The Principals of Catch & Cook: Gafftopsail Catfish!

There’s no guarantee what you’ll catch. Sure we can target species based on the patterns we recognize, but depending on the tides, weather, season, and water condition, every venture is a coin toss. It’s called fishing not catching, after all.

Looming red tides and concerns about decreased species populations leave us in a sea of increased regulation and reduced food fish. Catching 20 trash fish in a day seems like more of a disappointment than a reward – until a little courage changes your mind.

There are numerous species of “trash fish.” These fish are commonly unappealing in some aspect (appearance, slime, texture) and are rated “poor” on an edibility scale. Most anglers prefer to avoid catching them and typically don’t eat them. We’re about to change this perception. To sustain fish populations and continue eating delicious food, we have decided to explore the world of trash fish on a culinary scale. They have no limit, tend to put up a good fight, and are, indeed, edible in most instances.

The Gafftopsail, in particular, is the optimal selection when compared to its cousin, the hardhead catfish. It feeds on the water column and although slimy, have some hearty fillets inside. Bonus is, they’re easy to catch, even on a slack tide.

Place fish on ice immediately being cautious of the poisonous barbs. To filet, you’ll cut behind their dorsal/pectoral fins in a triangular shape toward the belly. Using pliers grab hold of the skin and pull toward the tail. The skin will come off in one piece.  Remove the head by twisting or cutting off. Separate fillets from the backstrap saving the backstrap as part of the meal. The backstrap has the best meat.

We chose to cook this dish with fresh herbs and some homemade mayonnaise for added health and flavor. It turned out to be surprisingly good! The hardest part was getting over the mindset that it was supposed to taste bad. It’s not a prize fish, but it’s edible and good enough that we’d undoubtedly bring the larger one’s home on a slow day again.

Catfish Pesto, Mayonnaise, Almonds, Salt/Pepper

1.  Place catfish fillets into a baking dish and allow to come to room temperature.

2.  Preheat oven to 350°F.

3.  Grab your pesto or make your own by combining cilantro, almonds, a squeeze of lemon, garlic, salt, and oil.

4.  Add 2-parts cilantro to 1-part mayonnaise in a bowl and blend.

5.  Spread mixture on top of your fillets attempting to cover its surface.

6.  Bake at 350°F for 12-15 minutes rotating half-way through cook time for even cooking.

7.  Remove filets from the stove and allow them to rest for 3-5 minutes before serving.

Capt. Erik and Cf M. Janel, NT provide fishing lessons & kayak charters on Hobie PA17T’s. To book call (360) 797-3275 or visit Find more recipes and weekly how-to videos on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram @FishLikeUs.