Pescado de Matagorda and a Kid Fishing Primer

“Dad, I’m freeeeezing!”

“Ok partner, lets go home.”

“Nooooo!  The sheepshead are running! We are staying till dark!”

Goofing off with supper.
Goofing off with supper.

Such was the conversation between my eldest son, Oliver and myself.  Keegan, four, said he was fine but to hand him another Gatorade and more jerky.  We’d been on the pier in Matagorda for about 20 minutes.

The key to boys having fun is action.   Think about puppies.  They wrestle and fight and chase things.  Human puppies aren’t any different.  So when I take them fishing, we target fish that are amenable to biting a hook.  Save sight casting for bonefish around Islamorado when they are older.  We want the pole bent, and to accomplish this I turn to shrimp.   Everything in the ocean loves shrimp.  We’ve caught sharks, bull reds, sting rays, whiting, croaker, Spanish mackerel  jacks, Atlantic spadefish, black drum, mangrove snapper–you get the picture, all on the lovely little crustacean.

The weigh in.

The set up is simple:

  • Size 1 or 2 circle hooks and smaller
  • Fresh dead shrimp (shrimp that’s too old for the shrimp fishermen to sell as table shrimp)
  • Various weight sizes from ¼ to 2 ounces.
  • Whatever fishing rods you have
  • Little Red Wagon to pull your gear down the pier.

How to:

  • Eagle claw makes some fine little steel liters with various sized hooks.  Tie one of these leaving yourself about 18 inches of excess line.  To that tag end, tie the smallest sinker you can that will keep the shrimp on the bottom.
  • Bait the hook with the shrimp.  Presentation is not important, but thread the shrimp in such a way your bait won’t be stolen. I think using the whole shrimp works best.
  • I cast the baitcasting and spinning rods for the boys.  I don’t use a lot of spincasting reels, but we have a few they use.
  • Be patient.  Prepare yourself for tangled rods, being hooked and losing some fish.  It’s all about them enjoying the experience.  Hopefully in the future they will take you fishing.
  • Stay comfortable.  Little monkeys don’t want to suffer while fishing.   Make sure they are well clothed, hydrated, and fed.  I failed miserably on the clothing aspect of our trip.
  • Keep it short.  Even when you are hauling fish in left and right, I’ve found it best to keep the outings to less than 5 hours.  Most of ours are no more than three.  When we do stay longer, we usually take a long lunch break or dig a sand castle, or something of that sort.

We had a great time, but Oliver began to turn blue and shiver.  Despite his protests I called it a day after 2 hours.

Scaling away. Prepare to wash your little ones hair when they are done.

Scales were flying everywhere as Keegan and Oliver dove into the fish cleaning.  We opted to cook the fish whole on my new grill.  Here’s how we cooked it.

Pescado de Matagorda

Leaving the head on is not optional.

Grilling a whole fish is easy and manly.  Grilling a whole fish you guided your sons to catch and taught how to scale and gut is even manlier.   This is actually a tasty recipe and will work well with your more prehistoric fish like black and red drum, sheepshead, whiting, and croaker on the Gulf Coast.  In the Pacific Northwest this would work well with all your black bass and assorted rock cod fish.  Go with pike, largemouth bass and buffalo in freshwater.   It’s not a dainty recipe, so don’t make it for the little princesses in your life.  Have lots of napkins handy and feel free to use your hands. Growl as necessary.

Serves 2

Prep Time 30 minutes

Marinade Time 2-10 hours


  • 2 cups cilantro
  • 2 cups of olive oil
  • 4-5 lemons
  • 1 cup of fresh oregano (grow it or buy it, must be fresh)
  • Salt
  • Coarse black pepper to taste
  • 1 whole two to four pound fish, scaled, gutted, head on.
  • Vegetable oil
  1. Puree half the cilantro, olive oil, oregano, a table spoon of salt and 2 teaspoons of course black pepper.  Add the juice from a lemon.
  2. Pat your fish dry with paper towels and liberally salt and pepper the entire fish. Be sure to get inside the cavity as well. Score the fish (cut lines perpendicular to the backbone) every inch and a half or so to allow the fish to cook evenly.
  3. In a large zip lock bag, pour the marinade over the fish.  Rub into cavity well.  Put in the refrigerator for anywhere from 2-10 hours.  The really lets the flavor penetrate the fish and the salt do its thing.
  4. Repeat step one and use as a garnish and dipping sauce.
  5. Be sure you are starting with clean grates on your grill.   I like cooking over wood, but gas and charcoal will work fine.  I like my fire to be medium, not too hot, not too cold.  A good test is can you leave your hand over the fire for 3-4 seconds.  Any longer and its too cold, shorter too hot.
  6. Using a basting brush or a paper towel, oil your grill grates well and then place over your fire.
  7. Grill the fish about 5 minutes on each side, for each inch of thickness.  For instance, if your fish is 2 inches thick, grill for about 10 minutes each side.  When the inner most meat near the spine is done, remove from the heat and drizzle with your marinade you set aside earlier. *
  8. Serve it hot with some saffron or Spanish rice and sliced avocado.

*  If your fire dies on you, which I’m not scared to admit I’ve had happen, finish under your broiler in your oven using the same time frame guidelines.

Soon to be slimy boys.


  1. This is really the key to getting kids interested in fishing. This was one activity my dad was pretty patient with me in- getting my snags out, unhooking my tackle from trees, the whole nine yards. Even my uncle was pretty good with it, and he would take all 10 nieces and nephews fishing at once. But keeping it short may be important even with adults- this grown up got mighty sick of it at hour 6 or 7 of ice fishing.

  2. You know it Amber. Keeping the little tykes engaged is half the battle. We were just watching a youtube video about ice fishing. We need to head north and try it sometime.

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