"I got a rifle and a shotgun and a four-wheel-drive and a country boy can survive."
-- Hank Williams Jr.
Bob Kinzie has a rifle and a shotgun and a four-wheel-drive. He even can bait a trotline for catfish, and does, every chance he gets. He's a survivor, but it would be stretching things to call him a country boy.
As a divisional president of the sprawling communications empire Comsat he rates an airy, top-floor office with a view from L'Enfant Plaza. He buys his suits at Joseph Banks.
Still, there's enough country left in Kinzie, who grew up in rural Pennsylvania, that a casual misstatement in a newspaper column a few weeks ago sent him to the phone.
"You said largemouth bass weren't good to eat," he said. "I think you're wrong. It's one of the best fish there is, and I'd like to prove it."
He said he has a farm in Virginia with a terrific little bass pond on it. "We'll drive down, catch some bass and have them for dinner," he said. "You'll change your mind."
The farm is in the middle of the state forest at Appomattox, 100 miles from nowhere, which gave us four hours to gab while rumbling down country roads in his dusty Jeep.
He turned out to be an eclectic character who during his 51 years has worked as a crabber, a yacht captain and a government economist, raised two kids, earned his law degree and passed the D.C. bar, restored wooden boats, antique furniture and old sports cars, farmed, hunted and fished, run an antique book store and owned race horses.
"I've had hundreds of mid-life crises," said the gray-bearded Kinzie, "and I'm looking forward to hundreds more."
Lately he's become interested in food and is brainstorming a cable television series on cooking fish and game that he initially wanted to call "Hook 'em and Cook 'em," but now intends to name, "The Good Life." He's using Washington restaurateur Dominique D'Ermo as the narrator. The pilot, on blue crabs, is in the can, as they say.
Largemouth bass hold a special appeal for Kinzie, not because they are fun to catch, which is why most people fish for them, but because he finds them superb to eat, which most people don't. "They're the best," he said, "along with white perch and bluegills."
He had arranged with Comsat's retired chief engineer, Jim Potts, to precede us to the farm and catch some bass, in case conditions were poor when we arrived later in the day. Potts, who wrote a treatise on largemouth called "Book of the Black Bass II," was waiting with a stringer of small fish.
Good thing, because the evening left much to be desired. Kinzie and I ran through a spate of lures and techniques before finally switching to the lowest denominator, minnows. Even then, it was slow going.
Back at the old farmhouse, with a three-quarter moon rising and the temperature plummeting unseasonably outside, Potts and I filleted and skinned the flopping-fresh bass while Kinzie heated the pans.
"This is a taste test, so I'll keep it simple," Kinzie said. "A little tempura, then some sauteed fillets."
For the tempura, he cubed the fish, dipped the cubes in a batter of flour, milk and egg and fried them golden in half-butter, half-oil. Our job was to dip the finished cubes in a soy sauce-lemon juice mixture and eat them with our fingers. The fish was unimaginably light, sweet, flaky, moist, white and delicious.
The main course was fillets sauteed in butter and lemon, then sprinkled with fresh-ground black pepper. These we ate with Carr's English Water Biscuits to mop up the leftover sauce, which almost was as good as the fish, which was superb.
The lettuce and fresh tomato salad was prepared by Potts, whose philosophy on salad dressing is, "There's never enough garlic in anything." The wine was Opal, a pinkish, dry pinot noir from Eadmeade's Vineyards in California, just under $5 a bottle.
It was a meal fit for a king. Or at least a president. Even a country boy. Case closed.