By Leon A. Sylvester
One of my favorite things about living close to the shore is the abundance of fresh seafood. The smell of fresh fish on the grill or steaming lobsters, crabs or clams signify that summer has officially begun and that my next seafood dinner is just a day trip to the ocean away. Next time you have a craving for the tastes of the sea skip the market and head to the coast. Here are some of my favorite choices from our local waters that you can catch and cook yourself this summer.
State Wide in CT tidal creeks, rivers, harbors
Open Season: May 1st -Nov 30th
Catching them: All you need to get started is some string, a net and bait. There are many types of bait that work but uncooked chicken is easily accessible, affordable and a great method to attracting Blue Claws. Look for crabs in tidal creeks, rivers, around docks and along beaches. Tie your bait to the end of the string and toss it out in the water so that it sits on the bottom. When you feel tugging, pull the string in slowly and scoop the crab with your net. Hard Shell Blue Crabs have to be 5 inches point to point to keep and Soft Shells need to measure 3.5 inches.
Cooking and eating them: Just boil or steam till they turn red and start picking. Some people prefer to remove their top shell and clean them first but it is not required. Once the meat is picked you can enjoy it as is, or make such favorites as crab salad, crab cakes or crab meat stuffing. One of the most popular ways to enjoy Blue Crabs in Connecticut is to flavor your tomato sauce with it. Prepare your sauce as you always do but just before it is done cooking add 6-12 uncooked Blue Crabs to it and let them boil inside the sauce. Let crabs simmer in sauce for at least a half hour to evenly disperse their flavor.
Regulations vary depending on location and water quality
Hours: Day light hours only Year round
Catching them: Hard and soft clams can be legally harvested at no cost. There are size regulations and a clamming ring will be necessary to determine if a clam is of legal size. Some towns and clam beds do require special permits regulations and fees so make sure to check with the local authorities in the area you plan to clam. Clams are found in the mud. Hard shell clams such as Little Necks, Cherrystones and Quahogs can be found by feeling with your feet or by using a clam rake. This is called “treading.” Soft shells, “Steamers”, need to be dug in the sand.
Cooking them: Make sure to let your clams “purge in a bucket of fresh salt water for a couple hours after catching them. This gives them a chance to clean out the sand making them much more enjoyable to eat. “Clams can be steamed, boiled, grilled, fried, or my favorite eaten raw. The larger Clams “Quahogs” can be tough so shuck them and dice them up to flavor your next white or red sauce or to make chowder.
Freshly caught Fish
State Wide in CT tidal rivers, beaches, harbors
Hours: 24/7 year round (depends on species and season)
Catching them The saltwater fish of the Connecticut coast are some of the most delicious species in the world. Striped Bass, Bluefish and Porgies make excellent meals but my three favorite choices to catch for dinner are Fluke (Summer Flounder), Blackfish, (Tautog), or Black Sea Bass. All these species can be caught from boat or from shore. Look for Blues and Stripers and Fluke along beaches, river mouths and harbors. While porgies, Blackfish and Black Sea Bass can be caught near rock jetties or other underwater structure. Baits vary, depending on fish you plan to target, as do seasons and regulations. Make sure to check with the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) before every fishing trip.
Cooking Them: All the mentioned fish are great grilled, baked or fried. Bluefish is the oiliest of the fish and is excellent smoked. Sea bass and Black fish are the mildest of the species. Their white meat has very little fish taste but rather a more shellfish like flavor suck as crab and lobster. Striped bass are awesome marinated on the grill and Fluke and Porgy are great choices for friend fish sandwiches.
Leon A. Sylvester lives in the Housatonic Valley and has been an avid boater and angler for over 25 years. He is a featured weekly outdoor columnist in Hersam Acorn Newspapers throughout southwestern CT.. and is a founding director of FOTHR (Friends of the Housatonic River) which is a non-profit enviromental watchdog organization protecting the shores of the lower Housatonic River. You can follow him on twitter @ Fishingreporter.