Traveling Trails Less Traveled. By Buckshot Anderson
For June 6th, 2008 Edition.
They came pretty much on schedule this spring, even though the weather pattern suggested they’d be running late. And if it weren’t for our resident flock of eagles, I’d never guessed the suckers were running in the creek.
It was somewhere around the 10th of May when I received the information from three of our eagles. Two adults and one immature bird were sitting on Tim and Judy Vernon’s dock just across Lost Creek from where Wifee Poo and I call home. The younger bird was chomping down a freshly killed three pound sucker while the two white headed oldsters looked on smugly. It was as though the parents were proudly watching one of their kids correctly doing what it had been taught to do.
The “spring sucker run” is currently a mere shadow of what it once was. Back in the dark ages when I was a kid the “crick” was jam packed with suckers every spring. But things were quite different back then. The creek contained much more water flow than it does today. Pools and back eddies that were once three and four feet deep now barely cover my knees and ankles.
Back in the 1940s and 50s it was common for truckloads of sucker gatherers to make their annual pilgrimage to harvest the ugly fish. Groups from as far away as Wausau and Stevens Point descended upon the creek during the fishes annual spawning run. Local yokels, like my own family, also harvested a wheelbarrow or two from the hundreds and hundreds that blanketed the bottom of the river.
For many years suckers could be legally speared during daylight hours, but that was eventually ended mainly because some harvesters had difficulty telling a sucker from a walleye or musky. And believe it or not, there were even some folks who had trouble noticing the sun had long since disappeared behind the western horizon!
Using nets to bag a mess of suckers was also a popular technique. “Show offs” like to take them from under log piles or from under old beaver dams by simply using their bare hands! (The current fishing regulations only allow the taking of suckers by hook and line or by hand.) My dad had a unique method of harvesting a few suckers. He’d sit on the bank of the stream overlooking shallow riffles and plunk the fish with his .22 rifle. Our black cocker spaniel, Pat, then retrieved the prize. But above all else, the old time sucker-catching outings were fun times, except for the suckers.
Suckers are bone-infested critters and special recipes are required to convert them into palatable cuisine. The most popular end result for harvested suckers is to smoke them. (And don’t give me that old corny comeback, “Ain’t they awful hard to light?) Another trick of the trade is to fillet them, remove the rib bones and run the fillets through a meat grinder. Add chopped onion, salt, pepper, a dash of garlic powder, a raw egg and press the mixture into patties. Lightly floured and fried in olive oil the concoction is quite tasty.
Another method of making suckers yummy is to can them. Standard canning procedures work and adding a dab of ketchup and/or mustard will produce a fish with the texture and flavor of canned salmon.
I’m reluctant to expound on what caused the plummet in the Lost Creek sucker run, even though the list of possible/probably explanations is rather short.
Over harvesting of the species could be a contributing factor plus coupled with the decrease in water flow might add up to be the culprit. Other than that, I have no clue.
One of my pals, Steve Clemens, and I spent an hour one beautiful spring day securing a bucket of ten fish several weeks ago. The resident flock of five eagles watched us from their lofty perches in the towering white pines that line the ridge that overlooked the harvest zone. They seemed interested in our method of operation and watched intently. Cleaning the catch, which is far from rocket science, came next.
The fish were destined for my smoker so all Steve and I had to do was behead them and remove all that internal yukky stuff. Next I mixed up a brine to soak them in. Pickling or Kosher salt is added to a plastic bucket or glass container of cold water and stirred until the salt is dissolved. To test the mixture use a raw egg, (still in the shell) and drop it in the brine. When the egg just floats the brine contains the proper salt density. Next I added a cup of brown sugar and stir the brine until the sugar is dissolved. Soak the fish for 12 to 16 hours in a cool place making sure the fish are submerged in the brine. The longer the fish soak in the brine the saltier will be their flavor. I place a dinner place over the fish in the brine, which prevents them from rising to the surface. Once removed from the brine rinse the fish in cold water to remove any residue left from the soaking process. Now we’re ready to finish the product.
My commercially manufactured smoker is made by Smoky Mountain. I prefer producing heat and smoke the old fashioned way without the use of electric units or propane models. After a mound of charcoal is glowing in the fire pan I pile on several chunks of dry native black cherry wood to produce the sweet smoke. Sugar maple also produces good results. The fish are placed on racks and the actual smoking time varies according to the size, number and thickness of the fish being smoked. Our ten suckers, which averaged about two to three pounds, took three hours and fifteen minutes at 200 to 220 degrees. The “are they done” test simply requires sticking a grilling fork into the flesh and if no moisture oozes from the punctures, -- it’s done!
Besides carefully munching on freshly smoked sucker (or most any other oily fleshed fish) there is yet another step to create the most “oooh it’s sooooo good” hors d’ oeuvre known to mankind! I call it smoked fish pâté.
Peel the skin from the smoked fish and remove the backbone and ribs. Run the smoked flesh through a meat grinder, bones and all, along with a large sweet inion. Add soy sauce, teriyaki, garlic powder or ground garlic cloves, black pepper, and creamed horseradish. Mix this all together and then add mayo or salad dressing and continue mixing until the pâté is the consistency of creamy peanut butter. If you’d like a little zing in the mixture grind up jalapeno peppers and/or add a dash of cayenne red pepper. Serve this savory delight on a cracker or dainty rye bread and you’ll have to beat your neighbors with a stick to keep them away! (You’ll need to experiment with the amount of ingredients to suit your personal taste.)
You also may wish to install a padlock on your frig once the news gets out you’re dining on smoked fish pâté.
Comments from my Uncle Jim Dean
This conjures up all kinds of memories--some exciting, some freezing cold and miserable. This was a "rite of Spring" for the Dean Clan for so many years. Rousted out of bed at 5:00 AM, freezing ride to Lost Crick in the back of a Willys pickup, icy water, never "doing it right," etc. Remember trying to balance a whole gunny sack of suckers on a bike coming back from Stella Crick? Tom: Remember how shocked you, Joe Prombo, and Krikau were when I simply stepped into the Crick with my net? I guess you city-slickers thought we were going to fish from the bank. Quite a ritual, though, our trips from Elgin up to St.Germain in the Springs, the cold modified with Christian Brothers brandy. (Note the word "crick," which is the way it should be pronounced. Only rich people said "creeeek.") JIM
Mr. Leon "Buckshot" Anderson is one of the few old time hunting and fishing guides left in Northern Wisconsin. Buckshot is a personal friend of the family and has known and worked with my grandfather, Howard "Pop" Dean, both of whom are members of the fresh water fishing hall of fame, Legendary Guide. Buckshot has authored 7 books on the great outdoors. All of his books can be purchased directly from him, at a discount, by email: email@example.com or by mail to: 2220 Deadman's Gulch Road, St. Germain, WI 54558.
Books by Leon "Buckshot" Anderson Click Here
Yes; Deadman's Gulch is the correct name, I have been on that road many times. Sincerely David D. Cruger
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