I’m hooked on mud-dwelling catfish

Published 12:23 am Wednesday, May 18, 2011

There’s no doubt I was born and raised in the South. In fact, if I had been born a few miles farther south, I would have been born in the Gulf of Mexico.

I am a native of Pensacola, Fla., the western-most city in Florida. The city is about an hour from Mobile, Ala.; three hours from New Orleans and a couple of hours from Georgia and Mississippi — give or take a few minutes.

Being that close to those areas, I was exposed at an early age to Southern cuisine and the differences in that cuisine. In other words, Dixie’s delectable dishes differ from region to region. Thank the Lord for that.

Take fish, for example. Where I grew up, folks ate fried mullet. We ate them after we used a three-prong hook (of good size and weight) to snatch them from schools swimming along in Escambia Bay. No bait needed for those hooks, just ability to pull in the line with one, perhaps two or three, mullet wriggling to get free.

During my travels of 56 years, some folks in other states, even in other parts of Florida, look at me funny when they learn I ate mullet as a child.

Of course, I’ve had my share of bream, perch and trout over the years. During my high-school years in Spartanburg, S.C., I became enamored with the fish camps of the Upstate region of South Carolina and western North Carolina. While putting away fried perch, slaw and hushpuppies one evening, I also drank 12 glasses of iced tea. So did my cousin, Randy.

Ahh, the things one can do during one’s youth.

But of all the fresh-water fish, give me a catfish. Although I’ll eat farm-raised catfish, their flavor does not compare to the flavor of a mud-dwelling catfish caught in the backwaters of Mississippi. A bottom-feeding catfish from Mississippi has flavor. Yes, I know where that flavor comes from, and I don’t care.

I never have been one for catching bass. I know that bass put up a good fight when you try to land one. I know many folks fish for bass to win fishing tournaments. There’s nothing wrong with fishing for bass. I can’t recall even eating a bass. I’m sure I have, but I don’t recall doing so.

I’d rather catch fish for eating, not for winning a tournament and mounting on a den wall.

My uncle, Bob Sanders, loves to fish. He loves to eat them too. In his 70s these days, he’s probably caught more fish in any one year than I have in my 56 years combined. Most of the time when I was fishing, I was just fattening up the fish for him.

But there was that time I caught a huge catfish in some bayou near Mobile. I didn’t get a chance to eat it. Other fishermen, boaters, water-skiers and swimmers forced me to return the catfish to the bayou. Apparently when I pulled the catfish from the water, the water level in the bayou fell 4 feet, leaving sandbars scattered throughout the bayou.

I wanted to mount that catfish and hang it over the fireplace. I would have named him Moby Mike, for obvious reasons — I love a whale of a fish tale.

These days, about the only fish I catch is when I have the clerk at the fish store toss me my store-bought fish so I can say I “caught” them.

Mike Voss covers the city of Washington for the Washington Daily News. Faced with a plate of fried catfish and a plate of broiled flounder stuffed with crab meat, he’d pick both.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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