Thursday, September 4, 2014

A fish tale from the 'Wish I'd taken a photo' file

I spent a bit of time on Wednesday editing an article for the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute website about a unique fish that’s been around since the Jurassic Period and swims in North Carolina waters and throughout the eastern United States. It’s called a bowfin.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation website calls it the “disrespected living fossil.” It’s the lone survivor of a group of fish dating to the dinosaur era.

In the article I was editing, nature writer Crystal Cockman gives plenty of interesting info. Such as: The fish can – I am not making this up – breathe air, as it has both gills and a sort of lung.

My fish story is this: I caught one of these weird fish in south Arkansas when I was 12. We were visiting my grandparents in Smackover, Ark. – no I am not making up the name of that town, either – and were fishing in Smackover Creek.  We were using worms for bait, because that’s all we ever used, and bobbers and cane poles. I thought I must have hooked a large catfish, but a very feisty one. It fought like crazy and was fun to catch. When I
brought it in, it was maybe 12 to 15 inches long, and nobody knew what in the world it was.

We took it home to my Grandpa, Leland Primm, born and raised in Smackover, and he said, “Well that’s nothing but a ole grinnull.” I am making up the spelling for what it sounded like he called it. We wanted to cook it for dinner.  He warned against it: “Ain’t nobody eats grinnull.”

But we decided to try to fry it up in cornmeal anyway. And it was AWFUL! The more you chewed, the drier and more cottony it got in your mouth until you could not swallow it. We all spat it out.

Years later, with the coming of the Internetz, I decided to Google “fish grinnell” and learned that it’s another name for bowfin. 

Editing Crystal’s piece I Googled it again, and found a website with a wonderful list of all the bowfin’s various names. One is “cotton fish – derives from the opinion that eating cold or improperly cooked bowfin is like having a ball of cotton in one's mouth.” Yep.

I wish we had taken a picture of me with my grinnel, as I’m choosing to spell it. We had no idea it was such an amazing species.


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