Possumhaw: Talking trash fish

September 2, 2018 12:07:58 AM

Shannon Bardwell - [email protected]


"Times when it's really quiet down on Tibbee Creek you can hear carp sucking scum off underwater logs." 


-- Sam Bardwell, local fisherman 




There's a couple of names for trash fish; some call them garbage fish or rough fish. The terms refer to fish that are less than desirable, the ones you catch you aren't trying to, and fish where there's no legal limit to catch and keep. Some fish simply don't taste good. Some species are invasive or nuisance fish. Culture and traditions can alter what might be a trash fish, or not, in different locations. Imagine a time when catfish was thought an undesirable bottom feeder, and nowadays catfish houses are packed on any given Friday night.  


The prehistoric garfish is a trash fish. There's different kinds, but they all have sharp teeth and bony sides. Gar are mostly found in rivers and oxbow lakes. Sam caught one last week that cut his line with his sharp teeth, slipping off with his jig. Gar can be a real nuisance fish unless you catch them down in Louisiana where they swear to the goodness of fried "gar balls," made and shaped much like a hush puppy. On the scale of fish conservation, garfish are on the opposite end of extinct. The Mississippi record for an alligator gar was caught in the Mississippi River near Natchez and weighed 215 pounds. There's a heart-stopper. 


Carp is also a trash fish, but fishermen like the fight -- they're big and pull hard. They are often fished at night using lights and bows. Bait can be sweet corn or dough balls. National Public Radio featured a Nebraska fisherman who swore by his secret weapon, a bait for catching carp. He mixed flour, cornmeal and strawberry Jell-O, congealing the mixture in the refrigerator. The good thing about his bait, he said, was if the fishing got slow you could eat the bait. Carp is included in the world's 100 worst invasive species.  


Drum are fish often caught by accident; they'll go for minnows or lures. The male fish makes a grunting noise. Mississippi's record for drum was caught at Sardis Lake in 2011 and weighed 29.85 pounds. Drum cover the greatest range of all fish in North America. A drum found in Alabama's Cahaba River was aged at 32 years. Another in Minnesota was 72 years. Drum retains its best flavor by putting the catch on ice immediately. The smaller the fish, the better the texture. 


Grinnel, also called cypress bass or mud fish, live in warm waters with low oxygen. They can get 3 feet long and weigh up to 15 pounds. Sam says that when he was a boy, grinnel lived in a "borrow pit" down past Ridge Road where the railroad excavated dirt to build up the embankment. It was a good place to fish when it was hot, sultry and other fish weren't biting, he said.  


Note these are legal means of fishing: hook and line, trotlines, throwlines, limb lines, set hooks, jugs and yo-yos. These are illegal means: muddying, lime, poison, explosives, electrical devices, wire baskets, fish traps or using dip nets or minnow seines for game fish.

Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.