I must confess: I killed a fish and joined a gang.
Not just any fish, a rainbow trout, my favorite fish.
It’s in my fridge, stiff as a board. I have found myself in the kitchen a few times- I open the fridge door, move the ketchup and leftovers from a BBQ weekend, just to look at it. It’s still there, its head is still missing, and its beautiful tail is motionless.
It was peer pressure.
It was already bleeding when I caught it.
It was my daughter chanting on the side of the shore:
“Eat it, Eat it, Eat it! Mom can we eat this one? Why don’t we ever eat them?”
The day started on our way home from a morning hike with friends: we drove by a pond where people were lined up and pulling trout out of the water with their fishing poles, ( just like the fishing game at the carnival where someone ties a fish on the end of your line).
I parked the car to watch the chaos of people tossing their fish in a buckets and literally running back to their spot to cast. The teenagers would high five loudly and jeer gregariously. The older men would hold their poise and smile sheepishly when no one was looking. I was so curious- who was tying fish on these lines? How is this happening?
So what did I do? What any other awkward fish addict mom would do….
After we go home for a nap (priorities), I coaxed my husband and children back to the pond with wondrous ideas of a campfire dinner, s’mores, and catching a fish like all the other kids. It worked. I Googled the pond’s name and found out it is frequently stocked with fish from a hatchery… so that is why they are catching fish like fish charmers.
Once we arrived at the pond, we were thankful to find a spot had just opened up. It felt like we were walking down ‘judgmental ally’ (I don’t know where that alley is, but you should avoid it), as the pond- fishers were all staring at us. We unloaded our bags of misc childcare necessities at our spot; which was next to a dock that wobbled incessantly while holding a large family speaking Spanish loudly, ( I was impressed with their team work and intricate dock-skills).
I brought my fly rod, but saw that no one else was fly fishing. “It’s the worms, spinners and bobbers kind of reality show at this pond”, I thought. So I try to fit in and cast a worm out on my daughters pink fishing pole, so that if I caught one she could reel it in. She was already off picking flowers though and singing on a stage she created right behind us. My four year old son was riding his bike in circles on the sidewalk, making terrible police car sounds. But my two year old loves fishing and he sat in my lap and we lazily watched the bobber dance with the miniscule waves. This was cute, but we both found it boring.
I was too bored….So I gave the two yr. old my pole and put together my fly rod. Against the apparent cultural standards of the pond, and like a circus freak running loose in a church, I started casting. I looked over and noticed the Hispanic family on the dock had all stopped what they were doing to stare. A teenager down the way from me straight out asked me what I was doing.
I had tied on an olive wooly bugger because I didn’t see any fish rising and I was sure those stocked fish would fall for anything moving underwater. No one had caught a fish since we arrived and everyone was looking a bit agitated as they cast, reeled in, re-wormed up and cast over and over. They were looking at me like I was wasting my time or wondering why I don’t just throw a line out like a normal person instead of waving it around like a white flag of surrendering.
I thought, well at least I am burning some calories while I throw this line around, feeling a bit out of place and hoping I did not snag a person walking on the sidewalk behind me. As I was stripping in my third cast, I got a hard hit. The fish jumped out of the water and shook its head almost violently; it’s a bigger rainbow trout. It fought hard for a few seconds and then I reeled it in easily.
Unlike my neighbor trout slayers, I climbed into the pond to get the fish versus clanging it on the bank and rocks. I pick it up and took the wooly out of its lip and paraded it quickly to my kids that gathered around me (queue daughter barbarically yelling “it’s huge and it looks delicious”).
The trout was thick and handsome, but I immediately thought: this fish doesn’t really count on my list of catches because it is from a fish hatchery (snobby fisher).
So I was looking forward to quickly letting this one go to show all of the fish-slayers around me that sometimes you can let them go. I want to be a good example of a catch and release fly fisher, as if I am out on a river fishing for natural fish (these ones are robots). The more I talk, the more I sound like a snob. No wonder people don’t get into fly fishing, sheesh.
I held my fish back in the water quickly and noticed blood in the water, so I picked him up and looked at his side- there was blood seeping out of his gill. I held him back in the water, moving him to bring oxygen into his gills, but the second I let go he started to go belly up.
I tried mouth to mouth resuscitation…
No I didn’t, but I tried several times to get him back to moving since my pride was resting on the line at this point. With the blood pouring out of his gill I knew there was not much hope. I have no idea why he went belly up from a simple zip line ride to my reel?
“I think he is a goner”, I said to my audience on shore.
My husband agreed. Sadly, I handed the fish to him and asked him to euthanize it for me because I’m a sissy when it comes to killing things. But then I got real bossy and said:
“Do it quickly! Knock it in the head! Use your knife and stab it in the brain! Hurry don’t let it suffer!”
