Put those kokanee on the grill

By: J.D. Richey, Journal Outdoors Writer
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You been getting your last licks in? I’m talking kokanee, of course — the only salmon we seem to be able to catch around here these days. While the season’s rapidly winding down, there are still some fish to be caught at Tahoe, Bullards, Berryessa and several other lakes in the region. This late in the season it’s not so much about numbers anymore, but more about size. You’ll typically get the biggest kokes of the year taken right now. At Lake Berryessa in particular, you can catch some fish big enough to fillet at the moment! And if you happen to catch a few of those slabs, what better way to celebrate a good season of fishing than by grilling some of ’em up? So, how do you do kokes up right? Well, as usual, I turned to the world’s leading authority on cooking fish and game, Scott “The Sporting Chef” Leysath of Hunt-Fish-Cook TV, for some help. And as is normally the case, he was full of good tips and tricks. “First off, you’ve gotta eat them fresh,” he said. “Kokanee don’t freeze well — they get really mushy, so eat them the day you catch ‘em, if possible.” As far as keeping your fish as fresh as possible is concerned, there are a few things you can do that will dramatically improve your catch’s table value. We’ve talked about all this before, but it never hurts to review. So, as soon as you land a fish, bleed it and then rinse it. At that point, it should go immediately onto ice. Periodically, drain any water out of the cooler — you want ice, not ice water in there. Keep it on ice until just before you plan to start the grill. When the coals are ready, clean the fish and then you’re ready to go! Leysath said to start with gutted kokanee and season them inside and out with salt and pepper. Then, take a fresh lime and squeeze the juice into the body cavity of each fish. Then, pack the cavities with equal portions of basil, garlic, onion and tomato. Next up, the good stuff: bacon! “Some people cook with bacon to make otherwise bad-tasting fish or game taste edible,” Leysath said. “But the bottom line is most things taste better when wrapped in bacon and kokanee are no exception.” Leysath said that kokanee will cook quickly, so it’s a good idea to cook the bacon halfway before you wrap your fish in it. That way, you’ll have crispy bacon instead of soft, limp stuff. “Wrap each fish with 2 strips of bacon and then secure it with skewers,” he said. “Next, place the fish on a medium-low heat barbecue grate for 5 to 7 minutes. Then, flip everything over and cook the other side about 7 minutes more — or until bacon is browned and fish is just-cooked throughout. When done, simply remove the skewers and serve the fish whole.” Hunt Fish Cook Don’t forget to check out Leysath and his trusty sidekick, Donny Mac on their show, “Hunt Fish Cook,” as they tromp all over the country to the sweetest fishing and hunting spots, where they cook what the catch. For more, check out