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Spiny Lobsters With Jackie: A Mean Trick … Or Am I Really That Bad?

Tonight’s episode of Hook, Line & Dinner really tested me. Though it lacked the barracuda danger I encountered during my last trip to the Bahamas, this time around, the Caribbean definitely felt a lot more challenging.

When I heard that a local diver would be taking me on a hunt for spiny lobsters, I thought I was heading into a cakewalk. Of course the spiny lobster would be easier to catch than its clawed cousin – it’s half as fast and doesn’t have any pinchers to nab you with, right? I was a little less confident once he showed me what we’d be fishing with: a Hawaiian sling, which is basically an underwater bow and arrow. But I really lost hope once I realized I’d be firing this thing under 20 feet of water without a scuba – not so much the cakewalk I’d pictured.

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Funny Things Happen in the Keys

Ben Sargent

Let me start out by saying that Key West is an awesome place. It’s every bit as funky, cool and relaxed as people say it is. It wasn’t long after I arrived that I mastered riding a moped with one hand on the handle and the other holding shaved ice. Needless to say, I loved it there!

There were, however, two odd events that occurred during my time in the Keys that I need to tell you about, one of which remains an unsolved mystery.

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Finding Fishing in New York City

This week on Hook, Line & Dinner, I head to the Big Apple to prove that New York City is really just one giant fishing village.

One key person in tonight’s episode is my good buddy Pastor Phil. To help you appreciate him, here’s a little background. One day while I was fishing from the North 5th Pier in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I pulled some spark plugs out of the water. It was clear someone was trying a rig that involved using them as sinkers. This got me curious — I wanted to know who the man was behind this creative rig.

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The Illusive, Invasive and Infamous Snakehead Fish

It’s safe to say I can get a little carried away on Hook, Line & Dinner, a little overly involved. Well, tonight is a prime example. I decided I was going to catch a snakehead fish, no matter what.

My relationship with the snakehead fish started a long time ago when I worked for the Department of Environmental Conservation in New York. We were electro-fishing in a shallow body of water. The process temporarily stuns the fish so it can be collected, measured, inspected and returned unharmed into the water. I was in the water holding onto our boat when a three-foot snakehead fish burst out of the water and landed in our boat. Up until that moment, I had not believed the hype: “A fish/snake from Asia that can breathe out of water, walk on land and has been known to eat birds, batteries and attack swimmers.” The minute I saw that fish, I became a true believer. My boss, Melissa, normally soft-spoken, shouted, “Kill that f—ing fish!”

Snakehead fish are the poster child for invasive species — they eat, grow and multiply at an alarming rate with no natural predators. So, doing my part to help contain them, I hopped in the boat and literally wrested it into the cooler. It took all my body weight to hold the fish down. I had to sit on the cooler the whole trip back — the fish never showed signs of giving in!

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I Thought We Were Going Fishing

Hook, Line and Dinner

Kenai, Alaska

This week on Hook, Line & Dinner, we head to Kenai, Alaska, to go fishing for arctic char and silver salmon. Fishing in Kenai is no easy adventure. The trick to catching salmon here is to fish where others can’t. We headed out to a place so far away, few people can figure out how to get there (and even fewer want to bother). We loaded up our pontoon plane, packed our guns and fishing gear and were on our way.

Hook, Line and Dinner

Ready, Set, Go

Yes, guns. Each guide had a revolver and a 12-gauge shotgun. Seems a little excessive, no? Well, in Kenai, it’s the norm. And that’s not because you might see a bear; it’s because you most certainly will see several bears. It almost seems the bears outnumber the people in Kenai.

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Ooh, Barracuda!

Ben Sargent
Every episode of Hook, Line & Dinner needs a theme, and tonight’s is danger. And no, the threat isn’t the poisonous lionfish or the large sharks I swam with. It’s the barracuda, and not because of their size and sharp teeth and penchant for chasing after swimmers.

Throughout the episode, I make light of the foodborne illness ciguatera. Tourists to the Bahamas are very concerned with it while the locals believe it’s just a bunch of hogwash. The illness is said to be carried by large “top-of-the-food-chain” fish that swim in warm water. Symptoms of ciguatera are nasty and can get very serious. It’s hard to diagnose and has become a debatable topic. It’s believed to start with toxic plankton that’s eaten by small fish who are in turn eaten by larger fish. Once you eat that big fish — bam. You’ve got ciguatera.

Ebi, who was my barracuda guide, laughed with a roar every time I brought up the subject. He says it’s easy to tell if a fish has ciguatera: Feed the fish to a cat; if the cat dies , don’t eat the fish. It worried me, then, that I hadn’t seen any cats on the island. When I mentioned that to Ebi, he just laughed again.

Ebi and I Cooking Barracuda

We ended up catching three barracuda and ate the largest. I thought, the bigger the fish, the greater the chances, but Ebi wanted to cook that one so I said nothing.

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Fishing (and Surfing) in The Big Apple

Ben Sargent Fishing in Brooklyn

Bringing in a Fish in New York

New York is not the first place you think of when it comes to seafood, surfing and fishing. In fact, when I moved there more than 12 years ago, I was quite sure my days as a waterman were over. But boy, was I wrong.

My first great discovery was surfing in Queens. One day, I ran into a guy carrying a surfboard on the L train in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. “Where are you going with that?”, I asked him, expecting him to tell me about an art installation he was working on. “I’m going surfing. Out at the Rock,” he said.

I dropped everything I had going on that day (including watching my friend’s gift shop) and headed out to the local surf break in Queens. From that day on, my life was changed forever.

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Five Generations of Crabbing in Smith Island, Maryland

Ben Sargent Pulling Crab Meat

Trying My Hand at Picking Blue Crabs

This week on Hook, Line & Dinner, I get a lesson in what it means to be in the family business. And no, not a Godfather-style family business. I’m talking about the Marshall family’s fifth-generation crabbing business on Smith Island.

Smith Island is a small island in the Chesapeake Bay, just north of Maryland’s border with Virginia. Smith Island has a very small population, and when I first arrived, I felt like I was the only one here. But I soon met up with Dwight Marshall for my lesson in crabbing.

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The Sport Fishing Capital of the World

Ben Sargent

In this week’s episode of Hook, Line & Dinner, I’m heading down to Islamorada, FL — the Sport Fishing Capital of the World. I’m not after just one type of fish; I’m trying to catch them all.

The key to cooking your fresh-out-of-the-water fish is to keep it light, simple and whatever you do, don’t over cook. A lot of resorts and charter companies with fishing programs offer it up as “catch and cook”. You do the catching, they’ll take care of the cooking. In most cases, I wouldn’t let them near my fish. They don’t often follow the aforementioned keys to cooking great fresh fish. The fish ends up tasting like it came from a freezer, or it comes out drowning in a thick, gloopy sauce that masks its fresh flavor.

This is not the case at Lazy Days in Islamorada, Florida.

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My Quest to Hook a Tyee

Ben Sargent in Canada

On this week’s Hook, Line & Dinner, I head to Canada on a quest to hook my first Tyee. Tyee, the Canadian Aboriginal peoples’ original word for “chief” or “big one,” now refers to chinook salmon, which are plentiful in the Campbell River near Vancouver Island. If I can snag a 30-pounder, I’ll become a member of the local Tyee club.

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