This is a blog featuring my personal stories of food, gardening, yachting, photography, travel and life.

Friday, September 9, 2011

A Big Fish Tale

The annual fishing trip to Ucluelet, British Columbia, Canada has wrapped up. Three days filled with fishing for King and Coho salmon and Halibut off the west coast of Vancouver Island.

With my friends Ken Marshall and Rick Scribner, we headed from our home here in Bellingham, Washington to the rustic fishing village with Rick driving and towing his 24 foot Campion Explorer fishing boat. Each year for the past 5 years, Rick has taken us to this amazing fishing ground where we have been dazzled by the shear numbers and size of the fish we catch. This year was no exception!

Despite the fishing not living up to Rick's description of what it had been like two weeks prior, when the fishing was the best he could remember in many years, we managed to do just fine. We had to work at it though. Our days would start with a couple of great fish and then things just died. Then we'd get the occasional bite or two and then nothing. Around the early afternoon, when the tide changed. the bite would be on and we'd get hit hard again. Then things trailed off with long periods of no action which Rick left wondering what to try next. Our fishing guide to these waters and fishing teacher, was in constant motion switching out lures, trying other depths (always with a 7 involved, 67 feet, 87 feet). But by the end of the day we had fish in the boat and some big ones at that.

By the end of the first day we scored several Kings, a few Coho and I caught one halibut when Rick dropped the lure to the bottom to try something different. All of a sudden, I'm hauling up a 20-25 pound halibut, the only one of the trip.

Day two started out the same as the first day but in the afternoon the weather turned wicked. Swells 8-10 feet high, fog persisted all day with intermittent sun breaks, and the wind started up. It was miserable by late afternoon and we finally packed it up and headed in with another hard fought load of fish.

I didn't expect much for day three with regards to the weather. The report indicated more of the same from day two's storm, but a tapering off of the wind and seas by afternoon. So we headed out of the Ucluelet inlet expecting a very rough ride. The inlet was deceivingly calm, but when we made the turn to head into open water we were pleasantly surprised to find the sea was about as calm and flat as it ever gets. The weather turned out to be fantastic the entire day. In fact it seemed to get even better as the day went along. We had gorgeous views of the mountains that lined the shore 15 miles away and the water was absolutely flat calm.

The fishing was pretty much the same as it had been the previous two days except that we started to pick up more Coho. We had caught Coho the previous two days but as luck would have it, we caught mostly natives instead of the hoped for hatchery fish. The difference being that the adipose fin located between the dorsal and tail fins is removed on the hatchery fish. So when you catch a Coho you need to carefully look for the absence of that fin before you bop it on the head and roll it into your holding tank. The fine for possession of one of these natives is $100. The exception to this rule is based on where you catch the Coho. There are areas of the fishery where you can keep these natives, so be aware of this rule while fishing in the region.

The biggest thrill for me on this trip occurred while I was doing my usual bird dogging of my line. I can stare down my rod tip for hours waiting for the least little nibble to indicate the presence of a potential adversary down in the depths. The time to really pay attention occurs when the rod tip begins to jump and then suddenly springs from it's normally arced position. This indicates that a fish has pulled hard enough to release the line from the down rigger pin. In one quick move you need to get to your feet, grab the rod from the rod holder and begin reeling in.

I don't recall which of us it was, but someone suddenly had a fish on and is sometimes the case when it looks like a possible keeper, we began bringing up the other lines in the water to give the fish plenty of room and to keep it from entangling the other lines. I began reeling in my line and it had nearly reached the surface when something hit my plug hard and leaped out of the water. Coho? They often attack lines right at the surface. But this fish didn't feel like a Coho.

It felt like a King and Rick seemed to think so as well. When the line started reeling out, I knew I had a battle on my hands. I tightened the drag a bit to make the King work a little harder to take my line, but he continued running off more line. Rod tip up, I reeled like mad between runs. Slowly, but surely I brought the King up closer to the boat. Our first look at him after about a 10 minute tug of war was a jaw dropper. It was definitely a big King. Even now, close to the boat, the King wanted to play. He kept swimming back and forth and occasionally diving, but by now, with the pressure I kept on the fish and the fact that he was tiring, it was only a matter of time and whether he would throw the hook, a real potential threat using barbless hooks.

