Some people enjoy catching fish just for the sport of it. I think that’s great, but it’s not me. I am what you call a “meat fisherman.” I never met a fish I didn’t like…to eat. When I was a young boy, I would get up before dawn, strap my fishing pole and tackle box to my bike, make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and head for the river.
By the age of ten I could skin a bullhead in less than 20 seconds. I must have cleaned thousands of those little catfish wannabes. Mom would fry them up and I would eat them like French fries. When I discovered real catfish, the freezer filled up fast and I was eating fish four times a week.
One of the highlights of my life was eating a shore lunch of walleye and fried potatoes on the shores of Lake Superior in Canada with my pop. The water was very clear there, not like our muddy Mississippi river back home, and the fish just tasted better because of it. There’s also something about cooking over an open wood fire that makes food taste better.
When I moved out on my own and realized how much it cost to feed me, fish became a daily food, especially when it got close to payday. The only things I needed were flour, eggs, and lard, and I was set for a week. I felt like Daniel Boone, living off the land, and it felt good in my soul to know I was providing my own food.
At one point in my teens I was homeless, although I never thought of it that way. I was laid off and soon I didn’t have money for rent or food. I put everything I owned into a blow-up raft and set sail on the mighty Mississippi. There wasn’t enough room on the raft for me and my gear, so I swam along, pulling the raft behind me.
I lived on Beaver Island, just south of Clinton, Iowa for almost a month, again with only salt, pepper, flour, and sugar. I looked under logs for worms and bugs to fish with, and I built a lean-to out of branches for my sleeping quarters. It may have seemed like I had it rough, but I enjoyed every minute of it and I was proud to be a true “outdoorsman.” I don’t ever remember being hungry, although I lost 20 lbs.
Eventually I got my life together and didn’t need to fish for my supper anymore. That didn’t stop me. I had learned how to catch bass and more importantly, I learned how to cook bass. I got lots of dirty looks from those “catch and release” $100,000 bass boat guys as I dropped a five-pound lunker into my bucket for dinner, but that never stopped me.
Nowadays, I am a crappie and bluegill fisherman. I could tell you it’s all about the fight a pan-fish gives you on an ultra-light fly rod, but I would be lying. Those little pan fish fillets are like potato chips, melting in my mouth as I devour them. Many times those crappie fillets never make it to the table, getting swiped up while still on the cooling plate. I have probably spent a thousand hours carefully cutting every little scrap of meat off the bone, my mouth watering the whole time like Pavlov’s dogs when the bell rang.
Well, now I’m hungry.
We’ll see you all in a week…I’m going to cook up some fish.