For those of you that do not enjoy the taste of fresh bluefish fillets, the absolutely best tasting fish in the mid-Atlantic and New England regions is tautog, also known as blackfish, molly george, poor-man's lobster and other monickers. Tautog primarily feed upon blue mussels, which is their favorite food. They're primarily found lurking in the bowels of wrecks, around rock piles, jetties and artificial reefs. They have been known to attain weights to more than 20 pounds, with the world record 24-pounder caught from a wreck off Virginia's Barrier Islands.
The meat is firm, snow white, flaky and quite sweet. There is very little oil in the flesh, therefore it's really the type of fish that could be readily smoked and retain that smoky flavor. However, they are fantastic when broiled and brushed with butter and seasoned lightly, but my personal favorite is to dip them in a mix of milk and well beaten eggs, then dredge them in homemade cracker crumbs seasoned with a bit of sea-salt, fresh ground pepper, Old Bay Seafood Seasoning and just a dash of garlic powder. I pan fry the coated fillets until golden brown and serve piping hot with some homemade Tarter Sauce.
Local places to find tog include the Inner and Outer Walls of Delaware Bay, Ocean City, MD's South Jetty, all of New Jersey, New York's and New England's inlets protected with jetties, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel's Third and Fourth islands, the sunken liberty ships at Kiptopeke Ferry, Virginia and every coastal wreck from Maine to northern Virginia situated in depths of 80 feet or less.
Flounder have the tendency to be a bit bland, but some folks love fish that don't taste like fish, which is OK too. Flounder, also known as fluke by the folks north of Maryland, are primarily found in shallow bays and estuaries. They primarily feed upon smaller baitfish, mainly bay anchovy, but they will also feed on tubeworms, bloodworms, sandworms, pea crabs, green crabs and anything else that gets within range and is small enough to consume.
The best fishing technique varies from region to region, however, most folks claim drift-fishing with strips of squid, or a minnow/squid sandwich is the most productive. They are most active when the tide is surging and washing unwary baitfish along with the tidal currents. The flounder actually bury themselves in the sandy bottom, leaving only their eyes exposed. When a baitfish gets within range, they thrust their tail against the bottom and engulf the unwary prey in just the blink of an eye. I've witnessed this first hand while diving in the back bays of Virginia's barrier islands. It's an incredible sight.
Flounder have four fillets, two on their back and two on the belly side. They are easily filleted and skinned with the aid of a sharp fillet knife and very little meat is wasted. Once filleted, the meat should be rinsed thoroughly in ice cold, freshwater or clean seawater, then patted dry with paper towels. Nealy everyone either broils them with a thin coating of seasoned butter, or dips them in beer batter and pan fried them. Either way is find, but be sure to serve them piping hot.
Offshore, those fresh, bluefin tuna fillets are tough to beat, especially when charbroiled. If you don't have a charcoal grill onboard, a gas grill will do just fine. Bluefin tuna meat is a bit dark, but has an incredible flavor. I frequently coat the fillets with Yoshida Gourmet Sauce, then while they're grilling I sprinkle on some Montreal Steak Seasoning and baste them with Yoshida. Be careful not to overcook them and they tend to taste best when they are removed from the grill a bit on the rare side.
Catching a bluefin tuna is not for the faint of heart, and I would not recommend doing this with a handline. Bluefin tuna can attain weights approaching 1,000-pounds or more, they're incredibly powerful swimmers, and even a 150-pounder hooked on an 80-pound rated, standup, tuna outfit will take the average person nearly an hour to land--and that's if you know what you're doing. The largest bluefin I've managed to land tipped the scales at 175-pounds and caught at the Jack-Spot 25-miles southeast of Ocean City, Maryland. The fish was hooked at 10:30 a.m. and it took till a few minutes after high noon to bring it to the side of the boat. At the end of an hour, I handed the rod to a young friend, who gave the rod back to me after just 15 minutes. My arms felt like rubber bands and thankfully, there was another, strong you man on the boat to wield the gaff.
Yellowfin tuna, which can be found along all the Atlantic's canyon edges and in the Gulf of Mexico, can attain weights of 600 or more pounds, they're a fast-growing, tropical species and readily slam fast moving lures trolled near the surface. They're fond of eating dolphin-fish (Mahi-Mahi), and the most productive skip bait I've found has been a bright, multi-colored, skirted lure with a green, blue and yellow pattern. Trolling speeds of 5 to 7 knots are the norm, so don't worry about going too fast to catch them--not many sailboats will exceed their speed under normal conditions.
Yellowfin tuna are a great tasting fish, with charbroiling being the preferred method of cooking. With this particular species I prefer using an Italian dressing marinate for about 30 minutes prior to cooking--it adds lots of flavor. I also baste the fillets with the same marinate through much of the cooking process.
Both bluefin and yellowfin tuna have a strip of dark meal along the lateral line, which in my opinion is nasty tasting at best. Removing that strip of dark, oily meat makes a world of difference in the overall taste of both species.
Someone mentioned they didn't enjoy the taste of mackerel. I guess it depends upon which species of mackerel you're talking about. Atlantic mackerel, which are the first to arrive during the spring off the mid-Atlantic region, are relatively small, rarely exceeding two pounds, very oily, and easy to catch. Granted, they're a bit too oily when prepared using traditional cooking methods, but skinned, filleted and smoked using the recipe I posted above, they're pretty darned good. They make a great afternoon snack while you're cruising along and sipping an ice-cold beer.
King mackerel, also known as kingfish, are frequently served in the best restaurants. They too are a bit oily, but when skinned, filleted, the dark meat removed and broiled they're fantastic tasting. A word of caution, though. King mackerel, bluefish, swordfish and many other oily species contain high levels of PCBs and mercury. There are specific health warnings associated with them and consumption levels are quite small. Be sure to check the local and federal web sites on finfish consumption restrictions--just to be on the safe side. For me, at 71-years of age, it probably doesn't make a lot of difference--the damage has already been done.
Cero mackerel are pretty good when smoked and I've used hickory, apple, maple and a few other hardwoods for them with a fair degree of success.
Spanish mackerel, which can be found along the coast from south Jersey to the Florida Keys and Gulf Of Mexico, is among the best tasting mackerel I've encountered. Fresh fillets placed on a grill and basted with melted, garlic butter taste absolutely incredible.
Spanish mackerel are primarily an inshore species, found at the mouths of bays and in the lower reaches of estuaries in small to mid-size schools. In Chesapeake Bay, during a hot, dry summer, they can be found anywhere south of the Bay Bridges at Sandy Point, mainly in the bay's open waters near the mouths of larger rivers. Top locations include Smith Point Bar at the mouth of the Potomac River, Windmill and Stingray points at the mouth of the Rappahannock River and the 4th Island of the CBBT. They'll slam small spoons, lures measuring 1.5 to 3 inches, trolled at speeds of 5 to 8 knots. Anything moving slower will be completely ignored.