One of the top 10 bass-fishing lakes in the U.S. sits right in the middle of what’s arguably California’s most rapidly improving wine region: Lake County. Sport fishermen on Clear Lake reel in humongous fish weighing 10 pounds or more on a daily basis.
Winemaker Terry Goetze can motor out at sunrise in late spring and admire the reflection of 4,300-foot Mount Konocti on the calm green-tinged surface of the 70-square-mile natural lake.
Goetze grew up in nearby Napa Valley. He’s been fishing in Clear Lake since he was a kid, and has been competing in fishing tournaments since 2003. More often than not, he will hook a feisty largemouth bass with his spinning tackle, fight it in to the boat and still report for work in the cellar at Mount Konocti winery by 8 am.
The bass will be his dinner, either breaded with panko crumbs and sautéed in butter, or roasted on a cedar plank. The wine to go with it is easy to find, because bracing Sauvignon Blanc is Lake County’s top-selling white wine, and it pairs beautifully with fish.
Few amateur anglers can catch a fish, cook it and enjoy it with a wine they made themselves. What they can do, however, is follow the advice of the pros that catch the great sport fish of North America, know how to prepare them and can match their catch with the perfect wines.
We found fishing guides who cook, and chefs who fish and have expertise on four varieties—largemouth bass, brook trout, sockeye salmon and fluke (a k a summer flounder). Here, they share their fishing advice and favorite recipes, and I pair them with highly rated wines.
Not much of a fisherman? Don’t fret. These fish—or equally good substitutes—are available at your local fish markets.
Nicholas Heidemann is a chef, caterer and lifelong angler who grew up at a fishing resort in Ontario. He fished and cooked his way around the world as a yacht chef and fishing expedition cook.
Heidemann lives on the shores of Clear Lake, and he caters for both winery and fishing events. While most fishermen use motorboats and spinning gear to catch largemouth bass here, he prefers to sail and use a fly rod.
“They’re just such rough and tough fighting fish, and they’re so much fun to catch,” he says. “I’ve been eating freshwater fish all my life—pike, pickerel, bass and all that. Some people look down on them and say, ‘No, don’t eat that stuff,’ but that’s just [baloney].”
Heidemann says that freshwater bass needs to be cooked right to taste its best. His recipe uses a marinade, lots of herbs, pecans and wood smoke to counter the oiliness and what some call the “muddy” scent of the uncooked fish.
- 4 tablespoons Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
- 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 largemouth bass fillets, about 6 ounces each (may substitute branzino)
- ½ cup finely chopped pecans
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons fresh minced tarragon
- 2 tablespoons minced Italian parsley
- 1 tablespoon minced Meyer lemon zest (or ½ tablespoon each of orange and lemon zest)
Combine vinegar, mustard, horseradish, mayonnaise and olive oil in large bowl. Add fish. Coat well, and let marinate 1 hour. Meanwhile, combine pecans, garlic, herbs and zest in large, shallow baking dish. Shake excess marinade from fish. Dredge fillets in pecan mixture, packing the nuts onto the fish to coat evenly.
Heat grill to 500˚F. Add piece of oak or smoke chips. Once wood is smoking, place oiled wire rack with fine mesh (or oiled cast-iron skillet or griddle) on grill. Add fish in single layer. Close grill lid and cook about 3 minutes. Then turn the grill off and let finish 7 minutes, or until fish tightens and opens up a little (if using charcoal, move to the coolest part of the grill). Using thin-slotted spatula, carefully remove filets. Garnish with lemon wedges and herb sprigs. Serves 4.
The spicy marinade and all those herbs in the rub invite a classic, crisp Sauvignon Blanc to meet them head on. Husch’s 2014 La Ribera Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, from Mendocino, has great balance and fresh, invigorating citrus and pine flavors that are made for this kind of matchup. It tastes refreshing and clean, but also concentrated enough to quiet the sheer volume of flavor in this powerful bass preparation.
Several varieties of trout thrive in Colorado’s icy mountain streams, but Ethan Emery, president of Angling University in Denver, says brook trout is his favorite to cook.
“Rainbow is good, and I’ve eaten a lot of them in my day, but they don’t compare to a brook trout,” he says. “Go find a stream that has brook trout, because they’re not only tasty, but they tend to be a little more gullible and easier to catch.”
While Emery teaches fly fishing and how to catch and release trout, he loves to eat them when it’s legal. He says that the simpler the preparation, the better.
On a backpacking trip two summers ago in the Rawah Wilderness, he caught several small brook trout as his dad and brother set up a tent and built a campfire. They cooked his bounty very simply in foil amid the coals. Here’s a slightly more civilized method.
