Updated: Aug 19, 2019
For many years I practiced catch and release fishing. Being totally honest, I was quite prideful about the practice. Lee Wulff once said, "Game fish are too valuable to be caught only once." This quote stuck in my head while flinging bits of feather and string around the country to tangle with game fish. My thoughts on this issue have changed based on input from my dog, my kids, and the fish itself.
Higher elevation streams in the Appalachian mountains are filled with tiny trout that I love to chase. One morning, I drove up to the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains to catch Brook Trout. I had just finished reading Jim Casada's book, "Fly Fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park: An Insider’s Guide to a Pursuit of Passion". In this guidebook, he extols the fine art and fine eating of "specks", the local name for Brook Trout.
Throughout the morning I was in a routine of eating blueberries off the bushes I hooked and releasing the willing trout that took my fly when it landed in the stream. My fishing buddy, Sage, started to wonder what I was doing. Sage lives to retrieve. Ducks, doves, shoes, socks... anything that smells or has feathers can be retrieved in his world.
As I released each trout, he would stick his head under the cold, clear water and watch it swim away. After he shook the excess water from his coat, he'd look at me with a expression that said, "You idiot! Why did you let it go?"
Driving down the mountain, I stopped at a fast food joint wishing I had already eaten cornmeal coated "specks" from a cast Iron pan.
My kids are well aware where food comes from. Ducks, dove, and deer are frequent guests at our dinner table, along with the stories of the hunt where they were harvested. So you can imagine my son's disbelief when I threw back a Bluegill he caught.
"Dad! I wanted to eat that."
I can't blame him. The honor of providing food for your family is a special treat in this pre-packaged world. The next Bluegill that came to hand was destined for batter and a cast iron pan.
I've heard it said, "If God didn't want us to eat cows, then he wouldn't of made them out of beef." It is also true of trout and panfish. The sweet meat satisfies the naysayers of wild game cooking. One of the biggest critics, my daughter, now lets it be known that Bluegill should be on the menu more often.
All that to be said, I am a backslider from the "Catch and Release" gospel. The fillet knife gets more use than the hemostats that would flatten barbs. I'm not a complete heathen yet, but this weekend we'll be dunking crickets and warming up the oil in the frying pan.