Straight talk about sea catfish

Discussion in 'Salt Water Fishing' started by seacatfish, Jan 31, 2008.

  1. seacatfish

    seacatfish New Member

    I figure this forum is the proper place to discuss the oft cussed sea catfishes, both hardheads and gafftopsail.

    These fishes have always been repudiated by fishermen as trash, for whatever reasons. In fact, the sea catfishes I am catching in Florida are excellent eating. :002: The FL Dept of Agriculture did a scientific taste test with fresh hardhead fillets and the results were that the flesh is 'good' to 'excellent' in all cases. Depends somewhat on the recipe, naturally.

    Sea catfish range from New Jersey to Mexico. I would like comments from BOC members who have first hand knowledge (not just passing on the old line) of the taste of these cats from other areas, where the bottoms may be different.

    We have gone through the development of other known "trash" fish. Several that come to mind are Snook, Amberjack, Redfish, Monkfish etc. The fact is, we had so many other quality fish to choose from in the old days, we could afford to discard whole species for whatever reason. "They taste like soap", "They are jacks, and have a strong taste", "Drum are no good, too much red meat", and now "They are slimy and a stick from their fins will ruin your day" have been the mantras for these fishes.

    The problem with giving sea catfishes a free pass is that they are thriving in huge numbers entirely in our estuaries, and they eat the juveniles of many of our desirable sport and food fishes.:too_sad: From firsthand experience with cleaning many thousands of them, I will tell you that of all the gafftopsail cats that had food in their stomachs, 99% had eaten a blue crab. That was from fish caught in the lower end of the Myakka river. So, I extrapolate that it cannot be healthy to allow catfishes to proliferate untouched while all the other stocks are seeing so much pressure.

    Add the fact that consumers are having a harder and harder time obtaining real fresh, local seafood and you can see why I am determined to see folks give these delicious fish a try. How many times have you caught nothing you could take home to eat, while tossing back sea catfish.

    I want us to put the eating back into family fishing! NO MORE FREE PASS FOR SEA CATFISHES!

    Please share your experiences.:0a31:
  2. I've never seen or caught one here in NC, but a buddy of mine that's got family in Fla. has told me about catching them in numbers and always said they were good eating. But that's as close as I've seen them.

  3. Honestly Ihave never eaten either of them, but here in SC I have always heard that while the Gafftops are good to eat, the hardheads taste like crud.

    May just be a local prejuduce like many other things (mullet are relished in SW Fla, but are nothing but bait in most other areas), or maybe thier diet in our muddy area is bad for their taste. The hardheads eat mostly fish and crustaceans while hardheads eat any crud lying around - sea cucumbers, worms, anything...

    Interestingly, in our area (SC) something went around in the last 10 years that killed off almost all of our hardheads and many of the gafftops. The SC DNR even went so far as to protect them from harvest last year!
  4. seacatfish

    seacatfish New Member

    I should add that sea catfishes go thru a spawning cycle and, much like mullet and sheephead, their meat becomes poor afterward. The spawn occurs in the summer (May thru August)for both species. Sea catfishes are mouth breeders, meaning the male holds the eggs, and later the fry, in his mouth for several weeks, so he does not eat for over a month. The flesh can be noticably leaner and generally poor in spawners. You can see the difference when you clean them, once you are doing it a little while.

    I can imagine that if a person were to try sea catfish for the first time during this post spawn period, he may find the flesh less appealing in taste, texture and appearance.

    The fish harvested during the winter and spring months will be fat, solid and more tasty.

    Also, the larger Gafftopsail cats have a dark vein running down the outside center of the fillets. That shoud be trimmed out for folks who want the bland taste, as it can be "fishy" tasting. The Hardheads have no such vein.
    In general, the hardheads are considered better eating, probably for this reason.
  5. I've never eatin them personally. Heard to many stories I guess. I may give them, a try this spring when we are in destin. catchum all day. I always figured them as a nucense.
  6. Have any of you folks that have caught these fish (I haven't-Kansas) seen what the inside of their skull looks like?
    Here's a picture of a plaque with a Gafftop Catfilsh's skull mounted to it. It was made by "Scout" Randall Duhon, a long time BOC member. He also sent me a couple of the skulls, Look at it REAL close, who/what do you see? It's very interesting.
    Randall, hope you don't mind I posted it.

