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Flounder: Don’t Leave Home Without One

By Bobby Cleveland

bcleveland@clarionledger.com

BILOXI — Our day aboard the Whipasnapa was already a success. We had fulfilled our goal of catching a variety of fish, getting a story and taking photos.

But for Capt. Robert Earl McDaniel, there was still one item on his to-do list … make that his honey-do list.

“The wife (Tracy) told me not to come home without a flounder,” he said. “I come in from charters all the time with flounders for my clients and she sees them come and go.

“Well, this time, she said she wanted one and you know how it is — you got to keep Mama happy.”

Can’t say I blame Tracy. Flounder, to me, is the best eating fish in the Gulf. I love the flat fish.

They need no fancy treatment.

Just scale them (it’s easier than most fish), gut them (again, so easy) and cook them with a little salt, pepper, slices of lemon and butter/olive oil.

Put it white side down in a skillet on the stovetop over medium high heat for about five minutes in the butter and/or olive oil, and then place the skillet as is, with lemon slices on top of the scored fish, in a 350-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes. For the final couple of minutes, turn on the oven’s broiler and semi-sear the top side.

The final step in the process is the best — go face down in the plate eating it. Or better yet, just go face down right in the skillet.

You eat all the flaky white meat off the top of the backbone and fins, and then remove the bones and devour the bottom side, where most of the butter ends up.

Oh yeah, give me a second to savor the thought …

But I digress.

BEST BET

Our stops at the man-made reefs off the front beaches had failed to produce a single flat fish, which had surprised Capt. Earl, who rolled the dice and headed for a well-known flounder honey hole. The spot is a riprap jetty behind the Beau Rivage Casino.

Several boats were already there, but, luckily, Capt. Earl’s favorite spot was wide open.

“This little stretch right here has a couple of cuts in the rocks where the water runs in and out and it holds flounder,” he said. “We’ll catch trout and reds here, too, but mainly I come here for the flounder.”

We were down to our final few live shrimp, which didn’t concern Capt. Earl.

“If they’re here and hungry won’t matter live or dead,” he said.

DONE DEAL

I was assigned the biggest cut in the rocks and fished it hard. My third cast produced one of the bigger white trout of the day.

Capt. Earl pulled a short flounder (12-inch minimum) from the other cut. It was half an inch short and had to be returned.

Things were looking dire. It was past time to go and we didn’t have Tracy’s flat fish.

Capt. Earl said one more cast, and tossed his dead shrimp and cork down the riprap and let the tide work it down the rocks.

His cork wiggled and dove under the water.

“There he is,” Earl said, setting the hook. “Aw, man, I missed him.”

He reeled in to check his bait, anxious to get back in the spot. Too late, I was too quick.

Before he retrieved his line, mine was sailing through the air and the cork and shrimp plopped down about 10 feet past where he had gotten his bite.

I reeled it back until the cork was in almost the exact spot. Two seconds later, it sank out of sight with a sudden jerk.

“Got him,” I said, feeling the fish pulling hard against the hook. “He’s hooked this time.”

A minute later, a 3-pound flounder was hoisted into the Whipasnapa.

Another minute later, it was on ice, the motor was running and we were headed in.

Mission accomplished.

BobbyC