When I was a little boy, I used to love to go with my brother Bob to Tucker Lake to go fishing. Crappie, as I recall, were the most likely catch, but honestly, it wasn’t the catching that ever interested me. Same could be said of when we used to fish in the channel behind my Aunt Mary and Uncle Wayne’s house on Treasure Island. I would sit for hours, casting lines. I almost never caught a fish. Maybe one, two. It was actually hard NOT to catch fish there. I think the channel bass would accidentally bump into my hook every now and then.
I didn’t like the “grabbing a live thing that was all squishy and, well, alive” thing. I know, not exactly the stuff rugged, tough guys like me might be best known for. (That’s sarcasm, but really, afraid of a crappie?)
It was the peace and quiet that this little focus-challenged boy loved. I was talking, if that makes sense, to the fish, through the pole, into the water, coaxing the bait (be it live shrimp or worms or whatever) to wave to the fish. I imagined what it would be like to be down there, looking at the bait myself. Would I bite?
So when I moved to Auburn, I thought it was kind of funny that my house is situated across the street from one of the university’s main research areas, the EW Shell Fisheries Station. Auburn was originally an Ag school, so there is a long connection to researching wildlife and fish, so this is an important place to go and learn about fresh-water legends and how America’s largest fish industry (catfish!) can do a better job of bringing the ugly suckers to the table. Of course, that’s only a small bit of what they research, so forgive me for simplifying.
After spending quite a bit of time in Oklahoma and experiencing the Okie Noodling Festival firsthand (no pun intended; I DID NOT try my fingers at noodling but I did do a cool story you can watch here), I was shocked that I had landed in catfish research heaven. I learned about a half century of catfish cross-breeding, about watershed management, about aquaponics in action, and more. I met a researcher named Amed who explained to me that the hybrid catfish he introduced me to is voracious, healthy and yummy.
And though my west coast experience (love) of saltwater fish often biases me away from traditional southern-fried catch, I was pleased to pick up a recipe for an amazing un-breaded, pan-seared and oven-baked catfish.
I met retired professors, a father-son wearing the same Wooffest t-shirt I was wearing, families and even a catfish mascot, who you can see me attempting to noodle in one of the attached photos. One of the employees said they had more than one thousand visitors to their event. You can find more about the Auburn University School of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences here.
Saturdays until noon the fish market is open, and coming soon there will be a fresh harvest of shrimp from the gulf, thanks to another of Auburn’s fisheries. I’m ordering up my share this week.
The only bummer is that Murphy and Billy are not allowed. But let’s be honest, two dogs who love to chase creatures and jump in water are probably not good visitors to a series of one acre (and smaller) fishing ponds.
And yep, the ones the kids caught while dropping a line made it into the cooker for a light and yummy treat.