568 DAYS ON THE CLINCH: CHAPTER III

TIME TO LEARN

Over 100 fish species on The Clinch River, and 50 species of freshwater mussels which are extremely illegal to keep (not that I care when I’m hungry).

Smallmouth bass were the fish I’d catch most of the time with my rod and reel. I had about 200 rubber jigs (you go through 200 jigs quite quickly when you’re using them 24/7. Only lasted me for about 3 months). These jigs resembled crawdads, the Smallmouth go crazy for them.

This section of the river I was on is about a quarter of a mile in width, and waiste deep (depending on how much it’s been raining. If it’s been raining long and hard, then the river is down right dangerous).

The water where I was at is crystal clear, and clean. The only pollution would be fertilizer from surrounding farms. I’ve drank this water without boiling it before (never do that) and I never got sick.

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When you have no source of cold air like a refrigerator, everything rots fast in the heat of summer. So you have to cure your meat so it will last. You most definitely want your food to last for days that you don’t catch anything (saving food for later is smart). I had multiple ways of curing fish. My favorite way to cure fish which tasted the best was smoking it. I’d cut the flesh of the Smallmouth into small strips and lay them over a metal coat hanger that I had brought with me. The coat hanger would be hanging over the fire.

This isn’t as easy as it seems. If your fire is to big, or the meat is to close to it, your food will cook instead of cure. The idea of smoking/curing your food is to pull all the moisture out of it. By doing this, it makes the meat hard, and makes it much more difficult for bacteria to break it down. Smoking your meat so it cures is a very lengthy experience. It can take up to 2 days. That’s a lot of fucking wood, and a lot of damp wood too. You want the proper mix of damp wood and dry wood. The dry wood keeps the fire hot, the damp wood keeps the fire smoky. And you can’t just dip wood in water, the water instantly evaporates. Finding wood that’s been soaking in the river is key.

Another method of curing meat is pouring salt all over it and laying it in the sun. I never did this, I love salt and didn’t want to waste it.

The second technique I used to keep my fish from rotting was to put it in a massive glass pickle jar and fill it up with vinegar. Let me tell you, the taste of pickled fish is strong, real fucking strong. That shit will make the end of your pecker grow hair it’s so strong. It takes a different kind of individual to eat picked fish (the hungry as hell kind of individual). Regardless, pickled fish is extremely healthy, and will never turn bad.

You can’t really re-use vinegar after other properties have been in it. Lucky for me, vinegar is easy to make, all you need is patience and fruite. Raspberries and blackberries are all over East Tennessee. I’d fill up my massive pickle jar with water, then I’d boil it to clean it (if you do this to much, glass becomes brittle and will break over time). After my glass jar was clean I’d pack it full with berries. The berries turn into alchohol, then to vinegar. Nothing to it, just don’t expose the jar to germs or bugs by opening it until the process is over.

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Freshwater mussels, fuck me sideways, those puppies are good. I’d always eat mussels at night around the campfire. A savory warm treat for those lonely nights on The Clinch. I’d set those bad boys on rocks around the blazing fire and watch them steam until they popped open to golden perfection. And these fresh water mussels aren’t those measly small fries you buy at The Fresh Market. Oh contraire, these tasty d’lites are the size of your hand. Just 5 or 6 of them and you’d be stuffed.

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Crawdads were another favorite of mine to eat, I think we can all agree that crustaceans are hard to beat in the world of fine cuisine. I made a crawdad trap out of trash that I had found. This particular trash was a milk jug. I cut the back of the milk jug for a flap (a door), and I would weigh the milk jug down with rocks in it so it wouldn’t float away. I’d put a fish carcass in the milk jug, then tie off the flap with fishing line (I had little holes punctured in the soft plastic for the fishing line). After the trap was ready, I would set it in a shallow part of the river. The crawdads would climb into the top of the milk jug where the cap was suppose to go, once they were in they couldn’t figure out how to escape.

Sometimes I’d go weeks without catching these delicious morsels, or I’d only catch one or two. But sometimes I’d get a dozen or so. I could never figure out the rhythm or feeding habits of the crawfish, just luck of the draw.

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The best tasting thing I ever made (that I caught from The Clinch) was stuffed Gar. Gar are long prehistoric looking fish with sharp teeth. The species of Gar on this section of the river are Spotted Gar. They max out at around 6 pounds. Not the biggest species of Gar ( example, Gator Gar can get up to to 400pounds). This Spotted Gar I caught was about 2 pounds. I stuffed him with Mussels, crawdad tail and Smallmouth, then I laid him in an oven that I made out of river rock. Damn I wish I had butter that night.