Zach has had a fish dream for a long time. First he just wanted to catch one. Then when catching became easy the new quest was to catch "an eating fish". He managed some small, bony but edible fish from the Chesapeake that offered nothing more than a few bites when it was all said and done. And then the quest became to catch a "fish that could feed the whole family."
Hello Pacific Ocean! We were lucky enough to be invited by our old friends Lisa and Todd and their sweet daughter Jessica for a day of ocean kayak fishing while we were in HAwaii last month. Well, I say we, but really it was Zach. They heard about his wish and really bent over backwards to make it happen. Todd is an experienced kayak fisherman and grew up in this very harbor. Mahukona is a funky little local hang out that used to be owned by a Hawaiian Princess. It was built up into a sugar cane port, where a small train transported cane from the mountain farms to the sea for export in the 1800's. War, storms, and the march of time closed the once bustling port down in the 1950's. Today it's a rag tag beach park mostly frequented by locals who like to swim, snorkel, and fish from the concrete pier.
Zach and Todd headed out for some guy time in the kayaks on the dinner for the whole family quest. They started in the harbor, getting used to the whole feel of things. Zach is a confident kayaker, but ocean swells are totally different than the Chesapeake. And that day there was a good breeze, and swells, and some white caps out a bit too. When you muck up your paddling on the Chesapeake you end up on a muddy bank in the weeds or on a sandy shore. Here if you muck up, you get thrown by breaking waves on to lava rock. So some shuffling was done and Zach hopped into Todd's kayak for a tandem ride. Todd in charge of paddling, and Zach got to fish.
They were gone a long time. Like a really long time. Lisa could tell I was nervous as they paddled farther and farther and finally out of my sight all together. She reassured me and said, "Todd's going to keep going until Zach catches dinner. He will not come back empty handed." And she was right. Smiling and worn out they returned with a bag full of fish and stories to tell. Most were little trophy fish that Todd let the kids put back in the ocean (he has a wet well in the kayak to keep them alive.) But two were eating fish, and one was large enough to feed the family. Mission accomplished.
The Hawaiian name for this fish is Uku, which is a grey snapper. Many locals ooooo-ed and ahhhh-ed as it's considered a premium fish that you could hand over to the seafood market up the road for a healthy payment. There was no way this boy was going to trade cold cash for a hot dinner. The Uku came home and the next adventure was cutting it down into edible fillets.
I looked at my dad, "You know how to do this, right?" He shrugged, no. "I thought you could do it, you live on a sailboat!?" Yeah, but I am a weenie and I don't like cutting up animals dead or alive. I just like eating them once they no longer have a face. Hypocritical carnivore, that's me! Zach had filleted a fish many times, but it was always under the supervision of someone who knew what they were doing. As we were pondering what to do, a truck rumbled up my dad's driveway and out stepped Gary, former charter fishing captain. Bingo!
Gary patiently and thoroughly filleted the fish, letting Zach step in where he could and handling the dirty work that nobody else wanted to touch. He told stories of his days at sea, the big ones that got away, the time he got a large tip for filleting a fish for a 60's movie star, stories only a captain can tell with that far away twinkle in his eye. All the while his hands told the true story of a life working hard, steady and strong.
Zach sketched a picture of how he wanted his fish dinner presented and plated. I should have kept the sketch, honestly I tried to but in the chaos of packing up I can't find it. My dad studied the sketch and stayed true to the vision as he cooked up the meal. Zach was originally going to help cook, but we all opted for more beach time instead, leaving grandpa to rule the kitchen. In the end, it was a meal that was equal parts beautiful and delicious, and it fed the whole family.
Mahalo Lisa and Todd for creating such a special memory for Zach. And Mahalo Mr. Uku Fish for giving it up for my boy.