Monday, April 24, 2017

COLUMN: Walleye

Last week, I wrote about something downright fishy: my newfound love of seafood as a quick dinner. For a kitchen novice like myself, you really can't ask for an easier meal to prepare than throwing some fish into the oven for a bit. *BAM* I'm suddenly one of those fancy chefs who says things like "BAM!"

It was a fun experiment until I accidentally brought home a salmon filet that came with shiny, scaly fish skin still attached to it. That was the end of my brief love affair with seafood. I'm no vegetarian, but I prefer to live my life in awkward denial that the meat I consume was ever once actually part of a living and/or swimming thing.

The responses to last week's column have been fun. As it turns out, I'm not the only one skeeved out by food that looks too alive. One reader told the story of being on a first date at a fancy restaurant and ordering some gourmet fish entree only to have it arrive at the table with fish head still attached and hollow dead fish eyeballs staring up at her. I could never do that. I have few rules when it comes to eating, but having a meal watch you as you eat its corpse? In the words of the legendary Hall and/or Oates, I can't go for that (no can do.)

But then I received an e-mail I was already half-expecting.

"You can't handle one little piece of skin on salmon?" it read. "How did you react the first time your dad took you fishing?"

I guess I'll let you know -- as soon as my dad takes me fishing. I'm expecting it to happen around the 5th of Never.

Sorry, gang. I don't especially want to hurt a worm, let alone any wayward fish that I might dangle it near. I know there's probably a lot of you who hunt and fish and if that's your thing, I guess that's great. Just keep me out of it.

If you hunt and fish for sustenance, I get it. It's the circle of life and all that. But if you fish for "sport," you confuse me. I don't get what's "sporting" about tricking a fish into biting a hook. When I think of "sport," I think about competition with clear winners and losers. To me, fishing should only be considered a sport if every time you reached for a beer, you stood a small chance of running a hook through your hand before being pulled underwater by a couple of fish out enjoying a relaxing day of "sport humaning." At least give the fish sharp teeth or some kind of fighting chance.

But I recently discovered that's already been happening.

My friend Jason and I have but one pact. Every spring, when the first weekend of decent weather arrives, we drop what we're doing, get in the car, and spend a solid day driving around aimlessly in the boonies. There's never a destination or plan in mind -- we just go where the road beckons. This year, we ended up north of the Quad Cities along the banks of the Wapsi.

It was a great drive. The recent rains had left the area a soggy mess, which was fairly bad for people but pretty great for the rest of nature. We spotted everything that day from wild turkeys to herds of deer to a pair of trumpeter swans leisurely floating about the flood plains.

At one point in the drive, we decided to stop at a public access area to better appreciate nature. Well, Jason wanted to appreciate the nature. I mostly needed to heed its call. So I was off doing my thing when I heard Jason yell, "Whoa!" Business sorted, I returned to find him staring at a pile of aquatic carnage. There on the ground lay about a half-dozen dead fish, smelling especially ripe in the spring sun.

That was a grody enough find, but then I looked a little closer. These fish had TEETH. Sharp teeth. Dangerous looking teeth. The kind of teeth I would only expect to find in the moat of a James Bond villain. Instead, these were fish that looked to have been recently plucked from the Wapsi. I'm pretty sure if I ever were to go fishing and catch one of those monsters at the end of my line, I'd let the fish keep the worm, the hook, the pole, AND the rest of the river.

After getting home and doing some research, I'm pretty sure what we saw was a pile of dead walleye, named because their eyes point to the sides (and, presumably, because when you see those teeth with your eye, you run in a panic until you smack headfirst into a wall.) Why someone left this pile of perfectly dead demontoothfish alongside the river is beyond me. I suggested that maybe a carniverous Sasquatch left them as human bait, and then we left in a bit of a hurry.

That episode was enough for me to change my stance on sport fishing. If you want to head along the Wapsi and fish for those prehistoric toothy buggers, have at it. The world needs less teeth like that in nature. I just logged onto the internet and looked for videos of people walleye fishing, and the first one I clicked ended when the fisherman got bit so badly it turned into a "here we are at the emergency room getting stitches" video. That, friends, is the true sporting life. If you want to battle one of those vorpal beasts, you'll get no argument from me.

Just please don't ask me to cook it.    

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