Wherever you live, you will have some limitations to the seafood options available. If you live in a major coastal city with a diverse population, you’ll likely have quite a few choices. If you live in a rural community in a landlocked state, you may have very few. Regardless, you’ll find more options if you go out and catch some fish yourself. You can expand your options even further if you search for new fish when you travel. For the best of both worlds, combine these two ideas and fish on vacation. Sometimes you need to get a little creative to make this work out. Here are some out-of-the-box ways that I’ve enjoyed fish on vacation.
Book a “cook your catch” trip
Many fishing guides in the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, and South America will book a trip like this. Typically, this is not available on large game trips where the fishing is not always productive. Most reef fishing trips give a pretty sure chance of catching a meal, so this option is very common with reef fishing. Often a reef fishing trip will yield several types of snappers or groupers, and occasionally a lionfish or a porgy. Sometimes the guides are better fisherman than cooks, but the fish will be incredibly fresh and you may get to try several new species on a single trip. Plus, these meals are often cooked on a secluded beach or deserted island, so the location is guaranteed to make the meal memorable. Here are two guides that I’ve personally used that put me on great fish and then did a great job cooking them. If you have an opportunity to use one of these guys, they are both outstanding:
Luckie with Happy Go Luckie tours in Hopkins, Belize You can find him at www.hgltours.com
Speedy in Basseterre, St. Kitts You can find him at www.speedyforcharter.com
Bring your fish home
If you are fishing internationally, this is not usually an option, but for trips in the United States, it is possible. I love redfish and I take a trip to New Orleans about once a year to restock my freezer. I either check an ice chest on the flight to New Orleans, or buy a new one once I get there. If you travel enough to have free checked baggage, it is easier to bring one with you. If you have to pay to check a bag, it might just be cheaper to buy a new one. You don’t need a fancy ice chest, especially if you have a direct flight. You can get by with a Styrofoam lined cardboard box or commercial Styrofoam shipping box. The rules for checking fish are simple but not well published. You cannot use any actual ice or dry ice. The only allowable cooling you can bring is a gel ice pack. If you bring an ice chest, it has to have a drain plug or pressure vent. You have to tape it closed, but they’ll probably cut it open and inspect it anyway. The fish can be frozen or not frozen. If the flight is more than 4 hours, I like to hard freeze the fish the night before. As long as they don’t thaw completely, you can get them right back into the freezer when you get home. You must tell the baggage agent that you are transporting animal products.
Pro tips for this method:
-A seafood market can be a good source for advising you on packaging your seafood for travel. I go to Fisherman’s Cove near the airport when I travel to New Orleans. They have the right boxes and the gel packs and they also have some great options of seafood to purchase to fill out your box if you have extra room.
· Be mindful of the weight. If you don’t have status with your airline, you will need to keep the package under 50 lbs. Some airline loyalty plans let you go up to 70 lbs depending on your status. Going over the weight can be quite costly. It is surprising how quickly the weight adds up when you start adding ice packs and ice chests.
· You can carry on small amounts of frozen fish for short flight. I have frozen fish overnight, double bagged it and tucked it into my briefcase on a 3 hour flight. It travels remarkably well.
· You can overnight ship your catch home if you want to avoid the hassle of flying with it, but it can be expensive.
When I go to New Orleans, I’ve used many guides, but my favorite is Kip Plaisance. I’ve fished with him several times and he never lets me down. Plus he does a great job butchering the fish. I’m very picky and he fillets every fish with no bones. He gets all of the meat off of the fish and he is fast. You can reach him by phone at 985-637-7251.
Have someone cook your catch for you
This one typically won’t work in the United States, because of FDA regulations which don’t allow restaurants to take wild game into their kitchens. Internationally, many places will do this for you, if you just have the courage to ask. This is a great way to eat a local fish cooked a local way. Just recently, I caught some barracuda with a guide in Placencia, Belize named Grayson Sierra with Waata Daag fishing charters. He can be reached through his Waata Daag’s Facebook page. I brought the fish home and took them to Rhum Shack in Hopkins Belize. I asked them to cook the fish. For $20, they cooked the fish 3 different ways and provided 4 side dishes family style for 4 people. My family ate these fish cooked perfectly in the local style and it was extremely easy.
Cook your fish where you are staying
If you stay at a resort with a kitchen, you may find this to be a good experience, but you may have to improvise a little. Regardless of how nice of a place you stay in, the kitchens are often poorly appointed and it is often challenging to gather all of the spices and basic ingredients without breaking the bank. That said, it can be fun to try to find local ingredients and get local advice on how to cook things. If you stay at a place without a kitchen, hotels and resorts often have outdoor grills available for guests. If not, you may find a nearby park with an outdoor grill.
Another way that I’ve improvised is by going to the hotel restaurant and asking for some staple ingredients. If you see something on the menu like fish and chips, you can usually get them to give you a couple cups of batter or at least the seasoned flour to duplicate their recipe. If it is something more complex, you may have to buy it. If you think they have something that will work for you, it never hurts to ask.
Buy fish at the shoreline
If you don’t get an opportunity to catch fish on your trip, you may be able to buy some freshly caught fish from the locals. Just find out where the boats are landing and go there with cash in hand. Ask around for people selling fish and if you don’t find any vendors, look for charters coming in or local fisherman and see what they might sell you. You’d be surprised by the variety that you can find, especially in the Caribbean. Many of these places have limited access to refrigeration, so markets don’t sell much fresh meat or fish. This may be the only way fish are sold.
Finding new types of seafood is one of my favorite things to do on vacation. I enjoy the bit of adventure that it adds and I always enjoy fishing. I like improvising to find ways to participate in the local culture and wherever possible I share that with others. I encourage you to do the same.