If you look through my Instagram feed (@rev.doc.trout), you’ll see a lot of fish. And in those pictures of fish, I’ve tried, mostly to follow the “keep ’em wet” philosophy, which means I try to keep the fish in the water during hook removal, picture taking, etc. I tend not to catch gigantic fish, and so I try to send them back to grow larger, to take part in the food-chain, to provide enjoyment for other anglers, etc.
In practicing catch and release, I hope to send the fish back in good condition, and the principle of keeping the fish wet through the whole process, picture included, makes sense to me. On top of that, I find that I often take more aesthetically interesting photos than the traditional grip-and-grin. That said, I think there are also times when a picture that includes both fish and angler is called for. Someone’s first trout on a fly rod, for instance. It’s a great memory, and as Phil Monahan details in an informative article on the Orvis Fly-fishing blog, the fish will usually be none the worse for the wear.
But, you’ll also notice pictures where I don’t keep ’em wet, where you’ll see the fish on the bank, or even on a creel. The simple fact of the matter is that I like to eat fish. I take a few home every now and then, and enjoy it with a clean conscience. As people we’re part of the food chain, and though fly-fishing may be an unorthodox and inefficient way to catch dinner, I think it’s important to remind ourselves that fish sticks don’t naturally occur in the wild.
The question of catch and release has both a scientific and an ethical component to it. Scientifically, the question is: Can the fish population survive if I, and all the other fly-fishers, take home fish to eat? To answer that, I rely on the hard work of the state fish and game biologists who set the legal limits. I don’t treat eating the fish I catch as a right that I demand; rather, it’s an opportunity I take when the fishery can sustain it. Ethically, we can ask: Is catch and release more respectful to the fish and the environment than eating the fish? I think, viability of the fishery aside, neither eating nor releasing the fish has any moral high-ground. Both are intrusions into the fish’s environment, and in terms of “naturalness,” eating the fish is probably more in keeping with the ways of nature. To put it more bluntly, I maintain that if fish are so wild and free and beautiful that they shouldn’t be eaten, we also shouldn’t be driving steel hooks into their jaws and hauling them around on our lines.
For those of you interested in what you do once you decide to bring a fish home, here’s an old-fashioned recipe:
Pickled Pike with Onions and Apples
(Note: This recipe takes 4 days to make, but most of that is just waiting for the brine to do its work. The first 48 hours, all that you need is the pike, salt, and water.)
- 1 Northern Pike, preferably around 18 inches (If your pike are closer to 10 inches, use 2 of them)
- 2 apples (preferably a firm variety like Haralson, Jazz, or Fuji), cubed
- 1/2 white onion, sliced
- 1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1 1/4 cup of white vinegar
- 1/2 cup of white sugar
In a small pot, combine 1/4 cup of salt and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, stirring until the salt dissolves. Add 2 1/2 cups of cold water, then place the brine in the refrigerator until it is completely chilled. Meanwhile, fillet the pike as though it were any other fish. With the acidity of the pickling liquid, there’s no need to worry about the Y-bones. Cut the fish into bite size chunks and then add these to the chilled brine. Let the fish sit in the fridge for 48 hours.
After two days, remove the fish and discard the brine. Don’t rinse the fish. In a saucepan, combine the vinegar, the mustard seeds, the peppercorns, and the sugar. Simmer and stir until the sugar is dissolved. When the sugar has dissolved, place the liquid in the freezer until cold. Fill a 1 quart ball jar with alternating layers of onions, fish, and apples. Once the pickling liquid has chilled, pour it into the jar, and let sit for 48 hours. Serve the pickled pike with crackers as part of a spread, or bake it into a hot dish, like Jansson’s Temptation (recipe to come).