Canadian rough fish: delicious but bony


The prep and the time that it took

For the sinker, the line, and the hook

And don’t forget bacon

For the rig that you’re makin’

When you fish the lake or the brook.

Synopsis: I’m a Family Practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa. In 2010 I danced back from the brink of burnout, and honoring a 1 year non-compete clause, traveled and worked in out-of-the-way places in Alaska, Nebraska, Iowa, and New Zealand. After three years working with a Community Health Center, I went back to traveling and adventures in temporary positions. Assignments in Alaska, rural Iowa, suburban Pennsylvania and western Nebraska have followed.  I finished my most recent assignment in Clarinda on May 18.  Right now I’m in northern British Columbia, getting a first-hand look at the Canadian system. Any identifiable patient information has been included with permission.

A lot of people in this town do a lot of fishing.   And while I really enjoy the sport, my lack of knowledge, skill, and experience give the fish quite an advantage.  I approach the problem like I approach a clinical case with unclear references: I ask the successful.  Anglers love to talk and show off their cell phone pictures.

I got clues to several spots where the fish congregate. I bought swivels, hooks, sinkers, lures, and a net.   The panel consensus for bait, to my surprise, came down to bacon.  For a lot of reasons, I haven’t bought bacon for decades, but I ignored all those nitrites on the other side of the plastic, and bought a kilo of ends and trimmings.

The real commitment came when I paid for my license.

So on Sunday morning, Bethany and I put the bug spray, sunscreen, and bear spray into her backpack, loaded the pole and my lunch box (I don’t have a real tackle box) into the car, and set off for one of the local myriad of lakes, the most commonly recommended spot.

With a breeze strong enough to deter mosquitos, and skies fresh washed by heavy rain the night before, we pulled onto a spit of land and parked in the shade.

I can’t tell you why I can handle worms and body parts without revulsion, but bacon makes my skin crawl. Still, I got a good hunk of it on the hook, and casted it into the wind.  The idea of this rig is to put the sinkers on the bottom and have the bait floating free.  Then I sat down on a log.  Bethany, who helped assemble the equipment, sat down to read.

My mind drifted.

More serious, better equipped fisherman would have a truck and a boat. Or at least a good size cooler, a chair, and a real tackle box.  But I learned in archery that the more seriously you take something, the less fun you’re having when you do it.  And, at this stage of the game, I can’t blame the pole for angling failure.

Then the rod thumped in my hand. I tried jerking the pole to set the hook but the sinkers had wedged up against something on the bottom.  I jerked, and pulled this way and that, and started to reel in the line.  Of course by that time the fish had thrown the hook.

I kept cranking, knowing I’d have to rebait.

Then the rod thumped again, and I realized the fish hadn’t thrown the hook.

I pulled in an 18 inch fish that I couldn’t identify. With Bethany’s help, I dispatched him.  I put more bacon on the hook (not as bad the second time), and cast again.

The second fish took the bait but not the hook.

The third fish, of the same species as the first, took the hook deep and, though smaller, couldn’t survive release.

We now had enough fish for a meal for two. And as much fun as fishing is, I don’t harm animals except for food and self-defense.

I fried the two fish, both a bit big for the frying pan. We found the flesh tasty but bony.

I changed clothes in the afternoon and went over to the hospital

My patient, one of those who know more about fishing than I do, identified the fish as a pikeminnow (formerly called squaw fish), a rough or coarse fish without limit or size restrictions.

Fish snobbery fills the angling world; Iowans turn their noses up at the invasive silver carp, Alaskans won’t eat pink salmon, and fly fishermen display bumper stickers saying “To spin is to sin.”

But I was thrilled to catch a rough fish the length of my forearm. Even if I had to touch bacon.

 

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