Story by Tom Pagliaroli

The finned, not the feathered variety.

The fan shaped (when extended) pectoral fins of the sea robin give it moniker “bird” when talking shallow water fishing along the beaches and bays. Long considered a trash or garbage fish, the spine festooned sea robin was, and still is, often tossed back with a look of disdain and a few unkind words, especially when the target species is fluke.

It does get a bit of respect as a strip bait for flatties and sea bass, but not much.

But that’s been changing, albeit slowly, but when the weekly print and daily on line bible of Garden State angling, The Fisherman Magazine, decided to include the species as a new category  in its wildly popular and big-time payoff annual tournament “Dream Boat Fishing Challenge”, well, interest in the heretofore lowly bird ascended to new heights. And with it, a new-found appreciation of its aggressiveness hitting baits and bucktails as well as its its culinary return as the main component of that favorite summertime repast, the fresh fish fried sandwich.

Says Fisherman president and publisher Mike Caruso “We wanted to add a new dimension to the Dream Boat Fishing Challenge, an ‘Every Man’s Fish’ that did not require long runs offshore, big sportfishing boats and expensive tackle, and was in reach of anyone who fishes from the surf and jetty, in a small boat close to the beach or in the bay. After a lot meetings and a lot of discussion, we decided to add the sea robin as a new category, and the positive response has been nothing short of incredible.”

To be sure, the sea robin has been welcomed in the buckets and coolers of anglers in the know as to its rewards at the dinner table as well as the determined tussle it gives when hooked. A shallow water species, it’s caught anywhere from 2 to 35 feet, sometimes a bit deeper, and really puts a whack on a bait or jig. Now it seems that everyone is tunes into the bird, and for those of us who’ve been enjoying them for decades while getting weird looks from other rod holders, it’s a bittersweet “I told you so” vindication.

Birds don’t get big, averaging 12 to 16 inches and topping at 2-lbs. or so. However, they can get bigger, and the current category leader in the Dream Boat Fishing Challenge is a whopping 3.9-lbs. That’s akin to a 50-lb. striper, and it will be tough to beat.

From our end, though, it’s all about the light tackle catching and the great eating. What you’d use for fluke works for birds, and you may want to go even lighter. Peel down a robin, and there’s not much meat, a finger length or a smidge longer fillet on either side, so figure two to three fish (4 to 6 fillets) per person. By all means wear a protective glove when holding down a robin on the fillet board. Everything on the bird’s outer body is meant to stick, stab, slice, impale and otherwise draw blood. Normark makes a great glove at a very reasonable price and is well worth the expenditure.

Any standard fish fry recipe will work on the sea robin’s sweet white meat. Our fave is an egg wash, roll in seasoned panko and a quick fry in canola or corn oil. On a crisp roll topped with fresh tomato and lettuce with a generous dollop of tartar sauce, it’s a satisfying repast to a day on the water.

More from The Hawk: