Bluegill Tempura: a first time fisherman’s delight.

A quick note to my vegan and vegetarian friends: While I am pretty excited about learning to fish, I promise this blog isn’t going to move away from mostly covering plant life, foraging, ecology, gardening, and art. Fishing to me is more about helping to feed my family, while my passion for plants is much more holistic and multifaceted.

That being said, here are some impressions from my first real foray into the world of fishing.

I have been wanting to go fishing for a while now, but the opportunity just never worked out. Last year, after reading Euell Gibbons’ classic Stalking the Wild Asparagus, I decided that I just needed to read as much as possible, get my license, and see what I could figure out.

After my experience pretend fishing with my son the other day, I was pretty sure that I could catch some panfish (not sure about the exact species, from here on I will call them bluegills until I get a firm identification) pretty easily on my homemade fishing pole. My pole is made from Norway maple, about six foot long, with a hollowed out walnut as a float, a bent pin for a hook, and is wood burned with simple designs and a verse from the Bible (as has become customary for me when making my primitivish hand tools).

Well, the easy part turned out not to be as true as I had thought. I started at the far end of the pond so my shadow wouldn’t be in the water. I placed some bread dough on my hook, cast my line, waited a short while, then pulled my rod back firmly at the first tug.

No fish and no bait.

After about twenty repetitions, I took a short break to reevaluate my technique. I decided to forget about my shadow and find a spot where I could get a better view of the fish. I found a spot with a less steep bank and good visibility. Now I could see them steeling my bait, and attempt to figure out why my hook wasn’t working.

I’m not sure how much I really figured out, but after losing my bait about ten more times, I pulled back on my rod right as a small bluegill bit down on the dough ball, and was surprised to to discover him flopping on the bank.

Photo of panfish, probably bluegill.
My first panfish, probably a bluegill.

I caught two more over the next twenty minutes or so, and headed back home to see if it really is possible to learn to fillet bluegills by reading a couple books and watching a bunch of videos on YouTube.

Apparently it is possible, even when the fish are only four or five inches long. I have decided that filleting isn’t an efficient enough use of such small ones, so in the future I will be trying other methods.

Photo of bluegill tempura in my pan.
Bluegill tempura sizzling in my pan.

Once I had all three filleted, I dipped them in tempura batter and fried them up. I used Euell Gibbon’s tempura recipe. Everyone agreed that it was wonderful and a great recipe for stretching tiny fillets. I can’t wait to try it with nearly whole fish stuffed with foraged herbs.

Photo of me cooking bluegill tempura.
Me frying up the bluegill tempura.

So overall I am pretty pleased with how things went. Next time I’m going to try using bread instead of dough balls, and not using the float. I think a squirrel must have stolen the float the other night anyway.

I was expecting to feel more regret and sadness, I am an animal lover who cares for all creatures. It isn’t that I didn’t feel for the fish, but other a little bit for the possible indignity of being caught by a novice, I didn’t feel any real reason why I should feel guilty. I probably caught and killed them more humanely than if I had happened to be an egret or a heron.

Fishing is really different from foraging. I’m not sure I can really put the difference into words yet, but the plant world definitely has more of a hold of me than fishing does at this point.

Thanks again for allowing me to share my adventures.



4 thoughts on “Bluegill Tempura: a first time fisherman’s delight.

  1. Toby, sorry for the delayed response, I have been mulling this one over in my head. It doesn’t show in my photo, but the mouth is much smaller than the picture of the green sunfish. Could it be a hybrid? I know there are lots of fish in the pond that look exactly like the blue gill drawing, which is funny because none of the three that I caught did? Anyway, thanks for the link, the illustrations and descriptions are much better than the sites that I had checked out previously.

  2. they def interbreed (at least i think so) so i usually just think of the most prominent feature and go with it. It’s actually VERY good to harvest sun fish. They over-breed as a natural protection of their species, they’re on the bottom of the fish food chain. So harvesting fish actually creates a healthier habitat and allows some to grow larger on the limited food supply.

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