I grew up among men who knew game fish by sight, fight, texture and taste.
I learned about carp, various gar and smallmouth buffalo, too.
One of my dad’s deacons would call for a celebration if he landed a smallmouth buffalo. He’d throw down a big cast iron pot on top of a hardwood fire, dump in some lard and bacon grease and start frying steaks off those fish. He always threw in a chunk of salt pork with each batch and when it floated to the top the fish were done.
Those were some of the best impromptu meals I can remember.
What I can’t remember is any of them ever talking about Gaspergou or Gou, which are names for a rather odd looking fish that is the freshwater cousin to the black drum of saltwater fame. How odd, you ask? I know some guides who don’t even like to take pictures of gaspergou when someone catches one on their boat.
But that’s really shortsighted.
I caught the first gaspergou of my career on a hot July day so many years ago it’s hard to count. I was bumping a lure on the bottom in two feet of water up Dillard Creek on the far northern end of Lake Livingston, and he was mixed in with some largemouths ganged up on a tiny hump just off the creek channel.
What surprised me was that the gaspergou hit a L’il George. Now I expect white bass to do that. Largemouths, too. I’d even caught channel catfish dropping that heavy lead spinner below schools of feeding whites.
I had never seen a drum before, though I figured out what it was.
Freshwater drum are ubiquitous in Texas and pretty much throughout the country. I’ve caught them fishing for catfish, crappie, white bass and largemouth bass. They can grow to prodigious sizes. The state record for freshwater drum is well over 30 pounds, although most of the fish that are caught come in well under that.
Most of what we encounter are small, below 10 pounds for sure.
They are silver/lavender in color, with iridescent sides and a slightly darker back, quite lovely in that carp-drum kind of way. They’re just as likely to take lures, but I catch a lot of them now on minnows while fishing for crappie on summer brush piles. Cut bait also is commonly used for gaspergou.
With their boring, quick turning runs and those broad sides putting pressure on a rod, they are great fish to catch and a pretty good fish to eat.
The fillets are a little thin but serious catfish and crappie anglers know that a fish under 4 pounds is tasty, clean and should never be thrown back as a “trash” fish.
When we’re talking about fish for the table, and you’re dipping minnows or blood bait, turning up your nose at a quality fish just because he looks a little “different,” well that’s just dumb.
I had to think a minute before I could come up with someone I knew who routinely eats them. I came up with Bobby Schmidt. “I’ve eaten lots of them,” Schmidt says, noting that he’s caught them crappie fishing but also on purpose in rivers and creeks flowing through his property.
“There’s nothing wrong with them at all. They’re just a freshwater drum,” he says. “They’re not like a catfish or a bass to me but they’re a flaky meat that’s good.”
Schmidt cautioned against eating really large gaspergou. The older fish develop a strip of dark meat on their sides that can be too strong for the table. So do stripers and even white bass. “A big flathead can have some meat that’s too strong, too,” Schmidt says.
As I said before, gaspergou are known for their light, flaky fillets and thrown in with bass and other light fish can hardly be distinguished.
At least, that’s what I’ve heard. I’ve never actually eaten one myself. Are you kidding? Look at those things.