    Attached Files:

  7. Fishing the coastal marshes We catch beau coup of both Gafftops(sail cats) and Hardheads. Gafftops in the early summer tend to be in more open water areas and will follow schooling specks(speckled trout ) and white trout. They actually fight well and larger ones, 6-8lbs will make runs like small redfish. we really don't mind catching them. The big drawback is they will slime the dickens out of an icechest and everything else .Most folks will box them if nothing else is biting because they make such a mess . Their skin is a little tougher than their fresh water cousins blues etc. Instead of skinning them I use an electric filet knifes starting at the head going to the tail,flipping it and then cutting along the back bone. The process is repeated on the other side of the fish. The meat is good and fries just like freshwater cats. Larger gafftops we will often "steak" to make a courtbouillion.

    "Hardheads" in my humble opinion is a whole beast. The head alone takes up almost 1/2 of the total length of the fish. The dorsal and pectoral barbs do not retract and cause nasty infections if pricked. They seem to eat anything. The meat is much bloodier- coarse and has an ammonia flavor.
    We have so many other desirable species . We don't keep "hardheads" We catch and cut the line instead of bringing them aboard-particularly when children are around. If we start catching hardheads we'll pickup and move to another spot-.
  8. seacatfish

    seacatfish New Member

    Below is the opinion of Executive Chef Justin Timineri, who works on staff at the FL Dept of Agriculture.

    > Dan, thank you for sending us the hardhead catfish to work with, I think it is a great product. I tried to do as little to the fish as possible, so we could really get the flavor of the fish itself. The taste is great, no fishy flavor, nice and light flesh. The texture was perfect; it stayed together during cooking, yet was tender and juicy. I loved the reddish color of the flesh before cooking. It did shrink up a little more than I had anticipated. The only limitation I see with this fish is the fillet size, but clever marketing and placement can use this to your advantage. All in all I think this product has a great future. Marketing points to consider are: Consumers are concerned with how the harvesting techniques affect the environment? Do you know what the fishing techniques will be to catch this fish in large quantities? These are questions that a lot of chefs and consumers in Florida are asking about their food supply. And not just seafood, but land animals and ve
    getables also. I feel this is very important when deciding how to market a new species to domestic and foreign markets. I am planning a second round of cooking with the frozen fillets, to compare them with the fresh samples. I would be happy to create some really unique recipes with this fish that play on its strengths. Let me know what your thoughts are, and maybe we can arrange a phone conference to further discuss taste and texture. Thanks. Justin
  9. seacatfish

    seacatfish New Member

    Redfishman, Thank you for your input. You did not say where you do your fishing. That would help, perhaps explaining why your experience with hardheads has been such. How many hardheads have you eaten?

    I have never noticed any coarse texture or ammonia smell. Neither have the scientists, much of whose research I have studied. Don`t want to be confrontational, just want to break the mantras. Professional guides, such as yourself perhaps, are the most influential voice in the recreational fisheries.

    Here is the biological page on sea cats from the Louisiana Sea Grant website. Note at the bottom what their research has shown on edibility.

    [FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif][​IMG][/FONT]​
    [FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif][​IMG][/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]Scientific Name: [/FONT]​
    [FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]Arius felis [/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]Common Names: [/FONT]​
    [FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]Sea Cat, Tourist Trout [/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]Range & Habitat:[/FONT]​
    [FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]Gulfwide, in all nearshore waters and saline and brackish estuarine waters. It is also occasionally found in fresh water. It tends to move from shallower to deeper waters in the winter months. [/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]Identification & Biology:[/FONT]​
    [FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]The hardhead catfish is colored dirty gray with a white underside. No scales are present on the skin. Four barbels are found under the chin and two more at the corners of the mouth. It does not have the elongated extensions on the dorsal and pectoral fins that the gafftopsail catfish has. The hardhead catfish has hard, sharp, venomous spines in its dorsal and pectoral fins and should be handled with care.

