02 April 2007

Trout Fishing Season

Growing up in Pennsylvania, I always knew exactly when trout season began. The event was marked by a date and a legal morning hour. Gramps, Mr Dutka, sometimes another guest or two, and I went fishing. Along with the many thousands of others, some of whom drove hundreds of miles from Pittsburgh or Cleveland or other cities for the blessed event. Fishing was crowded, even on the remote reaches of Kinzua Creek that we favored, and it had a competitive, carnival sort of atmosphere.

Here in Montana, it's trout season every day. Most of our rivers are open for "catch & release" all season long. On some, like the Jefferson, one may kill a few trout year 'round.

Confessions of a conservationist: Yes, I like to kill trout. When I catch a trout from cold water, I salivate as I remove the hook, whether or not I intend to kill the fish. More than once, I've caught myself actually drooling on a trout while releasing it. Yes, I like to kill trout because I like to eat them.

As a graduate student, Jan & I rented a little house on a retired tree nursery in Mecklenburg, New York, about 15 miles west of Ithaca. The land offered superb ruffed grouse, pheasant, cottontail rabbit, and gray squirrel hunting. And a trout stream ran through it--the headwaters of Taughannock Creek. The stream was not on the New York State DNRC stocking list, and so rarely saw an angler in search of its wild brown trout. On select days I would rush home from school, pack infant Emily into the Snugli, unleash Nellie-The-Dog, walk across the road through the town cemetary, and down to the creek. Two trout later, we would troop back home, snap off a mess of fresh asparagus, and fire up the grill to ready supper for Jan's return from work.

There is no trout stream within walking distance from my current home in Walkerville. But it's only a half-hour drive to the Big Hole River, and a bit further to the Jeff. And so last Thursday I rushed home from school, stowed my gear in the back of the truck, dropped the tailgate so RTD could jump in, and headed for the Jeff. I was careful to release the rainbow trout (photo at left, below) and to kill a few browns (photo at right, below) in the right size range for the grill.

The Jefferson River, named by Lewis & Clark as they made their way above the three forks of the Missouri River on their way to the Continental Divide, is itself formed by the confluence of the Big Hole, Beaverhead, and Ruby Rivers near Twin Bridges. The Jeff is severely and chronically dewatered most summers, but it does support a fair fishery. This time of year, the browns tend to be in shallow runs where they feed on crayfish. The trout feel as though they are stuffed with pebbles as you heft them, and it is not uncommon for still-living crayfish to be wriggling in their gullet. This crab diet makes for succulent orange flesh. Fish, of course, must be inspected by the cat before you cook them.

Rubbed with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, they grill nicely over a hot fire and alongside a packet of asparagus. I always thank my graduate school colleague Betty Smocovitus (now at U FL-Gainesville), who taught me to throw a few pinches of rosemary onto the coals as the trout cook. With a pot of wild and brown rice with almonds, a bottle of white wine, and friends Dave & Gloria it was a sumptuous feast. I don't kill many trout, but we do give thanks for a few each year.


Anonymous said...

plenty of other fish that taste better that have a bigger population of offspring each yr !!!!! THOSE TROUT WILL NEVER BE ENJOYED BY ANYONE ELSE BUT THE GREEDY FISHERMAN THAT KILLED THEM

EcoRover said...

Sorry, Anonymouse. I think fat brown trout from the Jeff taste very good. FWP wants to increase rainbow populations in the Jeff. Removal of a few browns (an exotic, introduced species that arguably doesn't belong here) each season as helping that cause. In moderation, it's OK to kill a few and the fishery is sustainable. And you'd be surprised by the proportion of trout that die with catch & release.