Rick held out the net and as I slowly guided the fish in close to the side of the boat, the big King was scooped up and hoisted aboard. I learned that I had caught a Tyee, any salmon over 30 pounds. Rick weighed the King with his digital scale and it came in at about 36 pounds, the biggest salmon I had ever caught.

We caught some other big Kings, Rick landed another Tyee that was a beauty. We also managed to land a couple of really nice Cohos. But I will never forget the thrill of catching my Tyee. Feeling the power of that fish through the rod, the excitement of the battle to bring it in, really connects you with the power of these beautiful fish.

Our trip ended with the final catch of a really nice Coho keeper. We made a high speed run back to port over the flat calm sea. Fish cleaned and put on ice, the boat out of the water, washed down and trailered, we headed off to dinner and a final night of sleep before the long trip home.

If we are lucky enough to be invited back to Ucluelet again next year, I know I plan to be there. The memory of feeling that Tyee on the end of my line is still fresh in my mind. I wonder, is there a 40 pounder out there with my name on it?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Dolma or Stuffed Grape Leaves

I seldom see these tasty mediterranean delights outside of ethnic restaurants and delis. To many folks they may seem a lot of work for so little payoff. But really they are quite simple to make, aside from the bit of extra time it takes to roll each one. Yes, you can go to a local deli and buy them pre-made, but homemade dolmas allow you to use up left overs, control what goes into them and you get the bragging rights when your guests oooo and ahhh over these tasty morsels.

Mezzetta brand is my favorite!
You needn't deal with the gathering of the grape leaves themselves. There are several fine companies which take care of that for you. I like the Mezzetta brand, the makers of a variety of olive, pepper and other pickled products. One jar will give you enough grape leaves to make 25-30 or so dolmas, enough to fill an 8 1/2 by 11 casserole. Plenty for an appie at your next party.  

To prepare the filling for your dolmas, either make some cooked rice, white or brown, if you want to be healthy about it. Or perhaps you have some left over rice from a previous meal. Place it into a mixing bowl. Allow to cool to room temperature. Decide what you want to add to the filing mixture. Traditional additions might include ground lamb, pine nuts, currants, mint, onions, tomato paste and any number of spices including allspice, cinnamon, dill and cumin. But don't feel like you need to hold to tradition. Ground beef will work fine. Don't like allspice? Leave it out. Ran out of pine nuts? Leave them out, too. Use what you have in the fridge and spice cabinet. Any number of recipes are available on-line if you just really must have a specific recipe.
My bowl of dolma filling

Here is the sequence of my most recent effort. I used brown rice, mint (chiffonade the mint) from my garden, diced carrots, diced pickled red peppers from a jar I had in the fridge, raisins, shredded parmesan cheese and salt and pepper to taste.

I added ingredients to the mixing bowl until I liked the color of the mixture. Mine came out looking like a bowl of paella! 

I drained the jar of grape leaves and then carefully unfolded them so that they laid flat on my preparation surface. One leaf at a time usually although it is okay to use two small ones and overlap them to help make the dolmas more consistent in size. Lay the grape leaf with the veins of the leaf facing up and place the stem end at the top. Spoon a little of your filling onto the leaf just below the stem. You'll get the hang of how much you need after a couple of tries. Fold the right and left lobes of the leaves inward toward the middle and then roll as tightly as you can like you are making a burrito tucking in the edges of the leaf as you roll. Be patient, you'll get the hang of it. 

As you get each dolma rolled, place it into an 8 1/2 by 11 inch glass casserole so they sit snug against each other. Pour broth, either chicken or beef or lamb if you have it, into the casserole and then a dry white wine until the dolmas are covered about half way up their sides. Pour olive oil over the dolmas, cover the casserole with foil and bake in a 350 degree oven for 1 hour or until the grape leaves are tender. 

I guarantee these tasty tidbits will fly off the plate when you put them out on the table. Buon apetito!