Tucked away in the crevices of cold-water streams and lakes across the world lives one of the tastiest food sources on the land. Fooling one of these fish into taking your bug is like a game of chess- only a well planned properly timed move will get you the results you are looking for. Sometimes the trout gobble up a fly first cast, others they don’t even give it a second look. The feeling you get from hooking into a big one and knowing you are in for a delicious dinner is unparalleled in my book. I know a fair number of fly fishermen, but only a few of them actually keep their catch for dinner. Some of them throw back due to moral reasons, but other just don’t know what to do with a fish after they dispatch it. I am hoping to clear that up a little in this article.
Okay, you have dispatched your fish… now what? As with any animal, the first step is to get the guts out. Make an incision from the anus up to the gills and get in there. Don’t be shy.
Once the gut cavity is nice and clean, be sure to scrape the bloodline from the spine. You can do this with a butter knife, tooth brush, or fingernail. Often times when people complain about a fishy flavor it is because they didn’t clean the bloodline. If your fish is more than 20 inches, you may want to consider filleting the flesh off the bone (also, kudos on the big catch).
Now you have a piece of fish that is ready to serve and that means you have some options.
The absolute easiest way to get a flavorful perfectly cooked fish is to bake it on a cedar plank. Take your fish, stuff the gut cavity with lemons, salt and thyme (or any other aromatics you see fit). Place it on a cedar plank and roast it in the oven at 375 for 8-10 minutes, or until the flesh pulls away from the bone easily. Make sure to soak your planks for at least a few hours before baking, otherwise they will burn in the oven which isn’t in the recipe.
While this method could easily work for fillets, I would only recommend doing it with whole fish. Whole fish are harder to dry out, and well, you can make fillets better than this.
If you have a fire pit, you can try putting the whole fish on a spit a few inches above the flames and slowly rotate and roast the fish until the flesh wants to fall off the bone. A friend of my has also buried fish in juniper branches and lit the whole pile on fire, revealing a perfectly cooked fish underneath the ash.
If you want to preserve your whole fish, try smoking it at a lower temperature. First, brine the fish for 6-8 hours. You can use the small game brine recipe on the website, but substitute the sugar for honey. Honey helps smoke stick to the meat and will leave the end product with a better flavor than using just sugar. The trout should take between 2-4 hours smoking at 170-200 degrees. Smoked trout is delicious alone or makes a killer dip when mixed with cream cheese and chives.
If you caught a trout big enough to fillet, you have a few more options. My go to for fillets is to sear them skin side down in a hot pan. Make sure the pan has plenty of oil and sizzles aggressively when you add the fish. If the pan is too cold the skin will stick to the pan and you will end up with a terribly ugly piece of fish. Immediately when you drop the fish in, swirl the pan a few times to help prevent sticking. Once the skin begins to cook the fish will stick less and less, so keep gently swirling until it moves around easily in the pan. Once I see the sides of the flesh start to cook, I put the pan in the oven on broil for 2-3 minutes, or until the fish is just barely cooked. You can tell it’s done when it is uniform in color and beginning to sweat a tiny bit of moisture. Finish with a squirt of lemon juice and you are in for a real treat.
Well these are my go-to trout recipes. Simple and effective, these recipes will make it seem like you have been cooking fish your entire life.
Feel free to contact me with any questions– good luck fishing!
Spencer Milne- F2T