Ask any professional guide or experienced fisherman, and they’ll tell you that Cedar Creek Lake has some of the best Crappie, Catfish and Bass fishing in the southwest. In these Covid-19 times of shutting ourselves in and distancing ourselves from everyone except family, getting out on the open lake and catching a fresh ish home-cooked meal entree can be a healthy alternative to depressing 24 hour TV news.
So, maybe you’ve already picked some great fishing spots on the lake. Or, perhaps you’ve hired a pro-guide who has chosen several for you. Let’s just say you’ve had a successful day on Cedar Creek Lake! Now what?
As you can imagine, there’s a bit of an art to cleaning and prepping your fish-catch. If you’ve chosen the pro-guide route (highly recommended), they’ll take care of it for you. Otherwise, there are tons of YouTube videos and other step-by-step guides to help you learn the process. But, hey, this is a fish cooking guide; not about prepping and cleaning!
A suggested Cedar Creek Lake Pro-Guide list is included at the end of this article. These guys have been on the lake for years and all of them have many satisfied references. I included their web sites so you can check them out.
Below are five chef-recommended Cedar Creek Lake fresh fish entrée’s including side dishes and pairings with our favorite lake area craft beers and wines.
Cajun Catfish with Collard Greens
This recipe for your fresh caught catfish is so healthy, it’s been endorsed by the American Heart Association. It’s a great tasting entrée from the Deep South that includes two southern cooking classics. The recipe makes four healthy servings of just 218 calories each, with only 1.5 g per serving of saturated fat and 235 mg of sodium per serving.
Start with the ingredients for the Baked Cajun Catfish:
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (adjusted to taste)
1 1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp thyme
4 filleted catfish
non-stick cooking spray
Then get together the ingredients for the Collard Greens:
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 small onion (thinly sliced)
1 tsp jarred, minced garlic
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (add more if you like spicier food)
1 Bunch collard greens
2 Tbsp water
1 fully cooked (in the microwave) and diced slice Canadian bacon
1 Tbsp cider vinegar
To cook your Baked Cajun Catfish, start by combining the oil, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, cayenne pepper and thyme into a shallow bowl and prepare a 9X13 baking dish with the non-stick cooking spray. Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees. Then, coat the fish fillets with the seasoning mixture and place them in the baking dish, If there is any mixture left, pour it over the fish. Then, bake the fish or 15 minutes, until flaky.
To cook your collard greens, prepare them by washing them in water thoroughly and blotting them lightly with a paper towel. Next, remove the stems from the larger leaves by stripping the leaf from either side of the stem. It’s perfectly okay to leave the stems on the tender inner leaves. Stack eight leaves together and roll them, then slice the rolls into one-inch sections. Heat the oil in a large skillet and add in the onions and cook them until they are translucent, which should take about three minutes, stirring occasionally. After three minutes, add the garlic and cook for about another 30-40 seconds before adding the red pepper, sugar, vinegar, Canadian bacon and, of course, the collard greens. Cover the mixture and cook until the greens are tender, which should take about 20 minutes.
To finish it off, stop by the Cedar Creek Brewery in Seven Points and pick up and take home a great local craft beer. Owner Jim Ellott suggests pairing his popular Dankosaurus brew with your Baked Cajun Catfish for a tasty combination! Jim claims his Dankosaurus is his East Texas answer to the West Coast’s IPA’s. It’s full of bold pine, citrus, peach and tangerine hop flavors balanced by a velvety malt backbone. Yum! And with a cold Cedar Creek brew on the side, who’s to complain!
Baked Herb Catfish
Here’s a great way to make the best use of the catfish you caught on your day on Cedar Creek Lake. It’s a great alternative to fried and battered catfish, with all the flavor you love and less of the calories and fat. This baked catfish dish makes 4 servings.
First, you’ll need to make sure you have the ingredients:
2 tbsp minced fresh parsley
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp melted reduced-fat butter or margarine
1 clove minced garlic
4 (6 ounce) catfish fillets
To cook, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees while you prepare everything. Combine the parsley, salt, paprika, thyme, oregano, basil and black pepper in a small bowl, then sprinkle the mixture over the catfish fillets and place them in a greased 13- x 9-in. baking dish. Then, combine the lemon juice, butter and garlic and drizzle that over the fillets. When the oven is heated properly, bake the fish for 15-20 minutes or until it flakes easily with a fork.
