The Roughest Catch: Ike Jime on the Gulf Coast, with Video, Part 2 of 4

Photos by Groovehouse
Blood spurts from the red snapper's main artery as Jim Naismith completes the ike jime process. See more photos in our slideshow.
Read the first part of our four-part series on Gulf sashimi-grade fish, and stay tuned tomorrow for part three.

"Lane snapper!" yells Captain Barry Irwin from the deck of the La Victoria. He's been rod-and-reel fishing near the starboard bow, the trawler bobbing gently in Bondi blue waters 20 miles offshore from the Aransas Pass. On the port stern, Jim Naismith is busy rigging one of the dual bandit reels that juts out from the end of the trawler.

Irwin reels in his catch, the first one of the day. It's the first fishing site he's taken the La Victoria to, the crumbling remains of a shipwreck 100 feet below our boat. The wreck has formed a natural reef for fish like snapper to call home.

"You can throw a penny in a tank," Naismith had elaborated earlier. "And the snapper will flock to it. To that single penny." The fish seem to find the stability of a firm, unmoving object in the vast ocean comforting in their way, and are quick to make homes of anything that stands still long enough. The shipwrecks and oil rigs that litter the Gulf of Mexico are thick with the fish as a result, as thick as mule deer are on land.

It's these wrecks that Irwin knows like the back of his hand. Within minutes of putting baited hooks in the water, snapper clump to them in swarms. The lane snapper that Irwin pulled out of the water is banded with bright, glistening gold, but he only stops to admire it for a split second before Naismith has cut open its main artery behind the gills and begun the ike jime process.

It's all business on this boat.

Naismith readies the bandit reel on the trawler's stern.
The men aren't out to catch lane snapper this Friday, as pretty as the fish might be. They're out for regular old red snapper today, so Irwin is back in the cabin within a few minutes, pointing the trawler toward its next site.

No one is allowed to look at his GPS unit while he plots the coordinates of his fishing sites; they're guarded so zealously that Naismith used to make every deckhand and every passenger sign a non-disclosure agreement. Even Naismith doesn't know where the boat is headed.

Within an hour, the trawler has reached the next site. The boat snorts and grunts loudly as it paces around the wreckage of a World War II-era German submarine underneath the water, like a dog circling its bed before it lays down. Finally, Irwin cuts the engine and puts down anchor. Naismith has readied the bandit reel on the port side; its line, weighted with five baited hooks, has been streaming behind in the water and is already heavy with fish.

As fast as the men can get new hooks and lines into the water, they're filled up with red snapper. And these aren't small snapper, either. Irwin battles 12- to 15-pound snapper on his assortment of rods; the fish are strong swimmers and don't give up easily.

"Let's see if I can get two!" he yells out merrily, before quickly catching two enormous snapper on his pole and hauling them onto the deck. They're too small -- about three pounds each -- and he throws them back, only to catch two more in quick succession.

The exsanguinating ice slush quickly turns bright red from the snappers' blood.
When the fishing's this fast, it's easy to see why men like Irwin don't understand the point of restrictive IFQs, or Individual Fishing Quotas. "You couldn't fish all the snapper out of the Gulf if you tried," he says dismissively.

And as quickly as the fish are brought out of the water, they're put down at the makeshift table Naismith built on the stern. It's the same material as a cutting board, with a bolt at one end to hold the fish in place by their mouths as he and Irwin bleed them out. A notch in the cutting board holds their knives in place when they're not using them, which isn't often.

The fish are out of the water for less than 30 seconds -- usually less than 10 seconds -- before they're stunned by that artery-severing cut behind the gills. Naismith then makes a shallow cut in each snapper's tail, bending it to the side until it makes a satisfying crack, exposing the other end of the artery. The blood spurts out in long, thin trails.

"See him go white?" says Irwin. To his right, Naismith nods: "Did you see that color change?" The fish's coral-red flesh has turned a translucent white in a matter of seconds as the blood gushes out.

"When they're done right," continues Naismith, "you're left with a piece of steak." He hefts the fish, which has gone completely limp, as if lifting a beautiful piece of raw sirloin. "He's totally wiped out. And then you know you've done him right. Brain's gone. Spinal cord's gone."

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Wonderful reading. Frustrating that there's such a big cultural divide between the long-held local seafood traditions and this imported practice from Japan as well as such a big divide in perspective between the scientists/conservationists and the old-school fishing community.  Sounds like the equipment, resources, capabilities and talent exist, but we aren't going to get sushi-grade Gulf fish because of long-held perceptions.


I'm sensing another award in here somewhere. Fantastic writing. One thing I don't get though, I never heard that the Germans attacked Corpus Christi during WWII.


"When the fishing's this fast, it's easy to see why men like Irwin don't understand the point of restrictive IFQs, or Individual Fishing Quotas. "You couldn't fish all the snapper out of the Gulf if you tried," he says dismissively."

Sounds like what has been said about every fish that has been overfished, ever.  Get a whole bunch of bottom trawlers out there, and those stocks will be cleaned out in no time.  Remember the late 70s and early 80s?


This is great reading. I'm loving this series.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Crazy, huh? At the time, the U.S. government didn't want to cause panic by admitting that there were German U-boats in our backyard. Here's a NYTimes piece on one wreckage that was found not far from Louisiana:

Major Pain
Major Pain

Precisely, from what I understand, they didn't actually "attack" us... but they did do some poking around and they did attack some oil tankers. Some of these subs were spotted and sunk. It was also not public information until much later as to not incite panic. There are stories of Japanese subs spotted along the Pacific US Coast and other stories of German subs on the East coast. We definitely had some u-boat action in the Gulf!

See this link for more info:

Capt Barry
Capt Barry

thanks major pain for explaining that for me

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