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Home Column - Healthy Angler The Healthy Angler - Hope, Anticipation, Quicksand?

The Healthy Angler - Hope, Anticipation, Quicksand?

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By Gary Shiebler

July 23, 2010

There are few things that take the edge off a hot, midsummer’s day in the mid-south better than a trip to one of Tennessee’s many smallmouth-fishing creeks. With June being a record warm month and July following that trend, I was more than ready to walk the pristine waters of some of my favorite backcountry waterways.

With some of Tennessee’s rivers and creeks still recovering from the 100 year flood that devastated much of the mid-state in May, I was curious to see how many of my reliable fishing holes had fared after the deluge, an event that saw many creeks rise over twenty feet above their normal flow levels. My hope was that a good cleansing would be just what the creek needed and that there would be a bounty of brand new sweet spots and honey holes holding prized 18-20” bronzebacks. What I didn’t plan on was quicksand.

I always thought that quicksand was solely the stuff of southwestern folklore, bottomless pits of terror where many an unsuspecting adventurer or outlaw met a slow and tortuous death, usually as a result of an unfortunate misstep while being pursued by cowboys in the great American western. Turns out, quicksand can be found in climates all around the world, from the tidal flats in Morcambe Bay, England to the shores of Lake Michigan. And as I was soon to discover, along the edge of one of middle Tennessee’s prime smallmouth creeks.

The day began as most fishing trips do, filled with hope and anticipation. That unshakable feeling that marks the start of a brand new day on the water is one of the reasons I love to fish. Grayson Tucker, a good friend, was my angling partner for the day. (Grayson is the son of country music legend Tanya Tucker. He recently co-angled with Gary Yamamoto in the 2010 Porter Wagoner Memorial Fishing Tournament and is a very talented young fisherman.)

I had encountered fairly deep sections of creek mud and silt in the past, but I was completely unprepared for what Grayson and I wandered into that Saturday morning. The creek had undergone a complete transformation. Huge sweeping cliffs of dirt and clay had carved themselves deeply into the once gently sloping fields of corn and fescue lining the creek, and the many trees and laydowns I expected to find were nowhere to be found, undoubtedly swept farther downstream by the massive surge of water the month before. Once familiar fishing holes were now completely unrecognizable and spots where there once had been narrow channels of swiftly flowing water had split into two and three fingers weaving their way around newly formed spits of gravel and sand. It was as if we were fishing a brand new body of water.

We started making our way upstream, casting into a few pools along the way. A once dependable stretch, it was now mostly a deep and stagnant pond with little current. We decided to scramble back up the bank and walk the lush cornfield while scouting a more promising spot from higher ground. A few hundred yards farther upstream, we came across classic smallmouth habitat-a sharp turn in the creek, plenty of good current flowing over rocks and smooth stones with a gnarly, old stump hugging the shoreline.

“Looks like we can get down here,” I said to Grayson, pointing to a narrow path next to a towering sycamore tree. We navigated around exposed roots and freshly fallen branches and quickly slid down the bank.

“This looks perfect,” I thought to myself as I rigged a single tail grub onto a 3/8 oz. shaky head. I took one step into the water and instantly sank up to my thigh.

“For cryin’ out freakin’ loud,” I mumbled, wondering if this was a precursor of things to come. I quickly pulled at my right leg, somewhat startled by the amount of suction and resistance I encountered. I was even more surprised when, after a bit of a struggle, I finally dislodged my leg to find it covered in a thick layer of wet, grainy sand.

“Hey, Grayson,” I yelled. “Be careful, here, man. The bottom is real soft.”

I turned around and saw Grayson buried up damn near close to his hip.

“Dang,” he said in a slightly nervous country drawl.

Now, Grayson is a strong, athletic kid, a first string varsity football, baseball and basketball player, but when he tried to lift one of his legs out of the sandy bog, it didn’t budge. Not an inch.

“Dang,” he said once again.

While I was fairly sure that we weren’t about to re-enact the famous sunken rail car scene from “Blazing Saddles”, one thing was very clear: Grayson was stuck in quicksand.

“Dang,” he mumbled.

Now, regarding quicksand, I remembered hearing as a boy, perhaps culled from the memory of a distant high school geology class, something along the lines of “the more you struggle, the more you will sink”. Grayson quickly proved this theory true. The more he struggled to pull his leg out, the deeper he sank.

“You wait here, I’ll go get help,” I said. Grayson shot me a panicky glance.

“Just kidding,” I said, “as if you’re going anywhere.”

