‘Trash versus Trophy’ by John Toone


Silver carp are known in North America as that twenty-pound alien that jumps ten feet from the water to exact terror upon the groin of an overweight man in undersized overalls. He pilots a boat made of pallets, powered by alcohol, and the silver carp seem aware, organized and determined. It’s hard not to like these fish, but government men named Eugene or Cornie will try to convince you that silver carp are invasive. These skittish fellers jump in response to the vibration of a boat motor, and their habits of consumption and reproduction bruise the egos of our native fish. They are not welcome.

Fishin_cover_optWe have a habit of marginalizing new immigrants through name-calling, but trust the restaurant lobby to fund PR campaigns for the “silverfin”. I would argue that the common sucker also needs rebranding. Or maybe we just need to start thinking for ourselves. Hungry people dream of fish that jump into the boat. Maybe we are due for a trim, or maybe we get over the mindset that we are better than everyone else. A wild fish sounds more appetizing than a ‘farm’ fish fed a diet of industrial waste. Call it what you want, but we will have to eat away at the problems associated with silver carp. Now, can we manage without resorting to name-calling?

(Full disclosure:  I am in the preliminary stages of securing investment for a silver carp juice marketed as a beverage additive to enthusiasts of krunk music.)

One of my favourite pursuits is to cast for northern pike in shallow weed beds. There’s no mistaking their bite and fight, and as table fare, they are among the best. The northern pike is also a most impressive trophy. They look prehistoric-strong and can be posed to appear rather perturbed. Yet in spite of their majesty, the northern pike has a mixed reputation.

Most guides favour walleye to pike, because pike lures often have multiple treble hooks and clients have multiple casting issues. Also, the Y-bones along the back of a pike can challenge the average filleter. And despite their larger size, too many people mistake pike flesh as inferior to walleye. Immature fish are called snakes or hammer handles. In Alaska, I learned that northern pike are an invasive species, because horror of horrors, they eat young salmon.

Outdoor enthusiasts need be careful with our tone and the way we speak amongst ourselves. What starts as good intentions can wreak havoc for future generations. It ain’t right to be cruel to animals. And if you don’t have something nice to say, shut the hell up. We may think we’ve found good reason to favour one species or another, but lord have mercy, we sure don’t have a great track record. Moreover, this divisive rhetoric takes the fun out of fishing by giving young people the wrong impression of what constitutes a trophy.

When I was young and even more stupid, we had this spot in the city where we’d catch rock bass and sauger. (Funny thing, this fishing hole also produced the odd northern pike. Here, a juvenile pike was the prize fish. Go figure.)  Problem being was that for every “good fish” that we would catch, we would also hook several bullhead. And we would take pleasure in killing the bullheads, because we could and because we reasoned that it would improve our chances of catching better fish. We’d toss bullheads over our shoulder and up the bank, and they would use their pectoral fin spines to shimmy their way back into the water. How could we disrespect a fish with such tenacity?

The first fish that my son and daughter caught was a bullhead. Their exotic look only helped secure interest in a way of life that involves catching and eating fish. If a bullhead is what I catch first, imagine what is to come. Some fear an invasion and fight to win at all costs, while others see an opportunity to engage more anglers or rally widespread support for fisheries conservation. The Manitoba Master Angler program awards a diamond badge as the highest level of achievement for anglers who register one trophy fish in twenty different species. Each one of these trophies is of equal value, and that’s a sportsman’s approach to fishing.

Thou shall not get caught up on appearances, because we are ugly folk. Sure, rainbow trout are so well packaged that you wanna peel back their skin and eat them like an ice cream sandwich. You may not think the same of a bullhead. But as you incorporate fish into your diet you will find a place for both exotic and utility fare. Trash or trophy, it’s what fuels a love of the outdoors.

Baba Lee Rodrigue’s Petersfield Patties

Start with two pounds of Netley Creek’s finest, be it sheepshead, white bass, and/or catfish. If you’re up in the winter, northern pike do up nice. Perform the basic fillet and skin. There’s no need to remove pin bones as these will get ground and fried to oblivion.

Griswold’s #2 cast iron meat grinder is one of many classics for the countertop. I highlight this model because the Griswolds were also known for the discerning style and function of their wood-paneled station wagon. Get the Vacation-feel while working them raw fillets through the fine ground plate and into a mixing bowl.

Add breadcrumbs, an egg, and spice with Lawry’s Seasoning Salt and dried parsley. Deviate from the recipe and you must call it by another name. Mix the fish and such, form patties, and let sit in the refrigerator for an hour or so to set.

Cover the patties with an egg wash and coat with breadcrumbs. Hit those patties hot and fast with lard or vegetable oil in a fry pan. The burger bun should be toasted and buttered. Accessorize with burger fixings or a homemade tartar sauce. And make extra patties to eat on the way to the dock, early the next morning.

Re-printed with permission of the publisher from
Fishin’ For Dumbasses: Tips for Folks Who Want to Catch Their Own Food (and have fun doing it!) by John Toone, Great Plains Publications, available now.

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John Toone

John Toone is the author of Fishin' For Dumbasses (Great Plains, 2014), and a book of poems, From Out of Nowhere (Turnstone, 2009), in addition to several children's books. Please visit www.johntoone.ca.