I received a nice note from Sharon Carter asking me to explain which of the local fish are good to eat.
Sharon is down from Maine and at this time of year we have many visitors from out-of-state, so maybe this column will help them out a bit.
Being raised in Cajun country it is understood that nothing in the water is safe from me. Almost everything that swims is edible, but obviously some are better than others.
At the top of the list are the sea trout and snook. Both have delicate, white meat and are mild tasting without being bland.
Right behind them would be the redfish and their first cousins the black drum. Both of these have firm flesh that lends itself well to the grill or frying pan.
Ladyfish can be eaten, but so far I haven't been that hungry. They are strong, oily and much too soft to be a good food source.
Whiting are mostly caught in the surf as are pompano and both are great on the table. Our whiting don't average very large, but make no mistake, they are very good eats.
What can I say about pompano? A member of the jack family, at first look they would not seem to be very tasty, but oh, brother! A few Pompano filets on the grill will take you to a place in seafood heaven.
Jack crevalle and amber jack are a bit strong, but still very good.
I recently met Mike down from North Carolina and he told me he was very pleased with his first meal of jacks.
As for me, nothing makes me happier than five or six nice sized jacks. That always prompts me to fire up the smoker. Smoked jack is a delicacy and just a bit mixed with softened cream cheese will produce a great fish dip. Any fish you smoke should have a high, fish-oil content and that would include the bluefish and the mullet.
Blues and mullet are both very good fried to a crunchy golden brown. I like to wash them in buttermilk before rolling them in corn meal and, once done, make a nice dip of Thousand Island dressing that I have spiked with horseradish. That is good eats!
The best mullet for frying come from the Atlantic, while the ones found inshore are a bit stronger tasting.
Tarpon are good fun, but not good food.
Mangrove snapper are fine eating when you can find some with size. A true snapper, they are as good to eat as their offshore cousins.
Sheepshead are a wonderful food fish due to their exclusive shellfish diet.
Flounder have a nice, firm, white flesh and are extremely mild. The flatfish are the ones eaten by people who really don't care to eat fish.
Blowfish and puffers are tasty and not nearly as dangerous to eat as their press would advise. Take a meat cleaver or hatchet and lop off the tails on a wooden cutting board. You will be surprised at the taste and texture of a puffer tail. Blindfolded you might not know you are eating fish.
Saltwater catfish are not particularly good to eat, but the sail cats are best. You can identify them by the elongated dorsal fin. Freshwater cats are a delicacy and the smaller the better. Fried into munchy bites they are hard to beat.
Nothing tops the taste of our freshwater speckled perch (crappie).
Large mouth bass are good, but to me are mostly overrated. Blue gill, shell crackers and the others in the Florida sunfish family are all very good eating.
Shad are delicious but dangerous. I would defy anyone to cut a shad filet that is boneless.
Pickerel are edible, but not the best.
Garfish can be run through a grinder and heavily spiced then deep-fried. That's a leftover from my Cajun days.
Man, all this talk about good eats has sent me to the fridge for some of last night's fish fry. Later.
Dan Smith has fished the waters of Volusia County for more than 40 years. Email questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, "I Swear the Snook Drowned," is available for $10.95 at (386) 441-7793.