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Artistic view of a Male Pteronarcys californica (Pteronarcyidae) (Giant Salmonfly) Stonefly Adult from the Gallatin River in Montana
Pteronarcys californica

The giant Salmonflies of the Western mountains are legendary for their proclivity to elicit consistent dry-fly action and ferocious strikes.

27" brown trout, my largest ever. It was the sub-dominant fish in its pool. After this, I hooked the bigger one, but I couldn't land it.
Troutnut is a project started in 2003 by salmonid ecologist Jason "Troutnut" Neuswanger to help anglers and fly tyers unabashedly embrace the entomological side of the sport. Learn more about Troutnut or support the project for an enhanced experience here.

Posts: 59
Chris_3g on Jan 2, 2008January 2nd, 2008, 5:12 am EST
So, I am primarily a C&R fisherman. This year, I didn't keep a single fish, I de-barb my hooks, and I always try to keep the fights short. I will remain so next year, except that I would like to keep a couple fish to eat. So, I have a couple of questions, assuming none of you berate me for actually wanting to keep a couple of fish.

First, what is the most humane way to kill a fish? I can't imagine tossing them up on shore until they suffocate is particularly appreciated, and putting them on ice can't be comfortable either. I've heard a bop on the head does the trick. Anyone?

Second, I should clean the fish at home vs. stream-side, correct?

Lastly, I've heard of selective harvesting in that there is a size range from which you should choose fish for removal, if you choose to do so, e.g. keep a 9" trout, but not a 24" trout. Do any of the fisheries biologists have any information on this?

Thanks a lot. Hope everyone got everything they wanted for Christmas! Have a Happy New Year.

Lancaster, PA

Posts: 81
Lam on Jan 2, 2008January 2nd, 2008, 7:45 am EST
Not that I will answer your question but I was at a big chain bookstore yesterday looking at the fishing magazines. There was a magazine from England that had a "New Products for 2008" section that highlighted about 3 pages worth of trout bashing devices. The coolest one had a cork grip with a bamboo shaft and a heavily weighted head -I guess if you are going to club a trout to death you might as well do it in style with a bamboo billy club.
Pleasant Gap, PA

Posts: 1197
Shawnny3 on Jan 2, 2008January 2nd, 2008, 8:46 am EST
Excellent questions, Chris. I also do not have an answer for you, but I would love to see what people post in response.

Jewelry-Quality Artistic Salmon Flies, by Shawn Davis
Taxon's profile picture
Site Editor
Plano, TX

Posts: 1311
Taxon on Jan 2, 2008January 2nd, 2008, 9:39 am EST

The following opinions were formed a long time ago, before being introduced to fly fishing, and having gravitated to the practice of C&R:

Trout of 8-10" are much easier to fry, and at least to me, seemed to taste better than larger ones.

A single blow to the top of the head will readily dispatch any salmonoid, although I confess that I probably didn't ever do so with pan-sized trout.
Best regards,
Roger Rohrbeck
Martinlf's profile picture
Palmyra PA

Posts: 3047
Martinlf on Jan 2, 2008January 2nd, 2008, 10:51 am EST

Taxon's suggestions make sense to me, and I don't want to berate you in any way, but offer some suggestions.

Unless the trout come from a stream that receives very little pressure, you might consider sticking with stocked fish rather than wild ones. Also, large wild fish can make lots of smaller wild fish, so keeping smaller ones and letting fish that can reproduce do so makes sense to me if you do keep any wild fish.

I have always thought that it is best to field dress fish after dispatching them, getting the insides out as quick as possible, but I don't have any hard evidence that this is better. Keeping them cool and getting them into the pan ASAP is certainly best, as fish deteriorate quickly in heat.

Finally, bluegill and other panfish are very tasty. I actually much prefer them to trout.

Best of luck to you.
"He spread them a yard and a half. 'And every one that got away is this big.'"

--Fred Chappell
Lancaster, PA

Posts: 81
Lam on Jan 2, 2008January 2nd, 2008, 12:36 pm EST
Martinlf makes a good point. From all the reading I have done, Hemingway to Geirach, they all say that the faster you get a fish from stream to pan, the better. If you want breakfast, keep the first trout you catch. If it's getting towards dark and you still need supper, you better keep the next one you catch in case you don't catch any more.