    Hardhead catfish eat virtually anything, including algae, pieces of plants, worms, snails, clams, microscopic zooplankton, marine shrimp, grass shrimp, blue crabs, mud crabs, insects, spiders, small fish, smaller hardhead catfish, hermit crabs, fish bones, mud, sand, and even scales actively taken from living fish. Because they are so common, it is often assumed that they produce a lot of eggs. Actually, each female produces only 14 to 64 mature eggs each season. After the male fertilizes the eggs, he holds them in his mouth until they hatch, and for a time thereafter. Spawning takes place from May to September in shallow marine bays and lakes.
    [FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]Size:[/FONT]​
    [FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]Usually 1 pound or less, but may reach 3 pounds. [/FONT]
    [FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]Food Value:[/FONT]​
    [FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]Seldom eaten, but it is very good table fare, better than the gafftopsail catfish.[/FONT]
  10. I've never caught one ...that was a weird looking skull picture
  11. seacatfish

    seacatfish New Member

    JAinSC, do you have any more info on the SC die off you mentioned?
  12. I've been catching and eating Gafftops for many years in Florida and Mississippi mostly. The slime is the biggest problem but vinegar and water will cut the that. Never ate hardheads because I never caught one over 3/4 pound or so. Gafftops are great eating.
    PLEASE don't bring them to the attention of the commercial people.
    Like the Chef questioned in one of the earlier posts," Do you know what the fishing techniques will be to catch this fish in large quanties ?"
    Know what the answer will be? Nets. There goes another species down the drain !!!

  13. Maybe the the mud flats and bottoms we have from the Mississippi river system affects taste particularly in Hardheads. Gafftops are cleaner . When
    the gut is opened they are often filled with cocohoe minnows,shrimp,small fish. Hardheads on the otherhand gut is often indisernable with a smelly ooze and grey like the surrounding mud. Gafftops are far superior taste wise than hardheads. Early Summer the hardheads "return" to the marsh much to the dismay of the folks We fish with. I hope someone will find a commercial use for Hardheads. They will be immediately Sainted. They mess up trawls and are a pain in the neck to separate on picking tables. Yep folks do eat them in this area ,but it's like this: When you have other species that taste like a good steak why settle for a vienna sausage? The abundance of more desirable species naturally culls out the hardheads. So we don't need to fool with them. A good Gafftop steak is hard to beat!!
  14. John, not to critizise your observation, but I'd be more inclined to describe it as unique(?)
  15. seacatfish

    seacatfish New Member

    Jerry, I don`t think you need to worry about the commercial people finding out about sea catfish. They know plenty about them and they hate them. They are so much trouble in nets, they wrap up bad and are so difficult to clear, on account of how bad a person can get stuck. It was actually a neighbor, a net fisherman, who started me down the path to working with them as a viable food source. He would give me a bucket full instead of discarding them. He also told me of a fishing family in Port Richey which included a brother who owned a restaurant where he sold hardhead as an entree. People couldn`t get enough of it, was what I was told. That, along with the fact that I am getting a little old to be blasting out into the gulf to fish and these catfish are right outside my back door, got me going. I like a good challenge, anyway.

    Redfishman, I appreciate your approach. Those hardheads that come up on the mudflats in the summer may well be there to spawn, which would lead to them becoming poor as I mentioned earlier. I do envision developing hardheads as a commercial resource, although you can hold the sainthood. I can imagine that sail cats will eventually become sport fishes, on account of their habits of feeding on the surface. You may be surprised to know that their food sources are identical to hardheads, just probably not in the same quantities when live bait/food is available. They will hit a lure well, too.

    I am buying a property with a pond connected to the brackish river. Would love to fill it with about a thousand gafftopsail catfish and have it as a fishing spot for dads who want to fish with their kids. Wouldn`t that be a blast, throwing any kind of a lure or fly in there and having it instantly smashed?

    Thank you both for your input.
  16. :big_smile:Ate them off the beach on Sana Bele Island in Florida.They were great tasted like our catfish.
  17. seacatfish

    seacatfish New Member

    John, you may well know, Sanibel is right south of us about 20 miles. Beautiful island!
  18. seacatfish

    seacatfish New Member

    As promised, here are some recipes created for Hardhead Sea Catfish by Chef Justin Timineri, on staff at the FL Dept of Agriculture. Prior to creating these, he did a taste test and analysis of fresh hardhead fillets, after which he declared them delicious. I think you could use these for any quality catfish meat.

    Hi Dan,

    Here are some recipes that Justin created. Let us know what you think.


