Whenever I tell local hunters I have elk and deer in my backyard, they inevitably ask, “Do you hunt them?”
No, I don’t hunt them.
I tell them (somewhat tongue in cheek) I have a rule at my house, one I instituted when my three boys became of an age to carry a gun, “You kill it, you clean it, you cook it.” And I just can’t see myself going at an elk with a knife in my hand, I tell them, it’s just too much for little ol’ me.
But that’s only half the story.
I love a delicious elk pot roast and I certainly have nothing against those that choose to hunt for their meat rather then shop for it in the grocery store. But I just don’t have the heart to kill the creatures that I love to watch play, fight and browse in my own backyard.
My “kill, clean, cook” rule served me well. I didn’t have to clean and cook every critter my boys would bring to my kitchen, and I didn’t have to suffer the heartbreak of handling bloody and broken creatures, that had been just moments before, had been cavorting through the fields.
Like I said before, I don’t have an issue with hunters or hunting and I appreciate every elk steak and venison burger my friends offer me after they’ve made their kills. It’s just not a sport I care to take up.
But (and that’s one big “but”), I do have an issue with some of the fisherman and their practices.
Catch and Kill, or Catch and Hold
At this time of year the Barrier Dam area of the Cowlitz River is filled with long lines of fisherman from the dam at one end to the boat launch at the other.
Some fish with eggs and shrimp from the rocks, others with corky and yarn down the point, and still others with bobber and jig near the turn.
The men (and a few women) I call the “Wiley Men of the Rock Wall” are, for the most part, ethical anglers.
They keep what they catch, if it’s legal to do so, and they immediately kill the fish as they haul them in and bleed them out before they go back to seeking another salmon.
These anglers are looking for fresh fish for the smoker or the dinner table (their own or their grateful neighbors). And because they aren’t there just for the sport and the socializing — although that’s an enjoyable part of their fishing day — they take care of their fish.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for many of the corky and yarn people of the point.
I took a friend of a friend’s husband, T.J. Downes, who was visiting from California fishing with me last week. We arrived at the Barrier Dam before sunup, made friends with a few of the men we would be fishing alongside and headed into the water. (I was unaware of the casting and drifting skills of my companion, I thought it best to make friends with our neighbors before my new friend became entangled with them.)
Within just 10 minutes, my fishing partner hooked into a good-sized Chinook. He lost him after a mighty battle, but I was happy he had hooked into something so soon. The pressure was off. We watched many a fish caught and lost that morning, we saw several reeled in and let go because of the dreaded extra fin they carried, and a we admired a few more, brought to the bank to keep.
My friend has fished the rivers and streams in California, but said that he had “never seen anything as nice as this river” in his life. I felt very proud of our river and proud he enjoyed the fish fight on my old Fenwick rod and sleek, new Abu Garcia reel.
My pride in the river, my gear, and the people of the Barrier Dam point was short lived, however, when one of the anglers we had met that morning caught a jack Chinook and put it on a stringer — still alive, flopping around in the shallows.
“We pull the gills out in California,” whispered my friend as we watched the angler anchor his fish to a rock.
“We do too,” I answered, “at least those of us that know better do.”
The angler (from Tacoma) noticed that we were watching him.
“I’m going to give this little one to my neighbor,” he said with a proud grin.
Huh, I thought, I hope your neighbor likes his salmon meat bruised and bloody. And I wondered if he told his neighbor how long the fish was required to suffer as it slowly suffocated to death and beat itself against the rocks in fear and struggle?
I would like to think that the fella was just ignorant and not mean, but I’ll never know for sure.
As Maya Angelou said once, “When you know better, you do better.”
Now that I know better, I do better. I hope you will too.
Proper Care of Freshly Caught Fish
If you are fortunate enough to catch one of our local river’s bright chrome salmon this fall, there is a short step between hook and grill that you need to attend to if you like fresh tasting fish.
Putting live fish on a stringer until you are ready to end your day’s hunt for salmon is never a good idea.
When a keeper is caught, kill it quickly with a sharp rap on the head. Blood in the meat will affect the taste, so cut the main artery to the gills and bleed the fish out.
It’s never a good idea to let a freshly killed fish lie in water, slime or blood after cleaning. But if you intend to stay on the water a while longer, an uncleaned fish can be kept in cool fresh water until you’re finished fishing.
Get your fish under ice as soon as possible. Avoid throwing or dropping the fish or you’ll risk bruising the meat.
If you aren’t going to dine on the fish that evening, vacuum packing is the best way to avoid spoilage.
The last and best tip: only keep the fish you intend to eat. Greedy anglers with a freezer full of uneaten, gone-to-waste fish can easily become very unlucky anglers — going home fish-less rod-less and/or gear-less — if they don’t appease the river gods and show the river and the fish the respect they deserve.