South Jersey Fishing: the Bird is the Word
As in sea robin.
This is smorgasbord time when it comes to bay, surf, and near shore fishing. Indeed, a finned cornucopia awaits pretty much wherever one drops a line. Fluke, triggerfish, tog, sheepshead, sea bass, blowfish, kingfish, weakfish, stripers, bluefish, porgies...all are out there and all are hungry.
However, let’s not forget the northern sea robin, that “winged” spiny predator that literally walks the bottom via its lower rays, sifting through sand and other bottom detritus looking for something to nab. Oftentimes considered a nuisance, especially by anglers seeking fluke, it nonetheless has a place in the summertime fishing scene.
The omnipresent bird is an aggressive feeder and will eagerly whack baits meant for fluke and sea bass drifting by, including bucktails/Gulp, live killies, peanut bunker, finger mullet, or squid strips and spearing. While they don’t get especially large (our longest stretched to 17-1/2 inches), it whacks an offering with reasonable authority and makes a good account of itself when hooked, especially on light tackle. The grunting that it sometimes makes? That comes from the fish vibrating muscles on their air bladders.
Contrary to its appearance, the sea robin makes for some pretty good eating. Filleting is tricky, as the skin of a bird, with its spines and spikes, is meant to impale, slice, stab, cut, and otherwise hurt if not handled carefully. The fillets are on the short side owing to their physical build, but the meat is white and sweet and takes well to frying, especially after an egg wash and a roll in seasoned breadcrumbs.
Epicurean conversions can sometimes be easy. After a couple of hours on a tide where no legal fluke, but plenty of 11-15 inch sea robins were nailing the squid/spearing and the jighead/Gulp! Shrimp offerings, yours truly decided to start putting some of the birds in the cooler. A couple of smaller robins were
stripped for bait, replacing the calamari. The looks were suspicious at best, but at the end of the afternoon, a pair of legal flatties (one of which glommed a robin strip) and a dozen robins made it to the cleaning board. Later that evening, when the last of the deep-fried bird fingers was crunched, after a dip in homemade tartar sauce, by a heretofore doubter, well, an attitude adjustment was made.
A grand slam on the sea robin scorecard: relatively easy to catch, good on the plate, and will also catch fluke. Oh...it makes a great crab trap bait, too.
The summer bird is the word!