On the flip side, several of the Hemingway stories that mention trout fishing talk about gutting the trout immediately then stuffing the cavity with and wrapping it in ferns. I am sure that somehow preserves the fish a little longer than just throwing the dead fish in the back of your vest. Then again, Hemingway didn't have zip lock baggies at his disposal either, which may be better than the fern option.
CaseyP's profile picture
Arlington, VA/ Mercersburg, PA

Posts: 653
CaseyP on Jan 2, 2008January 2nd, 2008, 12:45 pm EST
Best Fishing Buddy will not allow keeping, but once we fished where we were allowed to keep one fish to eat. guide bopped the 11-incher on the head with his knife handle and cleaned it right there into the water--again, allowed there. then the fish had to wait all night until breakfast (part of the deal) when the cook (not me) plunged it into a cornmeal barrel and then fried it for far too long.
so from where i stand, go for it--it's worth doing once--but be prepared to witness death (not my strong suit) and cook it sooner and better!
BTW, mine was brookie and the meat was pink. are any other trout like that?
"You can observe a lot by watching." Yogi Berra
Lancaster, PA

Posts: 81
Lam on Jan 2, 2008January 2nd, 2008, 12:57 pm EST

I haven't eaten trout in a while but I believe the brookie is the only one of the brown, brookie, rainbow, that is pink.

If memory serves (and literature too)the brookie is the one to eat if you are only eating one. On the other hand, at least where I grew up, the only brookies are native and small making their consumption a little harder on the conscience.
Pleasant Gap, PA

Posts: 1197
Shawnny3 on Jan 2, 2008January 2nd, 2008, 1:06 pm EST
I personally don't eat fish I catch, but I do suppose I could share how my father and grandfather have done it and see what the experts think of the techniques. My grandfather used to keep every fish he caught, no matter what (he was from a bit of a different era, when food was tough to come by and catch-and-release was almost never practiced). The fish he caught were almost all 12 inches and smaller, and he used to kill them by holding the fish upside down, putting his thumb in their mouths, pressed against the upper jaw, and quickly bending the head backwards, breaking the fish's neck. Done right, this method was quick and seemed relatively painless to the fish. I would think that smacking the right spot on a small fish, because of their lack of size and inertia, could easily fail to kill the fish quickly, so breaking the neck may well be better for them. My father kills the large lake fish he catches by smacking them on the head, though - obviously breaking the neck on a big fish would prove pretty difficult.

Jewelry-Quality Artistic Salmon Flies, by Shawn Davis
Grants Pass, OR

Posts: 302
Creno on Jan 2, 2008January 2nd, 2008, 4:44 pm EST
Interesting discussion - I was not aware the C&R "ethic" had penetrated to the point that no one on this list knows (or will admit?) how to eat a trout. As with any other type of food trout are gooood eatin when the right one is done right.

Maybe this is not my place to speak since I am new to the list (and I like liver when done right!) but here goes.

First - color of the flesh is primarily related to diet. The fish's diet. If you feed trout trout chow they are white fleshed and if you eat one you will know what trout chow tastes like. If you feed trout freshwater scuds they are pink and taste more like shrimp. Do not eat a stocker unless you want to reinforce that C&R ethic.

I have eaten brook & lake, brown and most Onchorynchus (rainbow, cutthrout and the others typically called salmon) and they can all be pink fleshed when fed on natural foods. And the pink fleshed ones are definitely the best.

I think killin, cleanin and cookin ASAP is always the best. Doesn't matter what your eating. (except maybe aged beef, buffalo, elk etc.) Ever had real sweet corn steamed within 5 minutes of pickin? The literature discussion about ferns is simply recognizing the need to clean and cool quickly. The ferns are used wet and that causes more evaporation and therefore more cooling. I don't recommend plastic bags. The old creels were made from wicker for a reason. You layer the trout between layers of ferns in the creel. Nowadays, if you can't eat the critters soon, take the beer out of the cooler and put the fish in the space where the beer was. Another reason why beer and fish go so well together.

And I think eating the young is always the best. It's why some of us eat veal, lamb, calf and even calf liver. With all due respect to any vegans on the list, you should all seek out slow cooked kid (baby goat!). There is a reason why us old folks are often referred to as crusty. Don't eat the old ones.

So of you want to eat a trout - I think a wild brookie can be the best. If you really have no access to fish at least 6" then I would wait. Just too much work and looks so pitiful on the plate. But smelt are only 6" long and if you cook them, like trout, correctly you can eat the whole thing - bones and all. Ya need to gut it and get the cavity clean of the blood line along the backbone. For little ones I would cut off the head but on anything larger than 8-10" I would leave the head on so ya don't throw away the cheeks. And my wife loves the fried trout fins - like potato chips - go figure.

As far as quickly killin the critter I always carried a 4" blade Buck until that guy put bombs in his shoes. Open the knife, grab it by the blade, and rap the critter HARD over the skull. Should work fine for most under 14" or so. Make sure you hit it with the side of the knife so it doesn't fold up on ya. And I imagine these new fangled plastic handled knives won't be heavy enough even if they do have a blade lock. Find a good stick or a rock. Or break its neck as mentioned above.