- 4 whole brook trout, 10–12 inches long, cleaned (may substitute any freshwater trout)
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 2 tablespoons butter, cut into 4 pieces
- 1 lemon, thinly sliced
- 4 tablespoons Chardonnay
Preheat oven to 375˚F. Place each trout on an 18-inch sheet of aluminum foil. Lightly salt and pepper inside fish cavity and add piece of butter. Put lemon slice atop each fish. Loosely fold up sides of foil, drizzle 1 tablespoon of wine over each fish, and fold foil tightly to create closed pouch. Place pouches in baking dish. Cook 20 minutes, or until fish is flaky. Remove fish from foil. Serve atop bed of rice. Serves 4.
The distinctive but delicate character of a dry, light-bodied Riesling like Pey-Marin’s 2013 The Shell Mound matches similar qualities in the simply prepared trout. Fresh trout tastes light, pure and clean, and those terms also describe this cool-climate Riesling. Its aromas of pine and white peach lead to crisp, tangy, green-apple and peach-skin flavors that tingle the taste buds.
Tyson Fick has devoted his career to Alaskan salmon. A part-time commercial fisherman and former fishing guide, Fick has served as spokesman for the Alaskan fishing industry for the last five years. He’s caught and eaten more than his share of the five Pacific varieties: king (a k a Chinook), sockeye, coho, pink and chum.
“Salmon is not just salmon,” he says. “They all have slightly different flavors and mouthfeel, so they pair differently with wine. The king and sockeye have a more robust flavor and more Omega-3s than pink, so they can pair well with Pinot Noir.”
Wild Pacific salmon typically has half the total fat of its farm-raised Atlantic counterparts. Fick says most of the wild salmon sold in U.S. supermarkets is sockeye, with its bright red flesh and flaky texture. Fick likes to season his sockeye lightly with spicy Middle Eastern harissa and grill it with care.
- 4 skin-on sockeye salmon fillets, about 8 ounces each
- 2 tablespoons harissa paste (available in specialty shops or Middle Eastern groceries)
Rub salmon with harissa. Marinate at room temperature for 45 minutes. Lightly oil grill and heat to 500˚F. Place filets over direct heat, flesh-side down. Turn after 3 minutes, depending on thickness of fillets. Move fillets away from direct heat, and reduce temperature or move coals away. Cook 8 minutes, or until center just turns from red to pink. Use spatula to separate and lift fillets from skin (unless you like crispy skin). Serve on warm plates. Serves 4.
The pairing here is wild to wild. A fascinating, native-yeast and non-oaky red wine brings exotic aromas like oolong tea and dried mushrooms to meet the strong, meaty and spicy salmon dish. Baxter’s 2013 Valenti Vineyard Pinot Noir from Mendocino Ridge offers just that, with flavors that are not so much fruity as savory, while its firm tannins and medium body help dissolve the extremely rich salmon as you sip.
Inspired by the farm-to-table movement, Long Island angler Sean Barrett co-founded Dock to Dish, which connects small-scale commercial fishermen with New York City restaurants and consumers. A fish that the group supplies to Le Bernardin and other discerning customers is summer flounder, commonly known as fluke.
Fluke is the preferred catch for many around Long Island and Cape Cod, as much for its ferocity when hooked as for its almost sweet, mild flavor.
Many fluke aficionados will make it poached, stuffed with crab and baked, or fried in a pan. Chef Jenny Jones of New York City’s Gramercy Tavern and Untitled tried another approach when Barrett took her fluke fishing—she created fluke tartare. It requires no cooking, and it’s fast and easy to make, provided that you can find the critical pickled ingredients at a neighborhood shop.
- 8 ounces sushi-grade fluke fillet (may substitute flounder, haddock or cod)
- Sea salt and extra-virgin olive oil, to taste
- 1 tablespoon minced pickled cocktail onions
- 1 tablespoon pickled sweet pepper, cut into thin strips
- 2 pickled string beans, diced
- ½ cup quartered Sungold (or other cherry) tomatoes
Finely dice fluke, and season with salt and a little olive oil. Mix with pickled ingredients, adding splash of pickling liquid, if necessary. Arrange fish on plates. Garnish with tomatoes. Add salt, to taste. Serves 2.
The dish could be a challenge to pair with those pickled veggies, so this is an occasion to simply drink what you like with it. Darcie Kent Vineyards’ 2013 Hoffman Vineyard Chardonnay is a full-bodied but graceful wine from a rising-star producer. It’s certainly likeable, with hints of butter, but the flavors turn to lively pear wrapped in an ultracreamy texture.
- 1Grilled Largemouth Bass with Pecan-Herb Crust
- 2Foil-Baked Colorado Brook Trout
- 3Harissa-Rubbed Grilled Alaskan Salmon
- 4Dock to Dish Fluke Tartare