Capt. Gus: Catfish Stew – a Southern thing

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 20, 2012

People in other parts of the country enjoy catching and eating salmon, trout, snapper and flounder. The folks who grew up in the Piedmont of North Carolina love their catfish.
The reasons are simple. Catfish are found anywhere there is water. They swim in creeks, rivers, ponds, lakes and even brackish and saltwater. They are fun and easy to catch by using a variety of fishing methods. And if that isn’t enough, they grow to enormous proportions. But, regardless of size, they taste great when fried or stewed.
Lake Norman has several types of catfish. They range in size from less than 12 inches to over 4 feet in length and can weigh 80 pounds or more. The most popular species are channel, blue and flathead.
While bass and trout take a degree of skill and sometimes expensive equipment to catch, catfish can be caught by hand (noodling/hand-fishing), on trot-lines, bush-hooks, jugs or with any type of fishing gear stored in the corner of your garage.
There is a certain mystique about catfish. Some believe that all you have to do to get stung is to touch its whiskers or the slime that coats its body. The truth is that the whiskers and slime are harmless. It’s the sharp barbed ends of its dorsal and pectoral fins that can pierce the skin if the fish is handled improperly.
There are tales about catfish swimming around the dam as large as submarines – fish so big that they can only be landed on the heavy tackle used by saltwater anglers to reel in giant blue fin tuna. Tales like these add to the hype that makes catfish so popular and gives hope to children of all ages who wish to someday catch a river monster.
Catfishing isn’t just about the catching. In fact, a lot of folks have never been catfishing. But everyone eats fish, and catfish is a favorite when it comes to southern cuisine. While most prefer fried catfish with tartar sauce, hush puppies, slaw and fries, there are others who like them stewed. The recipe below has been mentioned in the past and receives rave reviews by all who try it.
Catfish Stew: A Southern Thing
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 ˝ pounds catfish filets, cut in 1-inch pieces
3 to 5 slices chopped bacon
1 cup chopped onion
˝ cup chopped green bell pepper
1 28-ounce can tomatoes
1 cup water
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tsp. Worcestershire Sauce
1 tsp. salt
˝ tsp. black pepper
˝ tsp. thyme
Wash catfish filets and cut in one inch pieces. Set aside. Fry bacon in a large heavy pan for 2 to 3 minutes. Add onion and bell pepper. Cook until tender. Add remaining ingredients. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
Add the fish and cayenne pepper and cook another 20 minutes. Add water if needed. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Serve hot with crackers or cornbread.
Tips from Capt. Gus
Catfish are known for their keen sense of smell, but even the hungriest ones are not attracted to a washed out scentless bait. For bigger and better catches, change baits frequently.
Hot spots of the week
Cooling water temperatures have activated spotted and largemouth bass on Lake Norman. Bass are hitting surface lures around shoals, humps and river points. White perch are schooling near the bottom in water to forty feet deep.
Best baits are spoons, jigs and small minnows. Crappie fishing is improving as water temperatures continue to drop. Crappie, like the white perch, are deep during the day. Most are being caught in water to thirty-five feet deep.
Capt. Gus Gustafson is a full-time fishing guide on Lake Norman.