Putting Filets in the Freezer

Fisheries that demand old school gluttony

By Rob Breeding

Years ago, a fisheries biologist friend said he wasn’t so sure catch-and-release fishing would have worked out if trout tasted as good as walleye.

We both laughed. I’ve spent most of my adult life pursuing trout with a fly rod. So has my biologist friend, though his primary tool of capture is electrofishing gear. We’ve both netted plenty of trout and almost all of them went back into the drink unharmed.

Neither of us much cares for eating trout, we admitted. The presence of trout always seemed enough.

The standard, garden variety river trout, brownie or rainbow, a fish so desirable to fly anglers that they’ve launched a thousand ships, is often diminished by the plate. Trout aren’t horrible, mind you, especially pan-size fish collected in high-mountain lakes and streams. Those trout are quite delicious, especially prepared streamside. But the 18-inch brown my pal, The Preacher, pulled out of the Stillwater River last week would have made a terrible dinner.

The Preacher smartly released it.

Walleye are another matter. And I should say this: the conservation and preservation of western Montana’s native trout, bulls and cutthroats, as well as angler inspiring rainbows and browns, necessitates killing any walleye caught in waters they don’t belong. If you pull a walleye out of Swan Lake you are required to kill it, and to contact Fish, Wildlife and Parks, which is fighting an illegal, bucket biologist walleye introduction there.

East of the divide things are different. Walleye are widespread across the prairie regions of Montana, naturalized and thriving in the warm waters of the flat lands.

My old pal, Marathon Man, made a good hire at the college where he coaches, adding Fish Slayer to his staff a few years back to help with his field athletes. I’ve not a clue whether Fish Slayer knows his stuff when it comes to pole vaulting and the like, but I know this: the dude knows his fish.

We made an early morning run out to one of his favorite prairie lakes the other day, and true to our guide’s name, we slayed ’em. Fish Slayer knows this lake well, and has marked off a number of hotspots that, to the untrained eye, would appear as unremarkable open water in the middle of the lake. Years of experience has taught him that depth is key, and when he locates mounts about 12 feet deep, these spots hold walleye and perch.

Fishing with a guy who has so thoroughly dissected a lake can seem pretty easy. We used leeches under slip bobbers with stops that suspend those wriggling blood suckers just off the 12-foot bottom. You want the cruisers to look up for their meal, the Fish Slayer insists.

He uses a trolling motor to cruise from spot to spot, and after a couple hours our creel was heavy with walleye and perch. The Marathon Man is in his element when we’re bobber fishing. He often catches the first fish, and from that success grows a little cocky and suggests he’s ready to retire from coaching and join the pro bass tour. But by session’s end, the Fish Slayer always contributes the most poundage to our overflowing creel.

The other day the two of them went out and had quite a day on perch. When they returned home to filet, the pair posed for an old school snapshot, the day’s bounty suspended between them on a poll. You don’t see photos like that very often any more. You’ll probably never see them again with trout.

These fisheries can be fragile. A trout is almost always more valuable returned to the river from which it was caught. But walleye and perch? These are fisheries that demand old school gluttony.

Don’t worry, these filets are too delicious to waste.

Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com.