For my last fishing trip in Washington, I wanted to revisit where I started six years ago: Clear Lake. Yet in my many trips throughout the area, I had never encountered such gusts as we did that last morning.
My friend Matt and I pulled into Mallard Bay Resort a little after 8 a.m. From the parking lot, we could make out the whitecaps surrounding the buoys past the boat launch.
Matt rowed while I sat at the bow, knuckles resting along the gunwale. The keel met every wave with a jolt, and I got a sample of early May lake temperatures.
We dropped anchor about 100 yards out from Clear Lake Recreation Area. Hoping to hook an elusive Clear Lake brown, I started off fishing from the bottom. In typical fashion, I grew impatient, as I am apt to do when it comes to still fishing.
I started throwing my favorite trout lure – Rebel’s crawfish. Despite the rocky waters, trout were repeatedly hitting the crankbait just a couple of feet below the water.
We brought a few to hand, only a couple larger than 12 inches, worthy of the stringer, while several others spit the hook.
When the bite died down, we moved closer toward the buoys, toward the middle of the lake. The anchor couldn’t reach the bottom, so we had to reel in and row as the wind continued to push us closer to shore.
But the spot was worth it: Every other cast brought a rainbow to hand, though we released most.
In the end, we were a few shy of our limit, but going home with dinner.
When it comes to brine, aside from the necessary salt needed to reduce the toughness of the meat and retain moisture during cooking, I believe all other ingredients should pass the eye test. If they aren’t spicy or citrusy or oily enough to sting my eyes upon contact, they don’t belong in the brine.
I often enjoy the sweet and smoky, subtly spicy flavor of ancho chile peppers (dehydrated poblano peppers) in various Mexican dishes, but they work well in a brine, along with the citrus tastes of mango. The added spices of black peppercorns, brown sugar, onion and garlic help balance the hearty nature that smoked fish should possess.
Amid prepping for our family’s big move, the night set aside to smoke the trout kept getting pushed back. Before I knew it, a week had passed.
I wouldn’t recommend brining 6- to 8-ounce trout fillets longer than two days, since longer time in salt solution runs the risk of creating too salty fish when cooking and perhaps turning the flesh to mush.
After a week, ancho chile oil had saturated the trout, blotching the flesh brown. I fired up my Weber one last time, adding moist applewood to the coals. I rinsed and pat-dried the fillets and let the fish smoke for about 2 hours. Despite the extra brine time, the trout maintained a nicetexture and tasted quite delicious.
It is my belief every recipe a cook encounters should serve as a basis. Once perfected, a recipe should fluctuate, be experimented upon, so it may reach its fullest potential, or perhaps serve as a segue to another recipe entirely.
I hope this recipe helps you, as a fisherman or cook or both, discover something new.
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