The Roughest Catch: Ike Jime on the Gulf Coast, with Video, Part 2 of 4
Read the first part of our four-part series on Gulf sashimi-grade fish, and stay tuned tomorrow for part three.
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.
"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.
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.
Naismith readies the bandit reel on the trawler's stern.
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.
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.
The exsanguinating ice slush quickly turns bright red from the snappers' blood.
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."