The dock family was watching us out of the corner of their eyes and they clapped at first, then started laughing under their breath at the gringos yelling and trying to kill a big fish. An old man yelled that he is surprised I caught a big fish like this from fly fishing. Not that I am ever competing, but I do like people to see that you can catch nice fish on a fly rod, and it is more fun than sitting in a chair (I like to make people laugh too, your are welcome dock family).
So after my husband had done the murderous deed, he brought it over to me. He had a blood on his shirt and I started to feel guilty- that blood should be on my hands. It’s been a long time since I killed a fish so I asked him what we should do with it. He puts it in a bag with water in it. I refilled the bag 2 times within 10 minutes and then found a fish string in our tackle box that I bought at a yard sale.
I put the dead trout in the water, like the rest of my ‘pond posse’ around us, of whom I feel like I have bonded with since I killed a fish. It feels like I have blood on my hands so I could then join the murderous pond gang, with our kills hanging from a string and bobbing in the fully stocked pond. I noticed when a new person came to the pond, some of the other ‘pond gang members’ would pull up their strings, sort of showing off or flashing a gang-type symbol of death. Or it could have just been a coincidence…
My daughter picked our fish out of the water and swung it around while singing, “Yummy, yummy, in my tummy”.
But I was too busy thinking about these hatchery fish to join in on the gang game. You would think the other fish would see their dead friends on the gang member’s lines and ‘just swim down’, but like idiots, they parade around, swimming way too close to the shore where everyone can see them and can cast right to them. Don’t you have any innate survival skills at all little fishes? What did they teach you at the fish hatchery? Spread out, I say, and avoid eating until night fall!
I remembered when I pulled in the rainbow there were several other fish swimming next to it, trying to get the bugger. What did they think: that the rainbow was just swimming supersonic fast as my line pulled it in? I guess they think it is like trout heaven, if you get pulled out of the water then you get to go through the golden gates where bugs are covered in chocolate and the water is crystal clear blue. I sure hope it works out like that, especially for the bow I just murdered and will later consume the better parts of his life.
We start the camp fire, chase kids all over the park and I go back to check on Dead Gills (his new name) twice. Then I decide that someone might steal it, or bugs will start eating it, and I worry that it needs to be gutted out. I wanted his death to be a successful one, so I tried to remember my Grandma Betty’s way of gutting out a fish.
I gutted it out with a dull kitchen knife, showed the kids the heart and then we opened his stomach to find a worm in it. I turned into inspector gadget and started to wonder if this fish had previously been caught and got away because of his bleeding gills, the missing scales on his side and the worm in its belly….I had handled it so carefully when I caught it, I have never experienced a fish show so much trauma from a simple routine catch.
With blood splattered on my white shirt and guts in my nails, I dumped half of the lemonade we brought into cups and then shoved the carcass of Dead Gills down into our tangy lemonade for safe keeping (I’ll let you know if my recipe worked).
Every few minutes I asked my husband if it is OK. He said,
“It’s dead, so no, it’s not OK”.
I meant is it staying cold enough! Gosh I can be so annoying and weird.
We ended up leaving the park at 10:00 pm, almost the last ones to leave the gang.
Oddly, we didn’t get much fishing time with all of the moving one dead fish around and playing/feeding/cleaning three kids.
On our way out, I was watching this pre-teen boy (that sounds creepy); he learned that he could see the fish in the water and cast to them. We walked over to him and he was so high on fishing it was almost contagious. Without even asking him a question, he offered to share that he had caught 44 fish (so he really caught less than 20) that day and it was his first time fishing. He was using a spoon spinner of some sort and moving up and down the edge of the pond, acting all ‘jacked up on mountain dew’ and smiling incessantly.
I couldn’t help but smile along with him. I guess the stocked hatchery fish DO serve a huge purpose- although they die really easy, they feed people, bring families together on the shore and most importantly- they give teenagers and fisher-people a reason to feel good about themselves and their fishing skills. And today, they helped a mom looked really cool to her carnivorous daughter.
Ultimately I am more of a ‘let’s go to the middle of nowhere and fish’ kind of person, but I am getting used to fishing in all types of places with all types of gangs and tribes and it’s good for me. Sometimes we get stuck up about what we do or how we do it and we miss out on some pretty awesome experiences with waters and people we otherwise would have missed. Fishing, or adventure, doesn’t have to be some planned out, full day event- I even think of trying to fish the drainage ditches on my way home from the store sometimes……
And I have shared too much.
I’m not a fish slayer, but I was thankful that my hands smelled like my Grandma Betty’s hands after an afternoon on the river fishing. Now if only I can make Dead Gills taste as good as Grandma Betty’s famous fried trout- that would be worth killing for!
This story reminds me of my other story called Dock-Side Manners. Check it out here: https://mammaflybox.wordpress.com/2014/02/23/dock-side-manners/