Mystery Fish Revealed

By , July 20, 2010

Many of the eagles that live around our homestead eat their meals in the trees above the cabin. The remains of these meals “decorate” the property here and there. Lately, we’ve been puzzling over one particular type of fish carcass that we don’t recognize, a “mystery fish” that doesn’t match the bone structures of our familiar fish. Sunday afternoon, we figured it out.

I returned to the beach to fish for dinner, using the broken Buzzbomb that had brought our first salmon of the season recently. Within five minutes I had a good, hard strike (I know the time because I try to remember to set my watch to mark how much time I’ve spent fishing). Outflow from the glacier-fed Katzehin across the fjord clouded the water, so I had no glimpses of the fish until I netted it. When I did, I got a surprise.

We have a lot of tomcod around. Most of them are small, under 6 inches, so we don’t often keep them. They’re good eating, but the fillets are tiny, so we have to catch a lot of them at one time to make a decent meal, or make fish chowder. The fish I caught Sunday was a tomcod, but much bigger than we usually see. It measured 17 inches.

In fact, we realized that this is our “mystery fish” that the eagles have dropped on us—we just hadn’t seen one this size here on the homestead before!

At least, I think it’s a tomcod. I have two separate descriptions, both from reliable sources. One of them says it’s probably not a tomcod (it says they never grow above 12 inches) the other indicates that it is. I know that I grew up calling fish like this “tomcod” when we caught them in Sitka and Wrangell. But, I also remember a friend who hiked one day in Wrangell, guided by a local boy. When asked to name the various ducks they saw, the boy replied “mud duck” every single time. Hence the difference between “common” and “scientific” names, I guess.

Whatever its true identity, I filleted it, and Michelle and I ate it for dinner, wishing Aly could have been there to share.

Posting this, I planned to include a photo of the fish. Then I realized I’d forgotten to take one! Guess I’ll have to catch another one that size . . . or bigger!

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