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Cornhuskers Angle for Channel Catfish


This time of year in Nebraska, fisherman are heading back to the Platt and Missouri Rivers. Many are hoping to nab a special Nebraska treat: the channel catfish. Non-cornhuskers may not know this, but it is the state fish, and this week it's the topic of our food moment. We've called Greg Wagner, an avid fisherman and spokesman for the Nebraska Game and Wildlife Commission. Welcome to the program.

Mr. GREG WAGNER (Spokesman, Nebraska Game and Wildlife Commission): Thanks for having me, I appreciate it.

ELLIOTT: So Mr. Wagner, I assume there are other fish there in Nebraska, what's so special about catfish?

Mr. WAGNER: Well, you know, we do have a mixed bag opportunity for fishing here in Nebraska. We sit right in the middle of the nation, there's no doubt about it. But I'll tell you what, here the channel catfish rules. There's no doubt about it. We've got them at about every water including grandma's mud puddle out back, and any ponds, any reservoir, any lake, nearly any river in Nebraska, chances are overwhelmingly that we have channel catfish, good numbers and good sized fish.

ELLIOTT: Now, having grown up in the South, I'm pretty familiar with catfish, the kind that you catch out of rivers or that are raised in ponds here. Is there anything different about the Nebraska catfish than the one I might catch, say, in Mississippi?

Mr. WAGNER: Well, I think our catfish tastes better up here, and I'm giving you a bad time, giving all those Southern listeners a bad time too, because we're catching them, especially this time of year, water temperatures that are in the low 40s, and I'll tell you what, you pull those catfish out of these cool waters that we have, especially right now in Nebraska, mmmmm, come on over for dinner.

ELLIOTT: So take me fishing. What are we gonna use today?

Mr. WAGNER: Look, this is the fun part of it. Cut baits, cut up bait, cut up dead fish, is generally the recipe of choice, but I've got a better one.

ELLIOTT: Chicken livers?

Mr. WAGNER: I'll tell you, Debbie, now you've gotta bear with me on this one. I'm in the grocery store, see, in Omaha, Nebraska. I'm getting the all-beef, cheapest hot dogs I can find from the meat aisle and then I'm going over in the cheese area. I'm getting Limburger cheese. And then I'm gonna let that Limburger cheese sit outside for a couple days and my wife won't allow it inside after that anyway.

ELLIOTT: I don't blame her.

Mr. WAGNER: And we're gonna roll chunks of hot dog in that and then we're gonna catch channel catfish. It's the ultimate cut bait. Frankfurter and cheese. I kid you not.

ELLIOTT: Stinky. Stinky bait.

Mr. WAGNER: The nastier smelling, the stinkier it is, the better it works, especially here in the Cornhusker State.

ELLIOTT: So when did you first start fishing, do you remember your first catfish?

Mr. WAGNER: Yes I do. Actually I've been fishing, you know, I grew up along the Platt River outside of Gretna, Nebraska, a small farming community outside of Omaha and when we were old enough to walk, we were old enough to fish. Kind of how it goes. And I can remember my first fish coming from a deep hole in the Platt river with a cane pole, spark plug as bait, and I think it was a bent paper clip as a hook. And my first catfish was I think about a ten or eleven incher, but as I told the story of that to my relatives and such, it grew to about a ten pounder.

ELLIOTT: Is there a special Nebraska way to prepare catfish?

Mr. WAGNER: There is. The Husker way, the Husker method of preparing channel catfish, and we love the way we do it up here in Nebraska. And while we're in that grocery store, we're back to the grocery store here, we're getting a couple gallons of whole milk and what we're gonna do is we're gonna milk soak those channel catfish fillets or the meat of that channel catfish. We're gonna change that milk a couple of times overnight. It's gonna be in the fridge. And then what we're gonna do in the morning or that afternoon or the next night is we're gonna put our favorite breading on it and here in Nebraska we're pretty simple folk. We like egg and cracker crumb breading and then we're gonna fry up those channel catfish. And I'll tell you what, if the neighbors smell them cooking, they'll be over three blocks away.

ELLIOTT: Is there a local establishment there in Omaha that's known for its catfish?

Mr. WAGNER: Yes, we have a place called the Surfside Club. It's on the northern fringe of Omaha, right on the Missouri River, the Mighty Mo, we call it. And this is a place with tremendous character. This is a cool place where I take, of course, my wife, Polly, and the kids. We all go up there. The catfish there is to die for. They're gonna prepare it in about the same fashion.

ELLIOTT: Can I have hushpuppies?

Mr. WAGNER: You can have hushpuppies. Believe it or not, we have those and they have those at the Surfside, you betcha.

ELLIOTT: So I understand you're planning on heading out to do some fishing this weekend. Where are you going?

Mr. WAGNER: Yes I am, I'm gonna go back to the family farm setting. I'm gonna go on the Platt River. We're gonna have the frankfurter and Limburger cheese bait. And we're gonna see what's lurking in some of the deeper holes of the Platt River on the family farm, just outside of Omaha. I think we'll catch a few.

ELLIOTT: Well, I hope you reel in a big one. Greg Wagner works for the Nebraska Game and Wildlife Commission. We reached him in Omaha. Thanks for being with us today.

Mr. WAGNER: Thank you very much and come to Nebraska and catfish.

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ELLIOTT: That's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. From NPR News, I'm Debbie Elliot. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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