This is not another COVID-19 editorial, but it is related to the pandemic as trout fishing has taken on new meaning and interest for many anglers who might have otherwise spent time this spring fishing onboard for-hire boats or called in favors from friends with boats. I, for one, missed out on the local spring blackfish season, and in its place I spent a lot of time chasing trout with my son. Further, as much of the spring stocked trout are anticipated to be a put-and-take fishery, I feel little guilt in taking advantage of the bounty afforded by the local state stocking program. While I did release the vast majority of brook, brown, rainbow and tiger trout I landed this spring, when a fish was landed that took my Trout Magnet or Mepp’s deeper than expected it ended up on my stringer. Before long I had a good supply of fish ready for one of my favorite piscatorial feasts: smoked trout.
Begin by bleeding out any trout you intend to keep. You should be doing this for any fish you harvest but I see a lot of trout end up on a stringer without this crucial step being followed. Once bled you can either fillet the trout or simply gut and remove the heads. If you only have a fish or two, I recommend freezing them (preferably in a vacuum-sealed package) until you have at least five fish; I generally shoot for 10 fish and made this year’s batch when I reached nine volunteers.
With a batch of fish fillets ready, begin by soaking them in a brine for six to eight hours. I like to move the fillets around in the brine every two hours or so to evenly distribute the flavors. Remove the fillets from the brine and rinse with fresh, cool water before patting dry and setting each fillet on a drying rack (I use cookie racks placed on baking sheets.). Place the racks in your refrigerator overnight for at least 10 to 12 hours. This finishes drying out the fillets and the meat takes the smoke much better than when this step is skipped. Arrange the fillets on your smoker racks. Do not crowd the filets as you want the air to get around them. If you do not have special fish inserts for your smoker you can wrap each rack in tin foil and poke small holes in the foil with a fork. Heat the smoker up to 225 and toss in some wood before adding the fish. I use apple wood as it adds a good taste but is not overwhelming, but you can use whatever you have handy. Smoke the fillets for 1.5 hours and then rearrange the racks while checking for doneness. I then check the fillets every 30 to 60 minutes but usually find that they’re done by the three-hour mark.
Remove the racks, pat dry any liquid that remains on the fillets, put them back on the overnight drying racks and place them back in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes. Once cooled you can begin the feast or store for later consumption. If I am not going to eat all the fish within three to four days I will vacuum-seal them where they’ll last in the freezer for several months. Smoked fish can be eaten straight, on a cracker or made into a dip or salad for sandwiches.
I’ll leave you with one warning about smoked trout (and it is the same warning I have with smoked bluefish). It is both addicting and a curse as once you buy a dedicated smoker, odds are high that your catch rate will dip!
- 1-2 cups pineapple or orange juice
- 1 gallon water
- 3-5 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 sweet onion, sliced
- ¾ cup Kosher salt
- ¾ cup brown sugar
- ¾ cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon black pepper