Take a dip with catfish

Smoked catfish dip is a killer appetizer with crackers and other dipping items.

Your whiskers will wiggle if you sample this dip

Fishermen in the Carolinas have a wide variety of fish to chase in June. There are fun fish to catch and fish that taste good, from the small streams that gurgle through the mountain meadows to the azure blue depths of the Gulf Stream. The big bluewater fish get much of the press, but there is a dedicated group of inland fishermen that shift gears and go after a one of the several large top predators that live in fresh water.

The warming water temperatures get flathead catfish active. For some reason, flatheads aren’t as popular as blue catfish, even though they are usually aggressive and fight well. Flatheads generally prefer live baits but will also hit lures. Many bass fishermen have had unexpected run-ins with them when they gulped down an expensive or favorite bass lures.

 In addition to flatheads, blue cats sometimes get fired up during June, and channel cats and some of the smaller species feed all year. There is potential to catch catfish in just about any body of water, at any time, and many fishermen are addicted to it. The widespread availability of catfish allows introducing kids to them at a young age, and many continue to chase catfish, especially the larger flatheads and blue cats as adults.  

June is a good month for catching catfish. The blue cats aren’t as active as they were during the colder months, but flatheads are getting much more active in the warmer waters. If you can consider an abundance of fish a problem, the problem with catfish begins when you keep a few and have 100 pounds of fillets to deal with.  

Most fishermen release the really large catfish and keep smaller ones to eat, but in some places they want you to remove the big ones, too. This is especially true with flatheads, as they compete with bass and other preferred fish for the available forage. As noted earlier, a hundred pounds of catfish fillets stocks the freezer for a while, and after a while, fried catfish and catfish nuggets aren’t as appealing as the first dozen or two times.

This month’s recipe came about because of that.    

Once again we have a guest recipe. This time it is from outdoor writer and catfish expert Terry Madewell of Ridgeway, S.C., who enjoys just about everything about catching and preparing catfish and has tried both many ways. 

This recipe was brought to my attention by the magazine’s managing editor, Dan Kibler, with the suggestion that I ask Madewell if he would share it. This was the second time he has steered me to a recipe he enjoyed while hunting or fishing with outdoor writers, and it is good. I think you’ll agree it isn’t something that is near the top of the list when thinking of ways to prepare catfish — at least not until you try it. Then it leapfrogs across a lot of other catfish dishes. Hopefully, you will enjoy it also. 

Smoked catfish dip and hush puppies

Outdoor writer Terry Madewell said that necessity being the mother of invention is an old cliché, but very appropriate for why and how this recipe originated. He said from a tender young age he was mentored by his grandfather on catching and cooking catfish, and they still rank as an elite fish among his outdoor passions. He loves to fish for really big catfish and eat the smaller ones. He admits he was so indoctrinated into catfishing and enjoyed fried catfish so much he thought everyone did. After all, everyone in his family and all his close friends did.

Madewell’s wife is an outdoors-loving, fish-eating person who is tolerant of his catfish passion — but there are limits. He brought catfish home and kept the freezer full, but she didn’t share his enthusiasm for fried catfish several times a week.

After a while, Madewell knew he had to find something else to do with catfish. He didn’t mind sharing fillets with friends, but that wasn’t enough. He releases most of his big cats, but he admitted he has difficulty releasing prime, 7-pound blues. 

The situation came to a head one day after a particularly good trip when Madewell’s wife asked how fishing had been. He replied proudly,  “Smoked ’em today.” 

Her reply was, “There’s a thought, why don’t you literally smoke them?” It caught him off-guard, but a light came on in his head, and he was on his way.

 Madewell said he learned that smoking catfish can take many pleasing forms, with his favorite being the smoked catfish dip highlighted here. He likes it, his family and friends like it, and he prepares this appetizer anytime someone comes to visit and stays long enough to eat. Those who have enjoyed it ask for it, and those who try it for the first time are pleasantly surprised to learn smoked catfish is the base for the tasty dip.

Madewell said smoked catfish dip sits well on crackers and chips, but the ultimate way to accompany it is with hot, fresh-fried hushpuppies. He admits he didn’t discover this on his own, but it came about when he and friends at hunt camp ran out of crackers just when the first batch of hushpuppies were finishing. A friend tried the dip on a hot hushpuppy and raved. Once the others had tried it and agreed; hushpuppies became the preferred bread with smoked catfish dip. 

Madewell was really glad the friend tried hushpuppies. Not only is it a great match, but his hunting buddies had been threatening to eat the remaining dip with their fingers when the crackers ran out, and that wasn’t appetizing. 

Thanks for sharing this Terry; now everyone can enjoy it. 

INGREDIENTS:

2½ cups of smoked catfish fillets

4 ounces of cream cheese (half of a typical package) warmed to room temperature

1 cup of Duke’s mayonnaise

1/2 cup of sour cream

2 tablespoons of Tiger Sauce (a slightly sweet hot sauce, often used in cooking ribs)

1 tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce

1 tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning

Salt and pepper to taste. Start with 1/2 teaspoon and add to suit your taste. Old Bay will add salt taste as well.

Several drops of lemon juice. Adjust for personal taste.

Stubbs Liquid Smoke. Add as needed. If you use plenty of wood for smoking during the fish cooking/smoking process, none is needed. If you don’t have a smoker, you can add this to the mix when blending to get a good smoke flavor. If you prefer a heavy smoke flavor, you can personalize the taste even if you smoked it.

PREPARATION:

Remove all red meat from the catfish and smoke at 235 degrees for 21/2 hours. As meat dries out during the smoking process. Terry Madewell suggests beginning with about three pounds of filleted catfish. Use a food processer to chop the fish into small, fine pieces. Blend all of the ingredients. While blending, season to personal taste. Chill in refrigerator. Serve with crackers, tortilla chips or even better yet, hot, fresh hushpuppies.

Summer begins on June 21, and as the longest day of the year, it would be an excellent time to catch some catfish and/or enjoy catfish dip on your deck or patio with friends and family. Thanks to Terry Madewell for sharing his recipe and suggesting hushpuppies as the perfect accompanying bread. It’s very good and goes well with crackers, but truly is even better with your favorite, hot hushpuppies. 

Jerry Dilsaver
About Jerry Dilsaver 1148 Articles
Jerry Dilsaver of Oak Island, N.C., a full-time freelance writer, is a columnist for Carolina Sportsman. He is a former SKA National Champion and USAA Angler of the Year.