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What’s fresh in December?

Triggerfish

Story + Photos by Collins Doughtie

Pre-beard Collins Doughtie with a good-looking gray triggerfish

Folks often ask me, “What’s your favorite fish to eat?” Depending on where I am when asked this question, the answer varies. If I am bottom fishing offshore, I lie like a dog and say “wahoo and grouper.” Reading that last line, it’s really only a half lie because wahoo is my second favorite eating fish. Sashimi style, I’ll take wahoo over tuna any day.

So why lie when I am bottom fishing? For those onboard that are not all that experienced on the multitude of species we usually catch like vermillion snapper, black sea bass, scamp and gag grouper, red snapper and king mackerel, there is one fish we catch regularly that makes me drool like Pavlov’s dog whenever I see one come over the side. The gray triggerfish. Usually in the three to 10-pound range with a hide so tough you could make shoes out of it that would last a lifetime. But under that thick hide are some of the most delicious filets in the entire ocean. That’s why I fib, so when I get in and start cleaning fish, I rave about the excellent table fare of grouper, snappers and black sea bass in hopes that they take the bait, leaving me with nothing but trigger fillets. Sneaky huh?

Pulling the trigger on triggers

Many of my friends scowl if I suggest we go bottom fishing. Not as visual as trolling the Gulf Stream for mahi and such, plus it almost always leaves the boat smelly and messy from squid juice, blood and scales all over. But it is one of the very few types of fishing where I actually will reel a fish in. Bottom fishing off our shores is fantastic with the coolest part being on each drop to the bottom, you never know what will take your bait and that bite usually comes within seconds. It’s fast and furious if you get on top of a pile of fish. But knowing what type of fish hang right on the bottom and what types of fish are up higher in the water column takes years of watching your sonar screen. Grouper and sea bass are usually right on the bottom but when I see fish hovering 20 or more feet off the bottom, they are most likely triggers, vermillion snapper or red snapper.

When, where and how

I wish I could tell you that triggerfish are within reach of small single engine boats but I usually get them at least 30 miles out anywhere from 90 feet deep on out to the Gulf Stream. On super calm days I do see small single engine boats out there but it’s risky. My suggestion to these brave souls is always, and I mean always, tell someone where you are going so if something should happen rescuers have a clue where to look. With that said, triggerfish have very small mouths, extremely sharp teeth and, like a piranha, can clean the bait off a hook in seconds. Using a two-hook rig made with either 30 or 40 lb. test mono and Mustad 3/0 Demon Circle hooks with an 8-10 oz. bank sinker on the bottom, small chunks of squid or small pieces of cut fish won’t last long when triggers are around. But watch out for those teeth after you land one. Trigger fish play possum just waiting on a chance for payback. One did this to me not long ago grabbing the soft flesh in the palm of my hand. Once they grab hold, they don’t let go. Tears were streaming down my cheeks and if I moved even the slightest bit, it only bit harder. Vicious critters they are.

Cooking triggerfish

You can’t go wrong with trigger fillets. Fried, broiled or pan seared they are fantastic. Anyone that has ever bottom fished with me will chuckle when I tell you my favorite recipe because I have probably said it a thousand times. So, what’s one more time?

Tommy Parrot with a nice triggerfish.

Swallow Your Tongue Triggerfish Fillets

Ingredients

Triggerfish fillets

1 can black beans

1 stick butter

Paul Prudhomme’s Redfish Magic spice

Yellow saffron rice

Sour cream

Directions

[1] Melt a stick of butter. Mix in a healthy dose of Redfish Magic and liberally baste the fillets, broiling them on low until they begin to get a slight tinge of crisping on top. [2] Plate up a pile of yellow saffron rice. [3] Lay the cooked filets on top then top that with a spoonful of black beans and a dollop of sour cream. Salad or fresh fruit on the side is the perfect accompaniment. I swear it’s so good, you’ll swallow your tongue!


Beer pairing

Don’t Be Mean To People

Ponysaurus is a brewery based in Durham, N.C. It is a self-proclaimed “forward thinking, backward tasting” brewery using a state of the art chemistry lab and technician to create clean, classic beers that taste like beer should taste. With it being the holiday season, Stephanie Stawski, a wine and beer buyer, manager and certified sommelier at Rollers Wine and Spirits, picked this as her beer of the month. “Not only will it pair beautifully with your meal, it’s also good advice during a holiday season often spent with family who may not be your first choice in company,” she wrote. Pick up a few cans at Rollers Wine and Spirits.