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Part III: Brain spiking – Ike Jime
  |  First Published: April 2016



So far in this series, we have looked at a couple of easy ways to look after fish for the table or for release. One way is to use a simple piece of saturated sponge as a landing surface, to support and calm the fish. To further eliminate the uncontrolled flipping of fish, equipment such as a cotton glove worn on your bait hand will give you more effective control of your catch.

Welcome to the third installment of this series, where we’ll discuss a brilliant fish-killing technique that has been used for centuries. There’s no doubt that most anglers have heard of it, although comparatively few have ever tried it – and even fewer can do it correctly and easily.

Ike jime, often called I.J., is quite simply the technique of lethal brain spiking. Brain spiking has many benefits, and these include but are not limited to:

• It is an extremely fast way to deal with kept catch;

• It is humane – death being immediate without prolonged cruelty to the animal;

• It results in a far superior eating product at the table; and

• It provides for a superior shelf life and freshness of the product.

Performed correctly, the results from this method are immediate. Just seconds after you perform the final blow, you will see a change in the appearance of the fish. For example, a snapper’s skin will turn bright crimson while their blue spots almost illuminate (see photo). Bream and whiting turn a brilliant pewter colour with pronounced yellow, while reef fish like coral trout or red emperor turn magically scarlet. The transformation is immediate and amazing.

Pelagic species also produce the same outstanding results, although the technique is slightly different and requires a little more attention and care. I won’t discuss the pelagic killing technique, other than to mention an interesting factor. If you brain spike a pelagic and then ice brine it, but don’t handle it with cotton gloves, the fish will emerge from the brine with obvious hand prints on its skin where the heat from your hands has burnt the animal. This illustrates the high sensitivity of a fish’s scales and skin, which is why you should wear a damp cotton glove.

The art of ike jime can be performed on any fish, be it a freshwater fish, an estuarine species or a pelagic or bottom fish.

There are many ways to kill a fish for the table, some better than others. These include but are not limited to:

• Slitting the throat;

• Repeated blow to the head with a blunt instrument;

• Putting fish into an ice slurry while live; and

• Leaving the fish die in an exposed dry bucket, which is particularly barbaric.

As well as being inhumane, all of the above methods have a common flaw: the fish keeps firing electrical impulses from the brain, which pumps lactate and cortisol (stress chemicals) into the flesh. These chemicals are actually poisonous and result in contamination of the flesh, which results in an inferior eating product.

One alternative that avoids this problem is to completely remove the head while live. However, this practice creates a different problem: it exposes the flesh to gut and gill contaminants during rigor mortis, once again resulting in an inferior tablefish.

Finally, contrary to popular belief, allowing a fish to survive temporarily in a live well greatly increases stress and thus increased cortisol levels (Pankhurst and Sharples 1992), and ultimately produces an inferior eating product.

Most anglers would have seen pale bands appear along the sides of a fish as it awaits its fate. These stripes mean the fish is distressed, which means poorer eating qualities, and a reduced chance of survival if it’s returned to the water. This stress and suffering is unnecessary. That’s why responsible anglers use the brain spike method. It’s straightforward, humane and results in a superior product for the table.

While becoming proficient at brain spiking requires commitment, concentration and practice, it’s certainly not rocket science. Practice makes perfect, and I’ve been able to teach many anglers the technique – including my 10-year-old daughter, who is now proficient. Once you have the fundamentals sorted, and have some practice under your belt, you’ll find you can hit the mark very quickly and easily.

For now though, let’s start with the basics.

When it comes to the spike itself, the authentic Japanese version is called a hukka, but comparatively few tackle stores stock them. That’s OK though because a small Phillips head screwdriver is all that’s required for recreational fishing.

Once you have your spike or screwdriver, it’s time to look at the technique. If you follow the wet sponge landing technique from Part II of this series, the fish will be lying quite still, making it easy to handle. This simplifies the process significantly.

Now you need to locate the brain cavity. On a just legal size reef fish, the size of the brain cavity may be as small as a frozen pea. This might sound bad, but it’s still relatively easy to locate. That’s because nearly all fish have a similar anatomy, making locating the direction of the brain cavity relatively easy. Let’s look at the steps to finding it.

1. For right-handed anglers, brain spiking is always performed on the right side – that is, the fish is left side down on the foam. With your gloved hand, lay the fish on the foam (preferably as soon as the fish is landed) so its right side is facing up. Also, have the fish in front of you lengthways so that the tail is furthest away from your body.

2. Holding the fish around its belly (palm facing up) very firmly with your glove hand, hold your spike with your opposing hand with the tip of the spike resting on the fish’s temple. Follow the line from the false gill plate and the true gill plate so the two lines meet in a point. There will be a soft muscular indentation on the fish’s head. This is the entry point for the spike.

3. Imagine the point of your spike is the center of a clock face. The spike is the small hand and the tail of the fish is the big hand. You want the big hand, the tail, to be at 12 o’clock. The small hand, the spike, should be held at 4 o’clock. Angle the spike at downward at 45°.

4. Now confidently and with good pressure, thrust the spike, continuing on this same angle and direction. You will feel it penetrate the skull and you have to push firmly until you ‘crunch’ through the top of the brain bone. Be careful not to push straight through the other side. You also want to avoid spiking directly from the side because the bone is thicker there and you’re less likely to kill the fish in one go.

5. You will know you have located the brain because the fish will make a shuddering movement. With the spike now in the brain cavity, wiggle the spike gently from side to side in a scraping motion (the animal may contort a couple more times as you do this). This will ensure the fish is dead and that no further electrical stress impulses can be fired from the brain, contaminating the flesh.

6. Without further delay, lash under the gills near the spine and bleed the fish out. You can use the spike for this.

After some practice, it should take a little over 10 seconds to efficiently kill and bleed your catch. While you’re learning, however, it will obviously take a bit longer.

If the procedure has been performed incorrectly (which is likely while you’re learning the technique), the obvious change in colour will not have occurred and the fish may still flip about in the ice box. If this happens, go through the process again until you’re sure the fish is dead.

Now remember, the whole time you’ve been doing this you have actually gained time from not fumbling, struggling and attempting to cleanly wrangle your catch from your hook to then deal with it. As soon as you’ve landed the fish you’ve calmed it by laying it on a supportive, wet sponge, carefully avoiding contact with anything hard, dry or hot, which would stress the fish. Then you have handled it with a gloved hand for sizing and positioning right side up, and dispatched the fish swiftly and humanely using the brain spike technique. That’s the long and the short of it. Swift, smart and safe. Once you begin doing it, you’ll wonder why you didn’t start years ago.

Be sure to tune in next month for the fourth and final part of this series, where you’ll find out the chilling details of how to guarantee you’ll be taking the absolute best possible eating product home to your dinner table – every time.

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