June 7, 2014 10:41AM
By Mike Roberts
Special to the Record-Journal
The Channel catfish are here! Where? Mirror Lake (Hubbard Park), Black Pond and Silver Lake, for starters.
Black Pond and Silver Lake have had a stocked population of Channel catfish for a couple of years now. Mirror Lake in Hubbard Park was added to the list for the first time this year.
I did catch a couple of Channel catfish at Black Pond last year while trolling for trout. I was really surprised when they took a couple of my trolled lures, including a brass phoebe and a spoon that had a bright chartreuse color. Believe me when I tell you, they can put up quite a tussle on the end of a fishing line.
I have heard about some catfish being caught at Silver Lake and Black Pond the past couple of years. Some of them were taken through the ice and tipped the scales at five pounds and better.
I had my first introduction to just how good catfish are as tablefare a number of years ago when Edna and I visited our son George and his family down in Georgia. Being down south, I had a hankering for a catfish fry and George came up with a restaurant with, of all things, the name of “Catfish Heaven.” For the price, you could have all of the deep-fried catfish fillets you could eat. I think they lost money on me. The line to get into the place was out of the door.
Over the years, I have caught a few catfish in my fishing endeavors, but not because I was fishing for them. They just happened to hit my bait or lure. This is going to change this year because I think I want to catch a few for home consumption.
Connecticut’s DEEP has announced that one of the most sought-after freshwater game fish species in the country, the Channel catfish, has been stocked in water bodies across Connecticut. To be precise, DEEP Inland Fisheries has stocked 17,000 channel “cats” into 24 lakes and ponds.
This marks the eighth year DEEP has been able to stock Channel catfish purchased with Federal Sport Fish Recreational Funds.
The catfish are stocked at the adult size, averaging 12-18 inches in length and weight just under 2 pounds, and as juveniles, averaging 9-12 inches. Stocking the adult catfish provides an immediate summer fishery for a great tasting, high quality fish, while stocking juveniles provide a cost effective investment for great catfish action into the future.
While the adult catfish that have been stocked seem to be generous in size, it is interesting to note that in Connecticut the largest catfish caught to date tipped the scales at 29 pounds, 6 ounces and was caught in Mashapaug Lake in Union in 2004. It would be nice to see some of the local waters start to yield some trophy catfish in a couple of years.
“The DEEP program establishes catfish in lakes where we know there is sufficient habitat to support a population of large gamefish,” said Susan Whalen, Deputy Commissioner of DEEP. “Anglers have reported taking 5-to-7 pound fish from several of the lakes. DEEP believes that the combination of a popular gamefish stocked into the waters that are selected based on scientific data, is a winning combination. We’ve had great success in using this approach to developing exciting fisheries for northern pike and walleye and now we are looking to similar results with catfish.”
Of the 24 waters stocked, five are new to the Community Fishing Waters Program (CFW), the goal of which is to create and enhance year-round fishing opportunities in urban areas by combining trout stocking in the spring and fall with catfish stocking in late spring or early summer. This program began in 2007 and this year expanded to five new waters.
“Connecticut has a diversity of fishing opportunities, freshwater and marine, all within a short drive or bus ride for most citizens. Stocking catfish in urban areas provides excellent family recreational opportunities close to home for many local residents,” said Deputy Commissioner Whalen. “The Community Fishing Program is one of our many efforts to promote fishing throughout the state and provide opportunities for all to enjoy the great outdoors.”
Tips on fishing for Channel catfish and how to prepare a delicious meal with your catch are easily found with a quick Internet search. There is currently no minimum size for harvest of Channel catfish or daily catch limits of these prized fish, but the DEEP and your outdoor writer strongly urge, PLEASE, only take those that you intend to eat!
Regarding the fishing and the preparation for consumption: Maybe I can help you there. I fished for catfish at Mirror Lake last week and had a ball. I stopped over to The Fishin’ Factory in Southington and picked up some nightcrawlers and a pack of #4 snelled hooks (#3, or #2 hooks will work also) and headed for Mirror Lake.
