Unable to match appropriate weather conditions with an available time for a fishing excursion, I stopped by Baltimore’s Northeast Market looking for yellow perch. The recorded Maryland fishing report available from Clyde’s Sport Shop by calling 410-247-3474 noted an early start for their annual spawning run upstream into various tributaries of the Chesapeake. The event marks a ritualistic commencement of Maryland’s fishing season.
Northeast Market is one of the few places in town where yellow perch, or predominately freshwater panfish, typically bluegills and crappies, are likely to be sold. Even though they typically first appear a week or two later than yellow perch, bluegills and crappies were the only panfish on ice. When available, they are usually quite fresh relative to other kinds of fish, but these had eyes that were beyond milky to the point of being hollow.
So I inquired whether any that were fresher would arrive soon. A fishmonger smiled and disappeared into an enormous nearby walk-in refrigerator. He emerged in about five minutes with a red basket bearing about a dozen bluegills, specifically sunfish. They appeared fresh enough to still be jumping. Clear, dark, and shiny eyes bulged outward, and well-defined gills revealed themselves upon lifting their covers. Poke one of these fish in the side, and the indentation disappeared as quickly as your finger. Regardless of species, most fish purchased at retail--- including at the highest-end stores with the best reputations---is a long way from being as fresh. Unfortunately this holds true even for fish displayed in their entireties which at least you can check out. With pre-cut filets, "Caveat Emptor" is understatement.
The fishmonger cleaned my fish thoroughly, scaling and beheading them, then removing the guts. Usually, this is a job that upon arriving home I find necessary to complete myself with additional scaling, mostly near the gills or where the stomach is slit, then scraping inside to assure removal of ALL entrails. Preparation thereafter is simple. Having fixed panfish a myriad ways since childhood, here’s my best shot.
1. Rinse and dry the fish.
2. Dip the fish in in a 50-50 mix of flour and cornmeal
3. Fry quickly at moderate heat in a mixture of butter and vegetable oil until each side is brown.
4. Remove from heat and crisp on absorbent paper.
5. Serve with a lemon wedge and hot sauce.
There’s yet a better approach to this whole thing. Wait until the weather has warmed up a bit and go to a pond, lake, river, reservoir, or stream where you know you can catch at least a couple of bluegills. You might want to take along a youngster. Such a relaxed and sure-thing kind of fishing is always fun. And nowhere can you buy fish any fresher.