Friday, May 18, 2012

Asian Eyes' USA - Sheeps Frenzy

              I went to school in USA back in the early nineties. It was end March and two weeks after our Speckled Trout run, we itched for another trip to Dauphin Island public fishing pier. This time there were 5 of us (Arthur, Jacky, Yon, Tony and I) on that Wednesday trip. We took the usual route, noticing the smoke from the chimney tilted slightly to the right and even stopping at a blinking yellow light. I was driving and it was the first time I saw a traffic light with yellow light blinking. “Hey, you can go where there was no one in sight” Tony told me. From that day on I learnt about blinking yellow light, blinking red light and what they meant. We picked up some live shrimps, fiddler crabs and a pound of dead shrimp from the bait shop.  
           We reached the pier but could hardly find a parking space. It was be full of cars and pickups! We unloaded our gears before I parked my car some distance away. As we approached the pier entrance, we saw the big crowd. Nearly 300 peoples and almost everyone had some activities, some pulling up fish upon fish from the sea, some picking up fish for the pier floor. It seems to be like a scene from a movie than in real life. It was spring time and fish spawns in spring. That was why it was such a frenzy scene. 
Sheepshead, the banded prisoner 
          Our normal spot by the pier entrance had been taken. We can barely squeeze in at the end of the jetty. We often heard shrieks of delight when fishes were landed and grunts when lines were cut. I used a light sinker, tied a float a foot above it and hooked a fiddler crab to my Eagle Claw size 3 hook. I hooked it just beneath the 2 eyes and threw it near a pier leg. I was hoping to hook the same fish that everyone was catching, a fish called 'Sheepshead'.
     It is a fairly nice eating fish, especially cooked in curry. The body is banded like light zebra stripe and has protruded teeth like a goat, hence the namesake 'Sheepshead'. Its human like teeth are used to crush shells and it can nip off a line in no time. When you look at it face to face, it is downright ugly. Here is a photo:
"You like a kiss?" (picture 
credit - Terence Teoh 
from Round Rock, TX)
Sheepsheads are abundant around pier legs or any submerged structure, and eat crustacean like barnacle, crab and clam. They also takes dead shrimp and cut fish meat, but fiddler crab are their favourite. The tip of my rod nodded softly, and I wanted to check whether the bait was still there. As I lifted up the rod, it became heavy and suddenly the line became stout.” A fish, a fish” I shouted to my friends, who were busying hooking their bait, looked up. As I struggled with my rod, my friend gave encouragement and cheered me on. My rod arched like a question mark, but in a moment my line snapped and I nearly fell backward, caught by a bystander. Alas, the big one got away. I swear it was a 12 pounders, plus minus, 10 pounds. Hee hee, fisherman tale!
All my friends fished near pier legs, each with a float tied a foot above their fiddler crab bait. Sheepsheads were famous bait thief. They eat ever so gently that one does not realised their bait was gone until too late. After my bait was stolen many times I changed to live shrimp.  Tony caught the first sheepshead, followed by Jacky. Then my rod started to twitch and my float disappeared under the water. I yanked the rod hard and the fish makes a run. “Watch out for the barnacles” Arthur shouted. He meant the barnacles near the pier legs. The barnacle can shred a fishing line in no time. I fought the fish for some time and when it surfaced, I can see it was no sheepshead. ”It’s a flounder!” I exclaimed excitedly. This will be a different fish species from sheepshead everyone were catching. I pulled up the flounder in a hurried manner, worrying that its sharp needled teeth would sever my line. It weighed like 2 pounds, with one side dark and the other light. Both eyes are on the top, bulging out with a mouth that still shut and open as to breathe air.  “This is one of the nicest tasting fish in Gulf Shores”, said Tony. “What bait do you use?” Tony enquired, evident that he urgently wanted to catch one too.

As I was about to answer him, his rod that he left leaned against the pier railing bend and nearly tripped into the sea. In the nick of time, he managed to grab the rod and started pumping. At the end of the line was a big sheepshead trying to pull the line towards a pole full of barnacles. Tony pulled with care and managed to get the sheepshead out to the open water. As it was too big, he cannot pull the fish up to the pier 20 feet high platform without the hook tearing out the fish's mouth due to the weight. Luckily, someone came over and lowered a basket to scooped up the fish. Yes, it was a big fish indeed. Later we found out that the fish tipped the scale at 8 lbs flat!
Me and the 'sheeps' that did not get away
There was no limit in catching sheepsheads then. We caught a total of 18 sheepsheads and 4 flounders which filled up 2 cooler boxes. Everyone wore a big smile. We called it a day when the sun was directly above our heads. At home we gave more than half of the sheepsheads away and kept the rest in our refrigerator. Some pressed $2 or $3 bills into my hand and said “It’s for the gas”, referring to the fuel for my car; or simply a gesture in bringing them fish. 
 It was Yon’s turn to cook as he was the last to catch a fish. He filleted the flounders, coated them with bread crumbs and whipped out a fish and chip meal. Since no one knows how to cook curry, I took the lead and cook 2 sheepsheads, including Tony’s big sheephead. Again I have to use canned coconut milk, with added ladies finger (a.k.a. okra in America) and brinjal (a.k.a. eggplant) in the curry. It may not the most delicious curry in the world but I was hoping it could at least satisfy 5 poor home sick fellas. Alas, Tony’s big sheepshead turned out to be a big letdown. The big fish meat was too tough and coarse. "It is a loko fish" ( * loko means old fish- which the fish meat is hard and there is certain smell on it), Yon said, after spitting out his mouthful. Just waste my effort in cooking it. At the end we had to throw the big fish away. Luckily I cooked the 2 fish curry in separate pots. We had to make do with just one sheepshead curry and flounder’s fish and chip. We make mental note to throw back any big sheepshead caught in the future. 
I dream of a sheepshead kissing me that night. Yuck!

Location: Dauphin Island Public Fishing Pier, 109 Bienville Blvd, Dauphin Island, Alabama 36528, USA.
Tel: +1-251-861-3607

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