It took us over an hour to get him out. We tried digging around his leg as a thick soupy-like mix of sand and water poured back in the hole and rose up from underneath at every turn. We used long sticks and branches in attempt to pry his foot loose. We were both astonished at the amount of suction at the bottom of the hole. Finally, after digging deep enough to reach the top of one of his shoes, we managed to untie the laces. Once shoeless, he was able slowly rock his leg from side to side and pull himself free.

“Dang,” he said for a fourth time.shiebler-quicksand

“That’s what I call smallmouth creek tax,” I chuckled.

“I’ve got an extra pair of shoes in the truck,” Grayson said while catching his breath on a fallen tree trunk.

I looked upstream and saw a spot I’d fished many times before-a chalky, rock ledge that dropped into a swirling pool of clear water. I just knew it was holding fish.

“Let’s hit that before we head back,” I said.

“Let’s do it,” he agreed.

Grayson limped over to a small point across from the ledge and let loose a perfect cast, just inches from the wall. As soon as his four and half inch custom Swimming Senko hit the water, his rod doubled over. Moments later, after a fight only a creek smallmouth can give, he pulled out a solid 15” brown fish.

“Dang,” he said one last time.

“Worth losing a shoe over?” I asked. Grayson smiled.

“You bet.”

Taco Time

shiebler-fishtaco

One Jack in the Box beef taco will set you back about 200 calories, with half of those calories from fat.  They describe their classic fast-food snack as “…crunchy tortilla, spicy beef, American cheese, shredded lettuce and taco sauce.”  But much like Lay’s Potato Chips and most other things that taste really good but aren’t necessarily good for you – who can eat just one?  When Jack in the Box first hit town, long before home video games took over our minds, we’d wheel our bikes downtown for a minimum of four delicious, deep-fried tacos each.  What’s wrong with an 800 calorie snack with over 40 grams of fat?  Nothing, if you’re 13 years old and spend most of your time riding your bike.

If you’re an active, healthy, calorie burning machine, a few fast food tacos won’t kill you, but if your fishing cooler’s full of beer and bratwurst, you might want to consider swapping the greasy, beefy variety for a lighter, healthier fish taco.  Best of all, they taste great.  Well-seasoned with tons of flavor and texture, fish tacos have been a big deal in the western U.S. for years and now they’re available just about anywhere.

Don’t be miss-led.  You can still load up on calories, fat and carbs with a pair of fish tacos.  My advice is to go long on the fish and short on the cheese.  Also, give the low-carb tortillas a try.  They don’t taste like cardboard and your guests probably won’t be able to tell the difference.  If you want the flavor of fish tacos, but feel like a couple of them won’t satisfy your hunger, mound up a pile of chopped romaine or iceberg lettuce and build a fish taco salad on top, adding just enough crushed up tortilla chips to give you that familiar taco flavor and texture.

Do you like flour or corn tortillas?  Soft or crispy?  It really doesn’t matter as long as the fish is good.  There are as many variations of fish tacos as there are Yamamoto baits. You can make them spicy hot or mild, crunchy or creamy, fried, broiled or grilled…you get the idea. This recipe uses a spicy slaw and a vibrant mango salsa, but you can keep it simple with grilled fish, lettuce, hot sauce, a big squeeze of lime or lemon and a sprinkle of cheese.  Any fish works great in a fish taco.

 

Fish Tacos with Spicy Slaw and Mango Salsa

4 servings/8 tacos

1 1/2 lbs fresh fish fillets

1 T olive oil

salt and pepper

1 – 2 dashes Tabasco

8 taco shells or flour tortillas

1/2 cup shredded low-fat cheese

 

Slaw

2 cups finely shredded green cabbage

2 T trimmed and shredded radish

2 green onions, finely sliced

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced

3 T olive oil

2 T white wine vinegar

pinch sugar

salt and pepper to taste

 

Mango Salsa

1 cup fresh mango; peeled, seeded and diced

2 T red onion, minced

2 T red bell pepper, minced

2 T fresh cilantro leaves, minced

1 T  lime juice

pinch cayenne pepper

Combine slaw ingredients in one bowl and salsa ingredients in another. Let both stand at room temperature for 20 minutes. Rub fish with olive oil. Season with salt, pepper and Tabasco. Grill or broil until just done. Distribute fish in taco shells. Top with salsa, slaw and cheese.

scott-head-10.05Scott is the co-host of the HuntFishCook TV show.  You can find more of his recipes for game and fish at HuntFishCook.com and a discount online store for outdoor types at HuntFishOverstock.com.

Last Updated on Friday, 23 July 2010 09:46