    Phyllis McCranie
    Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services
    Bureau of Seafood & Aquaculture Marketing
    2051 East Paul Dirac Drive
    Tallahassee, FL 32310
    Phone: (850) 488-0163
    Fax: (850) 922-3671

    FDACS # 850.487.0720

    Sea Catfish Recipes

    Florida Pecan Crusted Sea Catfish

    1 cup Florida pecan halves, toasted
    1 teaspoon Sea or Kosher salt
    12 Florida Sea cat fillets, about 2 to 2 1/2 pounds ?
    1 cup yellow cornmeal
    1 cup buttermilk
    2 Florida eggs
    1 teaspoon hot sauce
    1/2 cup unbleached flour

    Place the cooled toasted pecans in a food processor; process until they resemble coarse meal. Rinse the catfish fillets with cold water; pat dry. In a shallow bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, eggs, and hot sauce. In a separate shallow bowl or pie plate, stir together the flour, cornmeal, ground pecans, salt, and pepper. Dip each fillet into the buttermilk mixture, then into the cornmeal mixture, coating the fillets well. Set aside on waxed paper until ready to cook. Place on a greased pan and bake at 350° until browned and fish flakes easily with a fork, about 20 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges and parsley sprigs, if desired.

    Sea Cat Creole

    3 tablespoons canola oil
    2 tablespoons unbleached flour
    4 green onions with tops, chopped fine
    1 clove Florida garlic, minced
    2 ribs celery, chopped fine
    2 cans (16 ounces each) tomatoes
    1 large bay leaf, crumbled
    1 teaspoon each kosher salt and thyme, or to taste
    Fresh ground black pepper to taste
    Hot sauce to taste
    1/2 to 3/4 pound Florida Sea Cat fillets, cut crosswise in 1-inch strips
    1/2 pound Florida shrimp, shelled and cleaned
    Freshly cooked rice

    Heat oil in Dutch oven or stock pot. Add flour to hot oil and stir over medium heat until deep golden brown - do not burn. Add onions, garlic and celery and cook until onions and celery are tender, stirring occasionally. Add tomatoes, bay leaf, salt, thyme, pepper, and hot sauce. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 20 to 25 minutes. Add Sea Cat and shrimp; cover and simmer about 5 to 7 minutes, or until shrimp and fish is done but not overcooked. Serve Sea Cat Creole over freshly cooked rice.

    Southern BBQ Sea Cat


    2 pounds Florida Sea catfish fillets, cut in serving-size pieces
    1 tablespoon packed dark brown sugar
    1 teaspoon seasoned salt
    1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
    1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
    1/2 teaspoon onion powder
    2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
    1/4 cup cider vinegar
    1/4 cup tomato ketchup
    1/4 cup canola oil
    Cooking spray

    Arrange the catfish fillets in a shallow, nonmetallic baking dish. In a bowl, mix the next eight ingredients with a whisk. Add the oil and whisk into an emulsion. Spread the sauce over the catfish fillets and let stand refrigerated for about 15 minutes. Turn the catfish fillets, spread the sauce and let stand refrigerated for another 15 minutes. Liberally spray the rungs of hinged wire grills with cooking spray. Arrange the catfish fillets in the grills, brush sauce onto them, and cook four to five inches from the coals for six minutes with the grill cover down. Baste with more sauce, turn, and cook for an additional six minutes. If your grill doesn't have a cover, use aluminum-foil tent, or cook for eight or more minutes on each side or long enough to cook catfish until it flakes with a fork. Remove fish to a platter and serve it at once.

    Savory Orange-Soy Sea Cats


    4 pounds Florida Sea Cat Fillets
    1/4 cup Florida orange juice
    2 tablespoons vegetable oil
    2 tablespoons light or low sodium soy sauce
    1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
    1 clove Florida garlic, minced
    1/8 teaspoon pepper or to taste

    Prepare a grill or preheat the broiler. Mix orange juice, oil, soy sauce, lemon juice, garlic and pepper in a bowl. Brush catfish fillets with sauce mixture. Place fillets on oiled grill rack or broiler pan rack. Grill or broil about 4 inches from heat source for 3 minutes on each side, brushing frequently with sauce, or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.

    Steamed Sea Cat in a Pouch with Herbs and Florida Vegetables


    12 Florida Sea Cat fillets
    1 roll of parchment paper (or aluminum foil)
    1 Florida zucchini, halved and seeded, cut into julienne strips
    1 Florida carrot, cut into julienne strips
    3 scallions, green tips only, cut into julienne strips
    3 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, Oregano, basil and chives
    1 clove Florida garlic, minced
    2 tablespoons butter, cut into 12 equal slices
    6 tablespoons white wine
    Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

    Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut parchment paper or aluminum foil into six 12-inch squares. Fold in half to make a crease down the center and then open up. Place 2 Sea Cat fillets on one side of each square of parchment or foil. Divide the vegetables among the packets of fish. Season each packet evenly with herbs and garlic. Place 1 slice of butter on top of each fillet, then drizzle each with 1 tablespoon of wine. Season each packet with salt and pepper. Fold parchment or foil in half to cover fillet, then tightly fold in the edges, crimping around each of the sides to seal the packets completely. Place sealed packets on a baking sheet and bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork; carefully unfold one side of one of the packets to check fish for doneness. To serve, tear or cut open packets carefully at the table, taking care not to get burned by the hot steam.

