Lately we've seen
groups of fishermen who throw cast nets to catch their
fish. Cast nets are used on the other river
(the Indian River, about 10 miles to the east), but fishing
on the St. Johns is normally done by cane pole, rod and reel,
or trot line.
You can catch bass, crappie and various other fish with
a rod and if you want catfish or turtle you run a trot line.
But what do you catch with a cast net?
nets on the St. Johns River.
overcame us one day and we approached a boatload of fishermen. The groups fishing
by cast net appear to be mostly itinerant crop workers from
Mexico and South America, but we were lucky enough to approach
a group who spoke some english.
They told us they were catching "Armored Catfish".
We thought there must be a language problem - we've been
on the river a long time and never heard of an Armored Catfish
from anyone - but they had some they had already caught.
Sure enough, Armored Catfish!!
A regular catfish
has a very sleek, black skin - no scales, that's why you have to skin a catfish,
not scale it (that's where the old saying "more than one way to skin a cat" comes
from, not from killing off the barn cats).
Note the ambitious pussycat in the background!
A yellow-bellied catfish (yes, it actually has a yellow
belly) is rather small - only a couple of pounds - but very
sweet meat. Channel cats can get quite large. The largest
I've seen come out of the St. Johns was about 32 lbs. The
biggest one I ever caught was 17 lbs...he made several good
The very biggest catfish can start to taste a little muddy
(after all, they are bottom feeders!), but cut into nuggets,
breaded, and fried they are delicious. Here's
my recipe (which
is also what I use for 'gator nuggets).
at the point...Armored Catfish are quite small, but
they really do looked armored! They have the whiskers,
mouth, spines and coloring of a regular catfish, but
instead of the smooth skin they have what looks like
biggest I've seen couldn't be more than 8" long. We were told that
they since they won't bite at a hook the
only way to catch them is by cast net. (Which would
explain why we had never caught one on a rod or trot line
We were surprised
to see these fish since we had had no clue they were ever
there. And how did these people come to know about them?
One man told us that these fish had been brought up from
South America in some sort of experiment that didn't quite
work out as expected. (The language barrier kept us from
getting a really good version of this story, but I'll ask
again when I can.)
<<< Sidenote: a
reader sent me an email saying that these fish were being
raised in a fishery in or near Homestead, Florida when
hurricane Andrew struck. The storm damage released the
fish into the wild and they rapidly moved out in all
do you do with them?" was the next question.
It looks like a lot of trouble to catch these little
things. They must really taste good to be worth all that
Here's what we got:
1. Cut off the
head and fins and gut it.
2. Boil it. After
boiling the skin will peel off.
3. Cook it up in
a stew with salt, pepper and curry powder. The curry
powder was stressed. Don't forget the curry powder.
They say there isn't
anything in that river that can't be eaten, if you know
how to cook it, but some of it seems like an awful lot
of work. (Find more delicious (?) recipes here.)
A reader sent
in a photo of a different variety of armored catfish:
Caught by Patrick
Luther, photo by Linda Luther.
"My husband caught an armored catfish yesterday in "Farm
13" part of the stick marsh fishing area in North Indian
River county. He caught it with a cricket on the bottom.
We are natives of this county, since 1945 and neither of
us had ever seen one of these. The one he caught must be
a monster of it's breed. We aren't cooking it. Thanks for
having a picture on your website. My husband GUESSED that
it might be an Armored Catfish since he had heard of them.
He came home telling me he caught a fish that looked like
a cross between a catfish and an armadillo...
... By the way, I think there
is a strong possibility that that is an Oronoco
Sailfish Armored Catfish.
Even though this fish was very dark, it did have a spotted
look to it also. It had NO "whiskers" and
was just over 14" long."