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Filet of Hardhead

When Will We Hear those Words Coming from a Waiter


“Would you like that hardhead broiled, or blackened, sir?” I wonder how long it will be until we hear those words coming from a waiter in a nice restaurant? Hardhead is the name used for saltwater catfish from Texas to the Florida panhandle. Most of us consider them to be a real pain to deal with. And that pain is meant to be both the aggravation of catching them and real pain you feel if one ever fins you.

These catfish are found from Texas to Virginia and even further north on almost any kind of inland water, even in offshore water in depths up to about thirty feet. They are exactly like their freshwater cousins. In fact, if they are lying side by side, it is virtually impossible to distinguish one from the other.

There is one difference that anyone who has handled them can tell you about. The saltwater variety has some powerful pain associated with its fins. Even a small prick by one of them can cause some real discomfort. And a full-fledged stick in the hand can cause swelling, pain, and even nausea in some people.

I am sure that there are some of you out there that do eat them, but most people throw them back. The Gaff Topsail version of this fish is said to be very tasty, but I have never attempted to eat even that one. So, what is the point of all this talk about the lowly hardhead catfish?

Not a whole lot of years ago, I remember a couple of varieties of fish that no one ever envisioned being taken for human consumption. When they caught an unusual fish, my kids would always ask me if it was edible. My answer was always the same. Any fish is edible. It becomes a matter of whether we choose to eat it or not. Two that come to mind back then are shark and amberjack.

“Who in their right mind would keep a shark to eat?” we thought. Then, we began seeing that overseas markets were selling shark filets. Slowly at first, and growing rapidly, the market for shark meat came to the U.S.

I am told that it too is quite tasty, and grills almost like swordfish or tuna. However, I tried on more than one occasion to filet and keep one. I simply could not get past the terrible ammonia smell associated with the meat. Yes, I know, the smell goes away when you cook it, but it has become just a mental block for me.

The amberjack, the Charter Captains’ bread and butter for many, many years, was always chunked at the end of the tourist picture taking session. Charter boats could always depend on a couple of good size AJ’s to put a bend in a customer’s rod. But no one ever ate them. I was told the meat was too strong, and “besides, they have worms.” Yesterday, the market I shop had amberjack steaks and filets for $7.99 a pound – not a worm in sight! That’s a lot of money for what we always considered a throw back fish!

Times change. Preferences and prejudices disappear. I predict that it won’t be long before we hear that waiter saying, “How did you like your hardhead, sir?”

How about you? Have you ever eaten a fish that no one else would eat? Tell us about it on our Reader Submission Page, or on our Saltwater Fishing Forum!

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