On fish and fishing


Chinook salmon fry in a tank at our daughter’s school. The school annually hatches chinook eggs for the Michigan DNR and releases them into the St. Joseph River in May. You are seeing 3 of 93 baby fish here. With luck, these babies will come back to the St. Joe in 3-4 years to spawn.

I say without reservation that I enjoy the challenges of this local diet. I do find it distressing, though, that I cannot regularly eat the fish out of my backyard creek, down-the-road river, or over-the-dune Great Lake.

My father was a fisherman. Not as a profession, but as an avocation. He did, however, descend from fisherfolk, on both his French and his Irish sides, who made their living on and around Beaver and Mackinac Islands near Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I spent my childhood, then, catching and eating fish out of Lake Michigan and its tributaries. I still own–and throw a mean loop with–a smelt gillnet.

An eight-year-old me with a morning’s haul of coho salmon

I adore fish, and fishing. Our honeymoon was a fly-in fishing camp in Ontario: one week, thirty miles away from the nearest other human: what fun that was! The last fish I ate, though, was on that honeymoon. Freshwater fish in this country is well nigh inedible, where Michigan says that eating even the smallest perch is inadvisable for me, and a definite no-no for my daughter. A simple perch, as poison! We’ve overfished our oceans, we’ve polluted our streams with agricultural runoff, our coal-fired power plants have rendered all inland lakes, from the tiniest pond to the Greats, as mercury-laden sinkholes. And this, even after the Clean Water Act actually cleaned up the lake! One can actually see the bottom of Lake Michigan when you’re at a depth of 40′: something unknown to my ’70s childhood. Cleveland’s river doesn’t even burn any more.

I look at the state of our world and I wonder, what would my father say? His grandfather, his great-grandfather? That we live on a lake filled with inedible fish, what would they say? Knowing my dad, he’d probably say “What the holy hell did we do?”

8 responses to “On fish and fishing

  1. it probably wouldn’t have the same charm, but I have read of raising tilapia in barrels, and of raising catfish as well. Perhaps that could be a way to get some fish again?

  2. You are so right! The thrill of catching a wild fish is beyond the reach of most children these days.
    Occasionally, my dad would send me to our creek, with bacon for bait to catch crawdads for dinner.
    These days there are no crawdads, and it wouldn’t be safe to send our daughter off in the woods by herself.
    We can only hope for a turn around in this world of ours.
    Thanks for the thought provoking post

  3. what a shame. and with food prices going through the roof, we have set ourselves up for failure. importing and shipping food to the far-flug corners of the world had to come back and bite someone on the butt. it has only been since our parents were children that the term “supermarket” even really existed. we need to reclaim our food! and our waterways…. but how?

  4. so sad. I wonder, though, if we had “known then what we know now” we would have been eating fish in the 50’s and 60’s. I’m guessing – not. The ag run-off and the industrial garbage was over the top in those days.

    I’m hoping to dig a farm pond and stock it with bass and ‘gills. Hopefully, the water will be acceptable and allow me to eat the fish. I don’t know yet. There haven’t been chemicals used on my property since the 40’s, but I don’t know about run-off. Should be enough space on the 40 acres to site a pond with run-off from my own property, but again – I just don’t know.

  5. El, love the photo. Like you, I adored fishing as a child, and our Kyle did and still does, but he cannot eat the fish as I did. The sad thing, is that even with regulation, it all just grows worse, and greedy people everywhere actively thwart the system.

    I fear for Kyle and your daughter. What will their world be like, long after I am gone? Will my efforts have mattered?


  6. what the holy hell, indeed. It boggles the mind and breaks the heart, and there seems no reversal possible anymore. It really does feel hopeless (to me).

    that photo is so awesome. Now I want to go home and find the one I have of my grandfather holding up his catch next to me… find it to see if my memory serves. Hmmm. Will have to post about it.

  7. Gaile: Yeah, if I felt I *needed* fish, these would be reasonable alternatives. Like all confinement-kept animals, though, I probably would not go down that path unless I had no alternative. Who knows, in our future, farmed fish might just be the only thing available. I consider the fish, though: there aren’t any true vegetarian fish out there, as fish tend to eat fish, and…unless we’re feeding them fish, we’ll do to them what we’re doing to our meat animals and forcing them to live and eat the way they weren’t evolutionarily disposed to.

    Nita, you had me chuckle only because at age 5 when I realized we used crawdads as fish bait I was so appalled I made my dad make a pet of one for me. It lived quite a while eating the scraps in our fishtank. But yes, you are so right: your girl won’t be allowed to “fish” for crayfish on her own in your very same stream, even if there were any, such has the world turned.

    Stacie! I’m telling you, we’ve all made a wrong turn in the road somewhere. Thankfully, there’re parents like you out here who actually can steer us back. What do you say, even out there in Whoville?

    Hayden, your 40 acres might be a fortunate little paradise on which to land, but that damned mercury is airborne, borne to us (Thanks, folks!) from all those coal burning plants upwind of us in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, the Dakotas, Montana, Nebraska, Colorado and Wyoming. Oregon and Washington get a pass because they use hydro. It is quite depressing. But we need our power to light our malls to buy our stuff to keep our economy afloat, right?

    Ali, I can only hope that what you do matters. If you didn’t, consider the alternative! But I do hope that Kyle continues to fish: it is so fun, even if eating the catch is a risk. And fishing from a kayak is one of the funnest ways to do it! I remember “trolling” from my kayak on a long run between campsites in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area of MN with a group of my friends: they thought I was absolutely nuts, but then I landed a 22″ northern pike. Nyah.

    Kelly: My dad would’ve actually said “Jesus Mary and Joseph what the Holy Fecking Hell did we do” but I figured if I put that in my post I would get all kinds of strange traffic to my site that I did not want. All I can hope is that life on this planet evolves really quickly. Like, in our lifetimes, please, or at least when Lila and our kid get older. Do post about your grandpop though: photos are funny things. The one I almost used was of a 12 year old me with a bad perm. Bigger fish (chinook, actually) but, ick!

  8. Oh, my goodness, I heard the voice of half my ancestors in your father’s quote!

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