    Sea Cat Dip


    3 cups water
    1 pound Florida Sea Cats
    12 ounces cream cheese, softened
    2 tablespoons low fat mayonnaise
    2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
    1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
    Dash of garlic salt
    1 small onion, chopped
    1 22-ounce bottle chili sauce
    Crackers for serving
    Fresh parsley sprigs or other herbs for garnish

    Bring water to a boil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add catfish fillets and return to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and gently simmer for 5 to 7 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Using a slotted spatula, remove fillets from water and place on a plate to cool slightly. Flake catfish; set aside. Stir cream cheese, mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice and garlic salt in a medium bowl until well blended. Stir in chopped onion. To assemble dip, spread the cream cheese mixture over a 12-inch plate or shallow serving bowl. Spread chili sauce over the cream cheese layer. Top with the flaked catfish. Garnish with parsley sprigs and serve with crackers.
  19. brewfish

    brewfish New Member

    Wow, I never in all my life thought I would find folks who really liked to eat salt water cats. I guess I’ve had it instilled in me since I was kid that they were no good to eat and nothing but trash. My thoughts are in line with those previously mentioned, why eat hot dogs when steak is readily available? One time a friend of mine whose opinion I trust said that when he tried eating a sail top that it was not very good at all. He said that the meat was mushy and overall had a poor flavor.

    A couple years ago I was fishing down around Sebastian Inlet with a friend, chasing after the fabled 'door mats' (huge flounders on their annual spawning run to the river). I had a live mullet / flat sinker setup and was bumping it along the bottom when boom all of the sudden my ugly stick doubles over like a horse shoe, the drag starts screaming in protest and my line starts ripping off the spool! I was so excited because I just *knew* this had to be some kind of game fish by the way it was fighting. I battled it out for a good little while and when I finally get it to the boat.....nothing but a dogon *HUGE* gafftop sail cat. I never thought in a million years that my admirable foe was going to be a catfish. I was astonished to say the least. I thought for sure that I hung into a big ol red or maybe even a jack by the way this thing was fighting. This cat had to be in the 12-15 lb range. He was quickly released back to his home but only after I made sure to call him everything but a nice fish.

    I was a little disappointed but at the same time not. This was the first time that a saltwater catfish had ever been a thrill to catch and isn't that what it's all about? There aren't many things in life that can compare to the thrill & adrenalin rush you get with that initial strike and ensuing battle.

    Maybe the one my friend ate had been living in a nasty muddy environment or had just finished spawning or both. I might just have to give them a shot the next time I catch one. I've always been a staunch believer that unless you've tried something for yourself, how can you pass judgment on it? That being said it appears that I’ve been a hypocrite, not practicing my own beliefs.

    It’s settled then, next one caught is going to participate in the fillet and release in hot grease program. :002: What the heck, variety is the spice of life after all.
  20. I like Sail Cat or Gaff rig Cats taste.I don't like Hard head taste.Tried both off and on for over 50 years from Alabama,both coast of Florida,Ga.and SC.I loved fresh water cats from all of these states.Don't like Largemouth Bass or Carp.Love Mullet caught in salt and fresh water.Don't like Sturgeon or Cobia.I like Iguana and turtles.I don't like Gator or Snake.I love Hog maws and Chitterlings.Don't like rank Boar hog or hog that has been feeding on rotted cow or Santee rotted shoreline fish.Love Deer and don't like Goat.All of it is a matter of each individuals taste in my belief.I can and have eaten all kinds of critters,cooked,raw and some still wiggling so my taste has nothing to do with my mind rejecting it.

    Water quality and what something has been eating has everything to do with a creatures taste or even smell.Your degree of hunger and desperation even more.Stagnant water makes all fish and even hogs taste bad to me.This has been based on my trial and my taste.Others have disagreed and agreed with me as we ate.I said I did not like,but I did not say that I did not eat them.

    I love you Brothers and Sisters.peewee