Recycling your fish carcass

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Finding a home for boneless fish filets is seldom a problem but disposing of fish carcasses can be a challenge.  Most of us do not live on the water where it is easy to feed the crabs.

On a recent fishing expedition, Randy Guy gathered up all the striped bass backbones left over from the filleting process.

He explained that he blackens the meat on the backbone and scrapes the cooked meat off with a fork.  Frugal Randy gets all the meat off the bones with virtually no waste.

This is actually a very good trick but what do we do with all those panfish carcasses that are just too small to easily pick out the bones from?

I recycle my panfish carcasses through a chum grinder.  Freeze the chum.  And, use the chum to catch more fish on my next fishing trip.

This cycle of recycling makes for very consistent fish catches.

Although you can buy electric chum grinders through the Internet, most of the best motorized grinders (no hand cranking for me) are built by serious fishermen.  The basic chum grinder starts with a #32 Chop Rite or equivalent size and brand grinder that is powered by a gas or electric motor.

On the charter boats, an offset reduction gear gasoline powered Briggs and Stratton engine will often be seen turning the #32 grinder.  This rig is way overpowered but it will rip through a bushel of alewives in no time at all.

The reduction gear slows down the RPMs which is necessary from a safety perspective.      Personally, I prefer electric motors to turn my own grinder.  The smell of gasoline exhaust is enough to steer me to non-polluting electricity for spinning the chum grinder screw head.      The tough choice is whether to use 110 volt AC or 12 volt DC.

A quarter horse AC motor equipped with a reduction drive that has an output between 30 to 60 RPM can be connected to the chum grinder with a Lovejoy coupling.   The tapered shaft on the chum grinder must be turned down to a consistent diameter on a lathe to fit the coupling.  This work can be best done by a machine shop who will also have the Lovejoy or similar couplings.

Through-bolt the motor and grinder to a 2×10 plank with shims mounted beneath the motor or grinder to line the two up.  Wire the motor up for the proper rotation and plug it in.  An on/off switch mounted on the unit is a pretty good idea as well.      However simple the AC reduction gear motor is, a source of shore power or an expensive inverter must be available.

My favorite design is a 12 volt DC motor no less than 1/6 Hp run through a gear reduction and set to drive the grinder at the same slow r.p.m. as the AC motor would.  A forward, off, reverse switch can easily be wired to the rig that is powered by a boat or car battery.

The grinding plate on the output side of the chum grinder should have 1/2 to 1 inch holes to make the chum flow easily without backing up.  Obviously, knives, fingers, and any clothing or appendages must be kept away from the chum grinder hopper and cutting surfaces.  Aretha Franklin said it best, “R E S P E C T”.

As I filet my fish, I flip the carcasses into the slow turning grinder which feeds the processed chum into empty half gallon fruit juice containers.  These waxed cardboard boxes close easily and are conveniently stored in the freezer for the next fishing expedition.

The waxed cardboard can be easily pulled off the frozen chum block which is placed in a mesh bag.  Larger mesh like found on landing nets is better as it allows the big pieces to float free.  Though most people put the bag on the surface, bottom chumming is very effective at drawing and keeping fish under the bottom of your boat.

Generally, I suspend the bottom chum bag a few feet off the bottom from the bow of the boat on a parachute cord weighted with a window sash or heavy dive lead.  I wrap the cord around a piece of plywood for convenient stowage.  In the ocean, I have bottom chummed in over a hundred feet of water.  In the Bay and tributaries, the water is generally much shallower.   The faster the current is the closer the bag should be to the bottom.

It is remarkable how well this simple trick works.  People will see you catching fish and anchor nearby.  After about ten minutes of them watching you catch fish while they don’t get a bite, someone from the other boat is going to ask you what bait you are using.

Just tell him. “Pickled squid lips.”

Building your own chum grinder takes a little more effort than the average fisherman is willing to expend.  That extra effort is why some people become fishermen who regularly demonstrate the difference between fishing and catching.

Then, of course, there are some of us who are just plain lucky.

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