On Catching A Fish And Eating It

Until last weekend, in my 55 years on this planet, I had never eaten something that I caught or killed.  Last Friday, that all changed.

As I mentioned yesterday, thanks to the excellent guide work of Woody Becker, our little party found an area where the fish were biting.  I caught a plump small mouth bass that, according to my much more experienced companions, probably weighed between 3 and 4 pounds.  It fought like crazy as I reeled him in, bending my fishing rod almost to the breaking point, and after Woody netted it and we dropped it in the tub it continued to flop and thrash.  At the time, it was exciting.

When we later returned to our dock, and one of our party prepared to fillet the fish, I began to feel uneasy.  The fish stared at us, wide-eyed, and its gills continued to flutter.  My friend the Brown Bear loves to fish because he likes the challenge, but he’s a catch-and-release man.  Perhaps I should let the fish go?

The temptation to at least try eating something that I had caught and killed, however, overcame my reservations.  My friend expertly filleted the fish and tossed the remains into the harbor, where it would serve as sustenance for other aquatic parts of the food chain.  I felt guilty, but remembered that I had caught the bass only because it couldn’t resist gobbling up the live minnow that I was using as bait.  The fish clearly understood the circle of life and the notion of survival of the fittest — or so I rationalized.

We prepared the fish fillets in simple fashion, by dunking them in corn meal and then dropping them in a skillet where hot oil popped and snapped.  After a few minutes the fish fillets were ready, and they were astonishingly good — the flesh firm, light and mild, absolutely fresh, with no oily or fishy taste.  It was, quite simply, the best fish I’ve ever eaten.  I’d do it again.

On The Water With Woody

One morning on Lake Temagami, we hired a fishing guide to help us solve the fisherman’s eternal riddle:  where are the @$%&*# fish?  The guide’s name was Woody Becker.

Woody is an Algonquin who has lived in the Lake Temagami area for decades.  He’s hunted, fished, trapped, and camped in just about every nook and cranny of the lake, its islands, and the surrounding forested hills.  As you would expect with that kind of background, Woody is a practical, self-sufficient man.  When he came to pick us up in his small boat on a cold morning, he wore weather gear that looked as comfortable on him as an old shoe.  He also wore a snowmobile helmet, face shield down to ward off the chilly air, and was smoking a cigarette behind the plastic faceguard.  As he took us to where he thought the fish might be biting, he strung out a net across one of the connecting waterways.  He was just interested in seeing what he might catch in that spot at that time of year, he explained.

Woody knew his stuff.  He could pilot a boat like it was an extension of his body.  He instructed us on what method (jigging) and what bait (minnows) to use. And, he found the fish.  Drifting along a rocky outcropping in a desolate part of Cross Lake, we caught some huge small mouth bass.  Woody nimbly maneuvered the boat as we fought the fish, netted them, and then used some wire he had handy to repair our net when one of the thrashing fish ripped it to shreds.

Every fisherman know that, for every moment of catching, there are hours of drifting, and feeding out line, and unsnagging hooks that have caught on a watery obstruction.  During those quiet times, Woody liked to talk, and smoke, and laugh.  He talked about how he tried to take down at least once moose a year, for food.  He talked about how the price for pelts isn’t what it once was.  He talked about his ex-wife, and his sons. He talked about where he’s fished before and where he hoped to camp for a week or two this coming summer.

And he talked, often and forcefully, about the issues confronting the First Nation in Canada — the negotiations with the Ontario provincial and federal government on new treaties, the involvement of some new tribe that he thought was trying to bargain away the Algonquin’s rights, and his mistrust for the deals and arrangements that were being offered.  He knew every treaty involving the First Nation, by name and date and contents.  He made me realize that those little bits of history that we learned in school that seemed so dusty and abstract had an enormous and continuing impact on this interesting man and his friends and family.  Sitting on that boat with Woody, as he talked and bailed and lit another cigarette, gave me a different perspective on things.

I’m glad Woody helped us catch some fish, but mostly I’m just glad I met Woody Becker.