Of course, when you’re making a nice meal of the catfish you just caught that morning, you’ll want to add a great side dish. One of the best sides to add to baked herb catfish are, of course, potatoes. There’s a reason we all love fish and chips, but potatoes go with fish, regardless of the preparation. Whether you bake them, fry them, sauté them or mash them, they go great with catfish. One of our favorite ways to prepare potatoes to serve with Cedar Creel Lake catfish is to sprinkle them with rosemary and roast them. Yes, they are full of carbs, and they are very healthy and they’re very hearty.
Just a short ride east of Gun Barrel City out on State Highway 175 East about 15 miles toward Athens you’ll find Tara Vineyard & Winery. Tara is the oldest winery in Henderson County, and is family owned and operated by Patrick and Susan Pierce. Whether you just want to stop in for a tasting, or you’d like a tour, they can help you find just the right wine pairing for any meal. But, for this dish specifically, Susan recommends their 2018 Texas Blanc Du Bois. She explains that the wine is dry with citrus and fruity notes, clean, crisp and refreshing; a perfect pair with your Cedar Creek Lake Baked Herb Catfish!
Pan-Fried Largemouth Bass with Lemon Garlic Herb Butter Sauce
If you spent all day on Cedar Creek Lake, you could very well come away with some spectacular Largemouth Bass, which are abundant on the lake. And of course, you might want to use them to create a great meal for yourself and the family. It’s always fun to experiment with different seasonings and tastes, but it’s also nice to have a recipe that has been tried and tested and tastes great. This one serves four.
First, you’ll need the ingredients
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup of flour
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp garlic, sliced thin
1/4 cup of mild fresh herbs, like basil, parsley, chervil, oregano, or a combination
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
4 largemouth bass fillets, skin removed
First, you’ll want to season the bass fillets with salt and pepper. Heat a sauté pan on the grill. When it is sufficiently hot, season the fillets with salt and pepper. Heat a sauté pan on top of the grill. When the pan is hot, add the olive oil and heat. Dredge the bass fillets in the flour and shake off any excess, then place the fish in the pan and fry until golden brown, which should be 3 minutes per side. Remove the fish from the pan, then add butter to the pan and melt. When the butter is melted, add the sliced garlic and fry until it just begins to turn to a light golden brown. Then, add the herbs and remove from the heat and carefully add the lemon juice. To serve, place a fillet on a plate and spoon some of the lemon garlic herb butter over the fish.
Of course, a healthy meal should include more than just delicious fish, so you’ll want to consider a great side dish. Among the best sides to go with largemouth bass is a great Caesar salad. This one was popularized by none other than Wolfgang Puck, it requires no cooking and it goes very well with bass. First, you’ll need the ingredients:
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 anchovies, mashed
Scant 1 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large head romaine lettuce, cleaned and cut into 1 to 2-inch pieces
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups croutons
In a medium bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, garlic, Worcestershire, pepper flakes, mustard, and anchovies, then slowly add in the oils to emulsify and use the salt and pepper to season to taste. Place the lettuce in a large bowl, then sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese and black pepper. Drizzle with desired amount of your favorite dressing and toss well, then top with croutons.
Another great way to celebrate your big day on Cedar Creek Lake would be to pair a white popular wine blend from Kiepersol Vineyards. Kiepersol is located in Bullard, just outside of Tyler and is arguably one of the largest wineries in Texas. Cebastian Hunt recommends their popular Steen, a smooth Sauvignon Blanc/Pinot Grigio blend. He adds that Steen’s crisp green apple and citrus flavors can really wake up the lemon garlic herb flavors of your Largemouth Bass dish. In addition to the winery, Kiepersol features on-site, a distillery and a great restaurant. Be sure to make a reservation!
Baked Striped Bass with Herbs
After a long day on the lake, where you hit a large family of striped bass and catch a few, they will probably be making you hungry before long, so you’ll want to know how to make a great healthy meal with them. Bass flavor is always enhanced with fresh herbs, so here’s a health-conscious recipe the whole family will love. This one comes in at just under 200 calories, and it is high in protein and carbs, while being low in fat.
