The “bluegill” (or, if you prefer, the Lepomis macrochirus) is a species of freshwater fish sometimes referred to as bream, brim, or copper nose.
It is a member of the sunfish family Centrarchidae of the order Perciformes. Lepomis, in Greek, means “scaled gill cover” and macrochirus means large hand, which may be a reference to its body shape. A defining characteristic of the bluegill is the bright blue edging visible on its gill rakers.
Anyway, it is a common fish found naturally all over the South and is now present in most North American waters. When I was a kid living in northeast Tennessee, the bluegill was the fish one went after if one was restricted to fishing off the bank and using worms or crickets.
Once in a great while, a bass could be hooked, maybe a catfish, or even a carp. But, unless one had access to a boat, the expectation was for bluegill.
When I went fishing with my father, or more often my grandfather, it was a rare day when we didn’t return from the lake with a stringer full of bluegill.
The fish were easy to clean and scale. We rarely tried to filet the bluegill because they were usually no bigger than one’s hand. Off with the heads, tail, and fins and out with the innards, the fish, after removing the scales by scraping with a kitchen fork, were ready to be rolled in cornmeal and fried. The small bones required some caution, but, as we used to say, “That there’s some good eatin’.”
When I was young, I had a dream that my grandfather and I would live on a houseboat and we would fish all day and into the night. We would make a living, I told him, by selling the fish to the Oakwood Supermarket in Kingsport. He always just smiled and said that it sounded like a good idea.
Later, I realized that the bluegill were just common lake fish (trash fish, some might call them) and that no supermarket would ever buy and resell what was so plentiful in any and every lake.
However, last week, I was at a local chain supermarket and was meandering through the fish section of the meat department. To my great surprise, bluegill filets were on sale.
In all of my 62 years, I have never — no, not even once — seen bluegill on sale, filet or not.
Then to my great shock, I discovered that the price tag on the blue gill was $13.99 a pound! By contrast, the prime filet mignon was $14.99 a pound. What gives?
I thought, “Someone must be farm raising these things.” A closer inspection revealed that, nope, the fish were “wild caught” in Canada.
Wild caught. That’s what Grandpa and I did for years in the lakes of Tennessee. That’s what everybody did! Who in the world would pay $14 a pound for bluegill? Well, apparently plenty of people.
When, on Sunday, I related the story to a group of folks at church, all but one had never heard of a bluegill.
I guess people don’t fish much off the banks with worms and crickets anymore. Maybe that’s why people will pay $14 a pound for bluegill. To them, I suppose, the name sounds strange and exotic — like “calamari,” which sounds really exotic but is really just deep fried squid.
The sad thing is that Grandpa and I might have been able to fulfill my dream and live on that house boat on the lake after all. I could have become the “Bubba Gump” of the bluegill industry. Alas, another opportunity missed.
Sometime this summer, I am searching for my rod and reel somewhere in the garage and digging for some worms in the backyard, just like in the old days. Then, I am heading for the lake to get a stringer full of bluegills. Heck, them suckers are worth $14 a pound!
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]