From a population perspective, harvesting the young is not bad. We all know the story of "from many come few." It takes many small ones to make a few large ones. In natural systems that is usually because there is not enough habitat to support all of the little ones if they all got big. If you harvest (eat) small ones you are not eating the brood stock and there are other small ones to take the habitat space. Just don't eat ALL the small ones!

As far as cookin I still like the wood/charcoal fire with a grate and tinfoil. For those of you who have no cholesterol problems (yet) put a pad of real butter in the cavity, and a piece of sweet onion. Put the fish on the tinfoil on top of the grate. Cook slow. Some like to wrap the fish in the foil but I like to see it so I know when it is done. Just before it burns you can pick it it with a stick and it will flake off the bones. It is done. For those with cholesterol problems - tough it out - eat the trout with butter and take another pill.

Personally I don't eat many trout any more - walleye and great lakes perch are so much better. I wait until I travel east to get those fresh.

But the ethics and methods are the same for either. In the long run we probably have done more damage to the perch and walleye populations via pollution, over fishing, and stocking non-native salmonids than we have done to the trout.

With the best to all and you should really not feel bad about eating a finely cooked native trout now and then. (If you can learn to eat the stockers eat all ya want!) I don't think trout will ever again be abundant enough to become the substinance of out grandfathers but, with care, there should always be enough to keep a couple.

And I hope this doesn't initiate too many diatribes against eating any meat - especially kids.

Oregon Coast

Posts: 60
Flybinder on Jan 2, 2008January 2nd, 2008, 6:54 pm EST
Well, Chris, I for ONE, ain't gonna bust your chops, for eating a trout, now and again!
Nothing, finer, like you mentioned.......if done right and in the right circumstances!!
Now, "hitting a creek, full of Natives,(If, you can even FIND ONE, anymore!?), and gunny sacking up a load, to take home just to stuff into your freezer, "for later"?? No, I'm against that and it's a waste of a beautiful resource.
"Frying up, a few, over a camp fire, steeped in bacon grease"?? Nothing, finer, after a hard day on the stream!!

Unfortunately, I think "catch and release" has been taken WAYYYY to much to heart and most fly fishermen today, don't think about what it means,or even KNOW what it means, other than "don't keep ANY FISH, return EVERYTHING you hook, to the water immediately and unharmed!"
"C& R" has really just become a "Buzz Phrase" that anyone that WOULD like to keep a trout now and again, to enjoy a great meal from......... feel so chastised, if they DO, they're afraid of being drummed out of the fly fishing corps!
It's become the new battle cry, now that "Match the Hatch" is fading from current memory. If, we fly fishermen were so "in tune" and so "dedicated" to the "Match the Hatch" theories of old.......... we wouldn't be carrying the number of fly boxes we carry and fly tying, for a whole season, would take about one night's work.

There are a LOT of waters, where C&R needs to be practiced. There are times of year, when it needs to be fully followed. But, not EVERY trout, out of EVERY water..........is a "C&R situation.
"Native trout"? "Planter Trout"?, how many, fly fishermen can TELL what he/she is releasing, is truly one or the other? Not, very many, no matter HOW good we think we are!

Catch and Release, I feel, SHOULD be practiced for the most part. But, it's a personal decision,(of course, only in waters, where it's not legal to keep anything), it's NOT a "religion" like many think it is and it's not a "makes me a better fishermen law", either.
"You should'a been here, NEXT week,the fishing's great!"
Martinlf's profile picture
Palmyra PA

Posts: 3047
Martinlf on Jan 3, 2008January 3rd, 2008, 12:45 am EST
Great posts and very interesting. Dave, I've been posting a while here but don't feel I have any more rights than someone who joined up yesterday, and I liked the thoroughness of your comments. I am generally pleased to see that folks were open-minded and respectful, though. Shawn, I'd forgotten the old snap their neck trick; it's a good one. The only thing I'd add to the above comments is that stocked fish are usually white fleshed when freshly stocked but after they've been in the stream a while their flesh begins to get pinker and taste better.
"He spread them a yard and a half. 'And every one that got away is this big.'"

--Fred Chappell
Spring Mills, PA

Posts: 97
IEatimago on Jan 3, 2008January 3rd, 2008, 2:29 am EST
as a youth i worked on a charter boat in the pacific,
we would take clients out for sharks and marlin and scuba,
often people wanted to keep mako sharks, they taste good,
to kill them the clients would shoot them in the head point blank with a shotgun.
they still wouldnt die fully,
after finaly gaffing we would bring them onboard an dress them.
they heads wpuld still try to bite after a few hours, amazing things.
i Hated the people who chose to do this.
Grants Pass, OR

Posts: 302
Creno on Jan 3, 2008January 3rd, 2008, 12:55 pm EST
Folks -I want to notify you of an "opportunity!" Today I had a final "business" lunch with one of the major protectors of your aquatic resource. Bill Wuerthele retired from EPA today. He has been one of the major voices in this nation for well over 20 years consistently and stridently advocating adequate water quality standards for your aquatic habitats. We spent a little time talking about eating trout and how that was probably how we would spend our "business" lunches in the future. I mentioned the C&R discussion and he told me that Rocky Mountain National Park is looking for ALOT of hungry fisherpersons. Over the years a few of us have argued strongly against the use of piscicides for removal of non-native species in order to restore native species. Apparently the Park has taken this to heart and is trying to remove the non-native brookie via mechanical means (that means eating!). Apparently there are some streams in the park where one is requested to C&Keep all the brookies they can. So take your family on that vacation to the Rockies. Check with the Park for details that may change before you get there.


