If you haven’t completely closed out your New Year’s resolutions, I’d like to implore you to add one more to the list—eat your catch.
[by Ben Romans]
WHEN I WAS A KID, fishing wasn’t just an activity my father, brother, and I did for fun (though it was also that). It was sometimes a means to an end. We filleted many bluegills, battered and breaded the fillets, and crisped them in a skillet. Thinking back, I remember how much I loved those meals—the camaraderie, the sense of accomplishment, and the taste. There’s nothing like fresh fish.
As I got older, my angling circles lived and breathed the catch-and-release mantra, almost with a cultlike fervor. I released everything that came to hand and nearly forgot what it was like to keep and taste white, flaky protein.
Sure, I kept a few trout during my college years, mostly because I was poor and could arguably justify fishing expenses because the endeavor was more than recreational fun; it was a way for me to find something for dinner. But that was merely for sustenance. I can’t say I received a lot of joy out of catching, cleaning, and preparing those meals. Truth be told, I felt a little guilty.
Fast-forward many years later. While floating, camping, and fishing for smallmouths on Oregon’s Grande Ronde, my father decided to keep and fry a few fish for dinner one night. I admittedly hedged at the notion, but my father’s enthusiasm and “It’ll be just like it used to be” encouragement changed my mind.
It was one of the most amazing meals I remember having in a long, long time—something that went beyond just the smell and the taste. It tapped a nerve connected to that hunter-gatherer instinct inside all of us. I suddenly felt a greater connection to my quarry, and a deeper appreciation for where food, especially meat, comes from.
Since then, I’ve made it a goal to eat a few fish every season. I’ve fried smallmouths from the Snake and fire-roasted backcountry trout. Last year I traveled to northern Saskatchewan in search of trophy pike and walleye. It was some of the cleanest, purest water I’ve ever fished. I thought to myself, It would be a shame to come all this way and not go home with a few fillets. So that’s exactly what I did, this time without a smidge of guilt.
My point is that while I haven’t come completely full circle on the principles behind catch-and-release, and probably never will, it’s okay to eat your catch.
I think the popularity of hunting families like Duck Dynasty’s Robertsons, the applause for shows like Steven Rinella’s Meat Eater, and possibly the public’s own increased awareness about how meat gets to their plate have fostered a resurgence (albeit slight) in blood sports; and fly fishing is a blood sport. Boil the pursuit down to its core, and the end mean is still about sticking a sharp piece of metal into an animal’s face. If that’s not a blood sport, I don’t know what is.
If you’ve never kept your catch, start small. There’s no better place than plying one of the millions of farm ponds across the country for panfish. Panfish are plentiful, easy to catch and taste great. We’ve rejuvenated fisheries across the country by being fierce advocates for catch-and-release and clean-water resources. There’s certainly more work to be done, there always is, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be allowed to enjoy some of the fruits of our labor.