I have been fishing all of my life, but would not consider myself a fisherman. I fish recreationally and success is not guaranteed when I go fishing. That hasn't always been the case, when I was a young fisher person, 7 or 8 years old I could, at the drop of a hat bring my grandmother a stringer full of pan fish for her to fillet and fry up for lunch. My grandparents had a cabin on Leech Lake in Northern Minnesota and I spent every summer up at the cabin with my grandmother. My brother, sister and I would go down on the dock and fish for perch and bluegills and rock bass right under the boat lift and would be successful almost every time. As so as the bite would let up we would just move down to the neighbors dock and fish under their boat lift and start catching fish again. Occasionally we would catch the odd walleye or northern pike but for the most part we caught a lot of pan fish.
I had these two great Aunt's, Ruth and Marge, who would come up for two weeks in the summer and one of their favorite things, was having fresh fish for lunch. Right away in the morning they would ask me if I would go catch a bunch of fish so they could have their shore lunch. I would go down to the dock and spend a couple of hours catching fish and then Grandma would clean them and the Aunt's would give me a couple of dollars for my effort. I was 8 and making money fishing, if only life were still that easy.
This past summer I really started to get back into catching pan fish. I have spent so much time over the last few years fishing for walleyes and muskies I sort of forgot how good pan fish can be. I bought a house this summer and now live within walking distance of a lake and have really enjoyed fly fishing for sun fish and blue gills. I also got to spend a week up north at Leech lake with my grandmother. My grandparents don't have their cabin any more but my sister and brother and I were able to fly my grandmother in to stay with us for a week. Grandma and I got up a couple of mornings and went out for walleyes but weren't having any luck. Gram asked if there was a place we could get some pan fish so I asked the guy at the lodge and got directions to a place where he thought they would be biting. For the rest of the week we went there every day and caught stringer after stringer of bluegills, sunnies and perch with the occasional rock bass. We even got a walleye and a couple of really nice northern and one bullhead. One of the mornings we were out we caught 13 fish and came right back and cleaned them and had a shore lunch. My sister made tartar sauce and I fried up all the fish and we had fried fish sandwiches. It was wonderful.
Over the duck hunting opener I was in Wabasha, MN and after shooting ducks in the morning Eric Passe and I would head out on the Mississippi and catch blues gills and sunnies, so I have a freezer full of pan fish and as much as I love frying them up I thought I would try something different with them. In Hank Shaw's new book, Hunt Gather Cook, he has a recipe for Asian fish balls, they sounded really good so I mad a batch of fish balls with some of my pan fish fillets. It was really a simple recipe and the balls turned out terrific.
The balls had a really great texture and were full of bright Asian flavors. Lots of cilantro and lime and fish sauce, I was really impressed with them. What I thought was most interesting was I tried to make and Asian dipping sauce with lime and fish sauce and sriracha and soy sauce and it was good but the fish balls were even better with good old fashioned Hellman's tartar sauce. I really enjoyed getting back into pan fishing this summer, it made for some good memories and gave me the opportunity to try and enjoy something new.