Garlic and Lime Grilled Whole Bluegill

It's June and the weather has been crazy here in Nebraska. It rained constantly through the month of May and now June has been equally wet, with only a few breaks of sunshine in between. We both wish the best to those affected by the floods in Texas-- our troubles here are nowhere near as bad. 

It's also getting a lot warmer. The old house we live in doesn't have good insulation, so it does get a bit warm. I shudder to think what July and August will feel like. I just hope we don't get any tornadoes this spring. Some people like them, but I have a healthy respect for weather. I saw what tornadoes did to Pilger, Neb. last summer, which was only 20 miles from me, and I do not ever plan to experience that myself. 

The bugs are already out in full force, and I feel like I'm slowly being consumed alive. Apparently, there are blood-thirsty flies here, and they adore me. I still have scars on my arm from last summer. We haven't gone fishing at all this spring, due to the constant rain and getting our household together. Wow. That paragraph was so ADD. 

But, I did have these fish in the freezer. I caught these bluegills through the ice last winter, and it was about the only time I actually enjoyed ice fishing. A frigid winter brought thick ice, but that Martin Luther King, Jr. day, the sun shined brightly and I believe the temperature was 60 degrees. The Game and Parks office where I used to work up in Norfolk has a tradition of going ice fishing every MLK Day. 

My last MLK ice fishing excursion happened when I had just moved to Nebraska; I literally left sunny SoCal just a week before. It was about 5 degrees that day, and the wind howled. It didn't help that the fishing sucked. So I left the ice that day completely turned off by the all the trouble and suffering of ice fishing. It took me a couple years to give ice fishing another chance. 

This year, the weather was nice and I sat with my good friend Scott Wessel, whom I fished with the last time I was out. In fact, that first ice fishing trip was the first time I had ever met Scott, and actually, one interesting thing did happen, something that he nor I-- and everyone else who heard about it-- will forget. 

That MLK Day in 2013, Tom Welstead, a mutual friend and coworker at Game and Parks, led me to the portable ice shelter where Scott was sitting. Shortly after introductions and sitting down, Scott caught a bluegill, and I asked him to reach over to show the fish to me for a picture. While doing so, he moved too close to the heater and his elbow caught on fire. 

That's right. His elbow caught on fire. 

Scott panicked and quickly put the flame out, but it had burned clear through his sweater. Not knowing Scott too well, I sat there in silence, wide-eyed, not knowing how to react. You can imagine the awkwardness. 

At that point, I hadn't actually had my first official day of work yet as regional editor of Nebraskaland Magazine. I didn't know any of these people. I was sitting in the middle of a frozen lake for the first time and listening to the terrifying "thwong" of cracking ice. I had never ice fished before-- an activity that is still odd to me-- and that I watched this stranger catch on fire. 

News traveled fast and poor Wessel became the butt of jokes for months. We are good friends now, but he knows to stay away from heat when I'm around. 

Anyway, Scott and I did really well last winter. It wasn't an exceptionally fast-action day, but we caught a good number of bluegills, enough for a couple meals. I also tasted kipper for the first time that afternoon, which looked a lot like cat food, but it didn't taste so bad with crackers. 

For a panfish, I think bluegill are good-tasting-- sweet and firm-- far superior to mushy crappie. They cook up quickly and are especially delicious marinated and grilled. Usually small, they are great cooked and served whole.

Servings: 2
Prep Time: 2 hours and 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 10 minutes
- 6 pan-size bluegills, gutted and scaled
- 1 jalapeno pepper
- 2 large cloves of garlic, minced
- 1/4 teaspoon of chili powder
- 1 lime, juiced
- lime wedges for serving
- 1 tablespoon of cilantro, chopped
- 1/4 cup of olive oil
- 2 green onions, minced
- salt and pepper, to taste

1. Roast jalapeno pepper under broiler or stove top until charred all over. Once blackened, place in a zipper lock bag or in a small bowl covered with a towel. Until cool enough to handle, scrape off charred skin and cut off stem. Mince pepper and set aside. 
2. Wash bluegills under cold water and pat dry. Score fish three times on each side. Sprinkle well with salt and pepper all over and inside the cavity. 
3. In a small bowl, combine minced jalapeno pepper, garlic, chili powder, lime juice, cilantro, olive oil and green onion. Pour marinade into a gallon zipper bag and add fish. Massage to evenly distribute the marinade, then refrigerate for 2 hours. 
4. Prepare grill to high heat. Clean grill grates thoroughly to avoid sticking, then brush with oil. Remove fish from marinade and then grill for 3-5 minutes on each side, or until cooked through. 
Serve immediately with lime wedges.


  1. Hic, you post does make me feel so hungry. I wish to enjoy one of them!


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