First, you’ll need the ingredients:
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1 tsp chopped fresh oregano
1 fresh lemon
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
4 (6 ounce) striped bass fillets
Start by pre-heating the oven to 425 degrees, then coat a baking sheet with cooking spray. Place fish on pan. Grate I tbsp of lemon rind and squeeze 1 tbsp of juice from the lemon. Combine the rind and the juice with the oil, thyme, oregano, salt and black pepper and drizzle the mixture over fish. Then, bake the fish for 13 minutes or until desired degree of doneness.
To make this an all-around healthy meal, of course, consider adding some steamed vegetables, which are a must-have with fresh fish you just caught that morning. Steamed veggies are easy to make; just pick them up at the produce department and steaming them in a small amount of water, whether from a small pot on your stove, or from a steamer. You might even consider drizzling some of the herb mixture you used on the fish with your fresh veggies, for some extra flavor.
For your Baked Striped Bass and Herbs entree, we recommend trying a selection from the Red 55 Winery, a family owned winery located in Lindale and affiliated with Grammy award-winning musician Miranda Lambert. Owners Rick and Bev Lambert explain that each wine label honors her platinum selling musical career achievements. Red 55 wine maker Susan Jones recommends her “Kerosene” Pinot Grigio. In describing Kerosene, Susan says “This Double Gold award winner is a most versatile white wine. This crisp, dry white wine has a punchy acidity with flavors of lemons, limes, green apples, and honeysuckle.”
Baked Crappie with Cheesy Butter
So, you’ve spent the day on the water, pulling as many crappie as you can out of Cedar Creek Lake and you just have a hankering to eat some of those fish you just caught. There are so many great recipes out there for fish you can buy in the store, but what is the best way to cook fresh-caught Crappie and make a meal of it? Well, here’s an excellent recipe that’s not only tasty and flavorful, but is also ultimately healthy for you and your family. This recipe serves four and will make your taste buds happy.
As always, you’ll need the ingredients:
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 cup butter, light butter or margarine, melted
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 1/2 cups crushed cheese-flavored crackers
Fresh parsley sprigs (optional)
4 (1/2-pound) pan-dressed crappie
The first step is to rinse your Crappie thoroughly in cold water and pat dry with salt and pepper to taste. Combine the melted butter with the lemon juice, then dip the fish in the lemon butter mixture and roll in the crushed crackers. Place the fish onto an aluminum foil-lined shallow baking pan and bake uncovered, at 400° for 20 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. To prevent over-browning, tails can be wrapped in aluminum foil. Then, place the fish onto a serving platter and garnish with parsley, if desired.
When cooking a tasty fish like Crappie, there’s no doubt the fish makes the meal, but even the best fish needs a great companion side dish, and one of the healthiest and best tasting side dish is brown rice. Brown rice adds a considerable amount of fiber to your diet, which is perfect for those who are trying to slim down or those who are trying to bulk up muscle. You can also add anything to it, like the lemon butter you added to your fish, and it will take on that flavor, making the whole meal perfect.
Of course, no meal is perfect without something special to add to it. ETX Brewing Company in Tyler has gained a national reputation for their fine craft brewed beers and expertise when it comes to specialty pairings. So, we consulted Nate Rhyne, the ETX Executive Restaurant Chef about our Baked Crappie with Cheesy Butter entrée. He was excited to share his recommendation for their Park Ranger craft brew which is actually widely available in many local grocery and package goods stores throughout East Texas. Nate explained that their Park Ranger beer is more like a New England IPA but without the bitter after-taste. He added that it’s got a nice but not overwhelming citrus flavor balanced with just a hint of lemon and orange; perfect, Nate adds for our Cedar Creek Crappie entrée.
All five of these dishes are great examples of what’s possible with fresh catch fish from Cedar Creek Lake. And fishing on the open lake can be a great, safe outdoor activity everyone in your immediate family can enjoy while keeping you safe from the Cofid-19 threat.
All of the fish varieties we covered on Cedar Creek Lake are plentiful and catching and cleaning them can’t be any easier, especially with one of our several respected pro-guides on the lake. For more info, here’s a list in alphabetical order for you to consider for your Cedar Creek Fishing Adventure. Bon Appetite!
BigCrappie.com 903-288-5798 www.bigcrappie.com
Chris Webb’s Guide Service (903) 275-3253 www.chriswebbsfishing.com/
Go Fish Guide Service (903) 919-0999 www.gofishguideservice.com
Kings Creek Adventures www.kingscreekadventures.com
Kingfisher Guide Service (903) 275-8605 www.facebook.com/cclkingfisher