Bank fishing is perhaps best done hungry.
Many years ago I was up in the Orange Walk District of Belize, hunting in high, dry jungle for the wily white-lipped peccary (like a javelina but larger) with a small group of adventurers, when misfortune befell us.
What happened is another story, but the result was that we wound up camped beside a small lake about the size of a stock tank not having consumed anything but fresh coconut milk, lime juice and rum for two solid days.
The hunting had been poor and we had gotten separated from our supply base in a small village too far to hike to. We were hungry but we were all fishermen as well as hunters. No reason for fishermen to go hungry where there’s water.
In truth, if it hadn’t been for our guide, Bernard Flowers, we would’ve gone hungry anyway. We had survival kits with fishing line, weights, bobbers and hooks, but no bait.
We did have some cornmeal, though, a little of which Bernard poured into the palm of his hand. With the patience of a stone, he crouched at the edge of the lake, the water gently lapping onto his palm and dragging out the meal grain at a time. After what seemed an excruciating length of time, a minnow wiggled up to get to the mother lode, and like lightning, Bernard snatched him.
The guide reassumed his position on the bank while one of us put the minnow on a hook and tossed it out. Before he could supply us all with bait, one bobber disappeared with a hearty ploop! Imagine catching a two-pound sac-a-lait with a willow switch for a rod and you’ve got an idea of the fun we were having.
These weren’t sac-a-lait, of course, but rather bay snook, a type of ciclid, a tropical fish you might see in an aquarium. They were almost too garish to eat, bright green with dark lateral splotches, kind of like a peacock bass. Lips like a vacuum cleaner hose. But we would’ve eaten dogfish about then.
Long out of ice, we kept the fish fresh on a makeshift stringer until we had a mess of them. Then we gutted and gilled them under Bernard’s tutelage. We all knew how to clean fish, but we would normally have taken off the heads. A bay snook is like a javelina, cut off the head and you’ve lost half the animal.
So then Bernard wetted them down with the juice of a sweet, orange-meated fruit he called Jamaica limes, rolled them in cornmeal and fried them in lard. Heads and all.
Some fish stand out in my mind as being particularly flavorful when fried — sac-a-lait, of course, croaker, tripletail, certainly regular snook — but let me tell you, bay snook outshines them all!
But then like Ben Franklin said, hunger is the best pickle.
Back in Houston, we nearly got arrested for smuggling protected bromeliads, and a week later I discovered a nasty little tropical hitchhiker. But those, too, are other stories altogether.