012

Some notes on spring that might be useful to anyone interested in carp fishing, smoking fish, chickens, death, etc.

(1) 12:35 PM today first wood tick on pant leg.
(2) On way home from bus stop today noted first mowed lawn.
(3) The forest floor is pushing up through the leaf litter. This is always a glorious occasion. Colorful around here, especially in floodplains and in the river valleys in general. Bloodroot noted on way up Chimney Rock.
(4) The carp have awoken are in full-on active mode. I have in the month of March fished to feeding carp in both Zumbro and Cannon systems. In the latter I found fish that were swimming in pairs and small groups; had the look of prespawn but hard to say. Still a lot of mystery. Incident of note: sometime last week I had occasion to stop at some old carp waters. Part of my old hometown circuit. Walk up and booyaa biyatch there is a giant pigathon carp feeding all alone in current. I sprinted back to motor vehicle and lined up. Was going to go with LOD but at the last second I put on a worm bomb pattern because I wanted it to get down fast, being out there in the river and all. Back above and sighted the fish, still feeding. Marked the spot on the bank and went way downstream… started the stalk. It worked. The 300 degrees of vision didn’t get me. I showed it that fly and I’m not entirely sure what happened; fish just kind of faded out of my view and my life for now. I suppose it spooked gently on the fly or otherwise got onto me. The hunger of the quest really got me there and as I was getting to my visual marker and peering and looking so hard at the water I had the proverbial “feel my heart pounding” and it was really slamming there. I was figuring this was a good shot and I was pretty excited. Not to be though. It’s what makes the big carp notable and rare captures. Between other engagements I encountered some other carp and went back and forth a bit. Landed one that was so small I couldn’t bear to photograph it. Those little carp were in the river channel pretty thick. I did play the heron game and wait for a big sow momma to come by. And that was the worse of the two failures of the day: here she came… I put the fly on her…. She moved over it but gave no indication of eating. I went to pick it up and felt some resistance… figured she was snagged so rather than set the hook and blow her out of there, I gently pulled on the fly… only to watch her shake her head… feel the tension give… watch her swim away. I think she ate it in sneaky fashion and I snatched the fly from her pharyngeal grasp. I suppose I should have just played the odds and hammered on the fly. Tactical stuff indeed.
(5) Carp from previous post are smoked and laying in wait. Done this once or twice before, but still in trial and error mode. Here are the notes then: don’t use a fillet knife to clean carp. Use a big, old and strong buck knife of sorts. Sharpen it up pretty good. I found it really easy to fillet these fish with said knife. I should have scaled them first, but did that after. Wasn’t bad though. With scales off, carp look a bit like leopard fish in that they retain black and gold mottled color. Cut the fillets into steak-hunks, with skin still on. Brine overnight. I smoked these from 3 PM to 11 PM and could have probably taken them out earlier but I was gone that night until 11 PM. End result is that the are well-preserved and significantly reduced in volume. Too salty though. The useful note for any interested party is that I used the “float an egg” brine. This left the flesh too salty. Still usable but need to incorporate fish in a recipe that will cut salt. Next up I’ll try the 1:1:1 ratio of gallon water, cup salt, cup sugar approach. I’ll continue down this road until I get it right. This is a good and local protein source that I tangle with frequently. Feel a duty to eat some of them. Will make it work.
(6) Spring brought some new chickens to the yard. Couple weeks ago I killed the old ones. Here is how I did it: no food for 24 hours. Only water with a little sweet in it. This was due to reading that empty stomachs/crops are easier to manage. The prep was the key here. None of it was difficult or time consuming but I can see how a guy could get screwed up if he didn’t think it through and just went back and started hacking heads off birds. I got a good fire going. Got two empty feed bags for nice clean working surfaces. One big pot of near boiling water ready. Sharpened a really heavy knife to near razor edge. Got the garden hose out and handy. To hold the birds I took vinegar jugs and cut the bottoms out, and then cut holes by the handles. This allowed for the bird to go in with wings tucked and head down; head poking out the hole. I hung a plastic planter from the kids’ swingset. In the bottom of the planter I cut holes so the necks of vinegar jugs could set in there and stand upright to allow the birds to bleed out the necks. I don’t know if chickens can sense or understand death; I’ll never know that. I didn’t get all weepy or anything but out of final respect I took a board and set in front of the coop so they couldn’t watch their compadres being addressed with a knife. The boys asked me why we were killing the chickens and I said because they aren’t laying too many eggs. Plus, they’re dead already in that their day is out there; we’re just moving it up, etc. They were good with it. They opted to head to the park rather than help me out though, which was fine. Working alone is good. I think it was a fine way to die when all was said and done. What are the possible deaths for a chicken? Old age and cripple disease ridden rot? Or being assaulted by a fox or eagle maybe and eaten alive? Getting a heavy knife to the neck doesn’t seem bad in comparison. I always figure that terrible death for anybody is the death that is either slow or the death that you see coming a long way off and have time to think about; time to grow terrified. After placing each bird in their respective jug, I grabbed the head fast as I could, stretched the neck a bit and pressed hard… one quick slash and the head was off. Then let it bleed for a while onto the ground. Remove bird and dip in hot water for a minute or so, soaking everything. Feathers come off remarkably easy. Hold bird over fire to singe off some hair. Cut from breast to vent to eviscerate. Cut off feet (and save for folks who might want them). I figure we did right by the chickens and they had it pretty good to the end. All their guts and heads, etc. are buried in the yard in various places that will take advantage of the fertility. The meat is in the freezer. New pullets are already laying three eggs a day. So those are some notes to consider for anyone thinking of killing some chickens. I’m no expert but I can say with assurance that it’s not something to be intimidated by…. Read a bit and do the prep work. Things go fast, clean and easy for all parties. I’m not qualified to call it a rite of spring but it may have approached that for us. Note undeveloped comb and waddles in pic below; teenage chicken.
(7) Boys found another redbelly snake.


Anonymous piscator fontinalis said...

Mighty fine home farm deal you got going there ! Dyno pics of wildflowers already.

11:57 PM  
Blogger Gregg said...

Carp, kids, flowers, farming and learning, thinking, what could be better?


11:01 AM  
Blogger John Montana said...

I envy your spring man.

11:55 PM  
Blogger Wendy Berrell said...

Indeed, things looking up around here guys.

Might make a smoked carp and caper pizza. Not sure yet.

Now getting focused on some time coming with the bugs.

9:17 AM  
Blogger Ross Brecke said...

My wife has been wanting chickens for the last few years, thanks for all the advice on filleting a carp and the chickens! You may want to change the title of your blog to "Fishing, Thinking and Teaching in Minnesota"

9:52 AM  
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