Needlefish Sashimi

With calm winds and gentle southerly surf, my friend Makani has been doing a lot of bottom-fishing lately. I have joined him a couple of times and we have caught plenty of fish: snapper, goatfish, triggerfish, Hawaiian bigeye, queenfish, and, on our last outing, some large needlefish.

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The “needlefish” usually served in sushi restaurants is actually the Japanese halfbeak, sayori, and not really a needlefish at all. Long, long ago, I went bottom fishing in Okinawa and we were able to catch some sayori that were schooling near the surface. These were immediately cut up on the transom and served as sashimi for lunch. It was probably the first time I had eaten my own freshly caught fish raw, and it was memorably delicious.

On a recent trip, Makani and I were joined by bonefish guide Ed Tamai and two of Makani’s uncles. We were drifting in about 100 feet of water when we began to see needlefish schooling below us. I noticed that they showed interest in my lures whenever I brought my rig up from the bottom so I started to do that intentionally, dropping my line only about thirty or so feet and then reeling it back up quickly. Sure enough, I started to catch!

These were not small halfbeaks but the much larger crocodile needlefish, with toothy jaws on the top and bottom. I threw most of the fish back, but Makani and I each kept one for the cooler.

The next night I cut the fish, which was not easy, and cured it lightly in salt and a bit of vinegar. This firmed up the fish and allowed me to peel the skin away cleanly but the meat ended up a little too firm for my taste, although the flavor was nice.

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