CaseyP's profile picture
Arlington, VA/ Mercersburg, PA

Posts: 653
CaseyP on Jan 3, 2008January 3rd, 2008, 2:05 pm EST
if you can't get that far, the Shenandoah National Park needs you: all brown trout must be kept in order to allow the native brookies to spread back to their original range. we were told about this back in the fall at our TU meeting; a lot of us realized it would be a Very Hard Thing to not throw the fish back. one small problem: there are seasons where it is not legal to "have" fish in Virginia, i.e., back where you parked your car in a lot of cases. guess we'd have to eat them streamside...
"You can observe a lot by watching." Yogi Berra
Martinlf's profile picture
Palmyra PA

Posts: 3047
Martinlf on Jan 3, 2008January 3rd, 2008, 6:08 pm EST
Looks like this thread came along just in time. I need to head down to Virginia for old times sake. And a trout dinner.
"He spread them a yard and a half. 'And every one that got away is this big.'"

--Fred Chappell

Posts: 8
Sbman07 on Jan 4, 2008January 4th, 2008, 12:48 pm EST
hey fisherman got to eat to, right? I think that are certain rules to follow 8-11 are good eating fish, anything bigger doesnt taste as good unless smoked. I release every thing in the protected slot and I caught one trout in my life that was 17" took a picture and returned it. its the same as hunting except your using a different tool, just make sure you eat all that you kill.
Three things I am never late for church, work, and fishing.
Wbranch's profile picture
York & Starlight PA

Posts: 2635
Wbranch on Jan 5, 2008January 5th, 2008, 2:28 am EST
I would never kill a wild fish from the rivers that I fish but I guess if they are really plentiful and you are not killing alot of them it is fine.

There are lots of rivers up in Chris's neck of the woods that have stocked trout. By virtue that the state places pen raised fish into it's rivers and streams it is intended to kill and consume them. In my youth I used to always kill my limit of stocked trout. As others have mentioned on fish from 8" - 12" I'd put my thumb into one side of the gill and my index finger into the other and with my other hand grasp the head and simultaneously split the flesh between my two fingers and snap the head sharply backwards. This effectively broke the neck and the trout was instantly dead. I field dressed the fish back at the car when I was leaving but always kept the fish in an Artic creel.

It probably is very difficult to use the above method on larger trout or salmon. For large specimens that I want to eat I hold the fish securely on the ground and administer a coup de grace with an appropriately sized stone. Done correctly, with a robust hit, the fish quivers a little but is again instantly dispatched.

If this sounds cruel remember any kind of fishing is a blood sport and even the most careful C&R guy is probably causing more mortality than he can imagine. The only way we can avoid injuring, or killing, the object of our passion is to clip off the entire point of the hook. I have heard of people who fish dry flies with no hook point or even a bend of the hook. They basically "count coup" like the American Indian did when they touched an enemy and the ran away unharmed. See the Wiki definition of "counting coup".
Catskill fly fisher for fifty-five years.

Posts: 1
Silvertoned on Jan 5, 2008January 5th, 2008, 2:49 am EST
I dont know about most humane but the best way to kill a fish you are going to eat is to cut the gills and let it bleed out. This gives you a tastier fish. I've always cleaned my fish at the stream. It made my Mom and my wives happy.
My latest technique for cleaning is to cut from ass to throat ,cut through that little neck bone on the bottom stick my finger down the fishes throat and peel all guts and gills out in one smooth motion. This usually removes the pectoral fins. A few scrapes w/ your thumbnail and a quick rinse and your done.
It is much more convenient if the fish is left on the stringer and the cleaning done while wading,preferably waist deep.No bending over slipping and/or falling down or in while trying to rinse the guts out from the bank.
The fish guts feed everything else in the river. If I feed the crayfish and minnows, my crayfish flys and streamers and might just work a little better.
Good Luck
Good Luck,
driftless area

Posts: 58
LenH on Jan 5, 2008January 5th, 2008, 7:31 am EST
i say if trout are plentiful...
a few won't make a big difference.

The big females should ALWAYS be let go.

If it is going to die....
I prefer eating it.

The raccoons and other varmits can catch their own.

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