My fishing tackle was a lightweight rod & reel with a split shot sinker and a nightcrawler fished on the bottom. On my first attempt fishing Mirror Lake, I caught three good-sized catfish and a rainbow trout. I went back the next day and caught a couple more catfish and, surprisingly, another rainbow trout.
As I mentioned earlier, catfish are an eating treat if they are prepared correctly before consumption and then cooked the right way for a fantastic fish fry. My darlin’ Edna is quite fussy when it comes to what kind of fish she will eat, but catfish ranks high on her list, so I knew I had to do it right the first time.
When I got home, I filleted the catfish (all you really need is a sharp fillet knife and a set of side-cut wire snippers). I use the snippers to cut the dorsal fin and side fins by the gills of the catfish off because they each contain a spike that is very sharp (and painful, if they get you). I then fillet the catfish and then, using the fillet knife, separate the skin from the flesh of the fillet.
Edna loves Cajun style catfish, so I used McCormick Cajun Seafood Fry Mix found at almost any seafood section in your favorite super market (I found mine at Stop & Shop). We also like making some fried pizza dough “biscuits” (pizza dough also found in super market), which I roll out on a floured board and cut into serving sizes pieces. I then pour some cooking oil into a frying pan and turn up the heat.
When the oil is hot, the first thing I cook in the hot oil is the pizza dough (light brown), put them on a paper towel to drain and then cook my fish.
For the fish, first I make an egg batter whipping up a couple of eggs, then I put down a sheet of wax paper and spread some of the Cajun Mix on it.
The fillets are then dredged in the Cajun Mix, dipped into the egg batter and then dredged once again in the Cajun Mix and put into the hot oil (be careful). Frying fish in hot oil is not a time consuming operation, so do not put the fish in the pan and then walk away from them. A minute or two on one side and even less on the other and your Cajun Catfish is ready to eat!
The outside of the fillet should be a light, crispy brown. We usually keep it simple with the catfish fillets, a veggie or fresh salad, and the fried pizza dough with some melted butter or margarine melting into the pizza dough. It doesn’t get any better than that.
As mentioned earlier, the catfish stocked into Connecticut waters totaled about 17,000. Area waters stocked included Mirror Lake (350 adults), Black Pond (725 yearlings) and Silver Lake (1,500 yearlings).
Other waters included Bunnells Pond, Bridgeport (750 adults), Birge Pond, Bristol (500 adults), Pattaconk Lake, Chester (720 yearlings), Lake Kenola, Danbury (695 yearlings), Picketts Pond, Derby (400 adults), Freshwater Pond, Enfield (400 adults), Batterson Pond, Farmington (285 yearlings), Hopeville Pond, Griswold (1,285 yearlings), Lake Wintergreen, Hamden (1,520 adults & yearlings), Keeney Park Pond, Hartford (300 adults) and Quinebaug Lake, Killingly (1,290 yearlings).
Also stocked were Rowans Pond (Butternut Pond), Middletown (200 adults), Stanley Quarter Pond, New Britain (300 adults), Beaver Park Lagoon (North), New Haven (400 adults), Spaulding Pond (Mohegan Park Pond), Norwich (670 adults), Maltby Ponds #2 & #3, Orange/West Haven (215/235 yearlings), Stillwater Pond, Torrington (930 yearlings), Bur Pond, Torrington (825 yearlings), Lakewood Lake, Waterbury (1,425 adults) and Scoville Reservoir, Wolcott (1,150 yearlings).
This urban fishing program promoted by the DEEP Inland Fisheries has provided the Connecticut citizenry with some really nice fishing opportunities. We also have to thank the City of Meriden Parks & Recreation Commission and the City Councilors for their wisdom in opening Mirror Lake to fishing for all of our citizens. Last Sunday I walked the park and it was a joy to see families picnicking and enjoying some special time with their kids fishing Mirror Lake. Great job gang.
Oh, next week I have off, but my darlin’ Edna will be penning my column for Father’s Day (much to the delight of many of our lady readers). However, we guys know that our wives to like to exaggerate on the outdoor pursuits of the men in their lives, right guys?
See ya’ and God Bless America and watch over our troops wherever they may be.