Andersen: Fishing for our dinner
Fresh trout make a delectable meal. Fried in butter with garlic on a cast-iron skillet, the sizzling aroma of Oncorhynchus mykiss provides a piscine ambrosia.
Catching trout for dinner is a bit more time consuming than picking up a farmed Norwegian salmon steak at Whole Foods, but it’s a lot more engaging and personal.
Always one for a tactile immersion in nature, fishing for me is an entry-level hunting-and-gathering exploit abetted by a long fly rod and a rudimentary understanding of how to use it.
I’m eating trout these days because I catch them for my dinner. This may seem counter to my otherwise vegetarian sensibilities, but it’s logical and ultimately responsible. For some of my more delicate readers, I have become that jerk on the end of a rod that defines the fishing experience.
My fishing life was reborn in April after decades of dormancy. It was awakened when my son, Tait, returned from a backpacking trip in Patagonia. While trekking through the Darwin Range, Tait was inspired by an epiphany about the logic of going “locavore” with our family diet.
Dining on Norwegian salmon has been a culinary tradition in our household, but Tait pointed out that the environmental costs of flying that fish halfway around the world is contrary to the ethic I often tout in this column.
Despite our considerable garden space at Andersen’s Acres, we have no provision for protein, or at least not the kind of protein appreciated by traditional carnivores and hereditary paleos. We live a one-minute walk from the Fryingpan River, so fishing came to mind.
Regulations mandate that the only fish you can keep from the Pan is brown trout, but at Ruedi Reservoir, all fish are fair game. I won’t fish for sport because I equate that with fish torture. Plus, the image of six guys to a hole on the Pan, which I witness on occasion, is not my idea of angling. I will, however, fish for food.
Tait and I decided that bikes would be the purist approach, so we strapped on our rods and rode 8 miles to Ruedi Reservoir to test our luck. We brought along our fishing licenses and a selection of flies, chosen with total caprice. Our creel was a plastic Ziplok bag.
Speaking of creels, you don’t see them anymore. The woven wicker baskets fishermen sling over their shoulders to hold their catch are a thing of the past in the world of catch-and-release. An antique creel hangs on the wall of our mudroom and is where we stash our flies and leaders.
The only reason I own a fly rod is that five years ago, my wife bought me one for Christmas. At that time, I had no interest in fishing except perhaps as a retirement distraction years down the road. I hung up the rod as a porch decoration.
Now that I’m a fly fisherman, that rod has become a thing of beauty and form, with very practical function. Using it is an engrossing pastime that nets fish and calories for my dinner table, and it’s not all that difficult.
The first time Tait and I tried Ruedi, fishing like amateurs from the shore, I caught two pan-sized rainbows in the first five minutes. That was dinner for my family that night.
Tait and I said words of gratitude to these trout, recognizing their unwilling sacrifice. I wonder if any words have been said over all the commercial fish I’ve ever eaten during my lifetime.
That fresh trout dinner was a celebration of the fecundity of life around us, of the place we call home, where the trout are prolific and within a moderate bike ride, of the savor of the flavor of trout crisped in butter and of the idea that we provided our own dinner with our own learned skills.
Here is the locavore experience manifest with intent and pleasure. Here is the paleo diet enacted with a sense of independence from the industrial food chain. Here is a father/son pursuit that dates to our earliest human experience.
Paul Andersen’s column appears Mondays. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.