“I won’t eat those!” says an associate of mine. “They are garbage. Ick!”
Others tell me to leave them on the ice for Eagles and Otters. Whatever I do, don’t put them back into the lake as they are a course fish…garbage fish, too bony and too small to eat.
I study the small fish laying around my feet. Most are actually 8-9 inches long. I have caught plenty of Trout and Kokanee that are 8-9 inches and have kept them for smoking. So why not these? I’m sure that these Pea Mouth tastes like…like…fish? Why wouldn’t they? So aren’t they edible? Oh wait…that’s right, too bony.
I have a cabin at Bobtail Lake, also known as Naltesby Lake (Naltesby Lake is the correct name for it, however, I grew up all my life with calling it Bobtail lake, so it’s habit) and the lake is loaded with Pea Mouth fish. Loaded. Just Loaded.
As I fish away, hoping to catch a Trout or Kokannee, the ball of Pea Mouth stay under me, biting on any thing I offer them: shrimp, fake bait, hotdogs. They are funny little fish; they actually put up a good fight too.
As the fish pile up, I think to myself, good dog food for Tikka. In the past, I have caught Northern Pike Minnow and processed them for my dog. Fish are good for dogs and it’s free food for her. Northern Pike Minnows are bony too, so I fillet them, then boil them for a long time, then take out my food processor to mince it all up. Any bones left, gets minced up.
However, I don’t want all these fish to go to the dog. What about me? It’s free food for me as well. Just how to prepare them? If I can’t figure it out, I guess I will give them to Tikka.
I gather the fish up in a bag and bring them up to the cabin to take them home. I’m determined to find out what can I do with these small and bony fish.
As I stop in front of the cabin, I take one fish out and toss it into our pole barn. Our little resident Ermine will be by to collect it I’m sure. It did take the last few I offered it. Cute little bugger.
I get into the cabin and start taking off my winter gear. Everyone is eager to know what I caught: Trout? Kokanne? Burout? I shake my head no, and hold up the bag: 22 Pea Mouth. Everyone shrugs their shoulders feeling my defeat. One person pipes up, “Well, why did you keep them then?”
I say that I’m determined to do something with them.
Linda, our neighbor from a few cabins down, happens to be inside having a visit. She leans back on the kitchen chair to look at me down the hallway. “Quinn says they are good canned. Try that.” She remarks.
Quinn is our cabin neighbor directly beside us. Apparently he has done it a few times.
Yes! That is what I’ll try. I like canned Salmon, canned Tuna and canned Trout. The bones will turn to mush and that will solve my problem. It seems so obvious now.
That evening, at home, I sit down at my computer and Google: Pea Mouth Recipes. Nothing comes up. No surprise there. Perhaps, I’ll look under ‘course fish recipes’. I find a few recipes for larger course fish, but nothing for the minnow family. Plus, a lot of the the same thing comes up: bony, not worth it, why bother….
That’s ok. I’m doing an experiment anyways. I’ll make up my own mind.
I start the cleaning process. As I handle the fish, I notice they are not slimy like Northern Pike Minnow. They have a fishy smell, but that is too be expected. It’s not strong though.
One thing I was not expecting were the scales. They have to be descaled just like Kokanee do (even though Kokanee have harder scales), and Northern Pike Minnow (when I process them for the dog). This descaling is time consuming, but I just kept thinking, suck it up buttercup. This is what you would do with Kokanee, and it’s free food…possibly.
The Pea Mouth is actually quite a pretty fish upon closer inspection with its orange stripe, dark green bands, opalescent white belly and pink areas.
As I’m gutting them, many have Roe (fish eggs). They are a dull tan color. Not like the bright pink and orange of Trout, Salmon, or Kokanne. In fact only 5 out of the 22 fish did not have Roe. Holy! That is a lot of females. No wonder why there are so many Pea Mouth in the lake.
I Googled for some information on Pea Mouth and it came up with this: Peamouth is a type of Chubb and can lay between 5000 and 30,000 eggs depending on size. So, let’s take the 17 caught females and if each lay, oh say…15,000 eggs, that is 255,000 eggs! Don’t forget, there is quite the healthy population in Bobtail lake, and the majority of them seem to be female.
Back in September, there were a few researchers that came and threw in a net to see what was in the lake. Trout, Kokanee, Mountain White Fish, Northern Pike Minnow, Burbout, and a swack load of Pea Mouth. I hope to get a copy of the fish report findings.
I bag the fish and place them into the fridge. Tomorrow, I will get the pressure canner and jars from my grandmothers place.
As I sit down and have a night cap before bed, I text my friend and told him about my day out at the cabin and all I accomplished and hope to do in the next day or so, including canning the Pea Mouth. He texts back and suggests I brine them, and perhaps smoke them slightly before hand. Again, another great idea.
Turns out, my smoker is buried out in the snow. I look online for fish brining recipes, canned fish recipes, etc. There is quite a bit. One includes ‘liquid smoke’. I have this in my cupboard. Yay!
Late in the afternoon the next day, I’m ready to can. I have my fish brined. I have my jars sterilized. My pressure canner, liquid smoke and garlic all set out and ready.
I’m not following an exact recipe. Just winging it and hope it turns out. I rinse and cut up the fish and placed them into the jars. Add 8 drops of liquid smoke, and 1/2 tsp of minced garlic on top. I then seal the jars and place them into the pressure canner. Add 10 pounds of pressure. Once the rocker stats rocking, I set the time to 110 minutes. I don’t know if it was overkill, 110 mins, but I wanted to be safe than sorry as this is my first time canning fish.
110 minutes passes by and I take it off the stove to allow to cool. I take out the jars and set them onto the counter top. I hear pings and pops as the jars seal. I made 9 jars with the 22 fish. Was all the work worth it? I question myself before heading to bed.
It’s judgement day today.
It’s 9:00 am and I open the jar of fish. It smells like canned fish, but with garlic and smoke. I pour it into a bowl and take out the spine bones. I don’t need to too, but I did it anyways. I mix it up a bit with the juices from the jar and take and slowly take a bite. I can always spit it out I tell myself.
Love the smokey garlic taste. It’s not too fishy. Reminds me of canned Rainbow Trout actually. A bit on the salty side however, I will make a note not to brine it for so long next time.
Instantly, I know what I want to do with this canned Pea Mouth. I pull out some crackers, White Stilton mango and ginger cheese, and my homemade highbush cranberry sauce. I load a few crackers up and eat them. The combination of the salty, sweet and smokey is perfect on the palette. I think the canned Pea Mouth will also make good fish cakes and fish melts (like tuna melts).
So, in conclusion: Pea Mouth doesn’t have to be ‘garbage’. Canned Pea Mouth is good. There is nothing wrong with it. I made 9 pint sized jars out of the 22 Pea Mouth. Yes, it was more work then I anticipated.
Was the work worth it? I would say Yes. Then again, I’m all about free food. Especially free ‘Wild” food. Also, I’m a bit of a nut when it come to gathering and learning about any free food from our forests and waters. It’s part of my family’s food security.
Now that I know what to expect when I can Pea Mouth, I would plan a day of it: Catch lots of fish, process lots of fish, can lots of fish.
Don’t knock it until you try.