For most Pennsylvania anglers, the success of opening day is well past and now they are watching the stocking schedule to plan their next outing. That was very evident the second Saturday of fishing season as the weather had warmed considerably from the 19 degree temperature that greeted anglers on the trout opener.
Yep, I couldn’t believe the influx of anglers on the second weekend. It seemed that everywhere you looked — whether stream side or at camps — it was packed.
But as the weekend slipped by and Monday rolled around, I decided to hit the stream once again now that it seemed that the weekend warriors had gone home. I worked my way down a long stretch of stream that always produces well, catching and releasing one rainbow after another on a silver/white rooster tail spinner.
As I was working a really nice 18-inch rainbow out of the current on my ultralight rod, my nose caught wind of someone cooking on a campfire. It wasn’t the smell of smoke that caught my attention, but rather the smell of fresh-caught trout cooking.
Could it be, I wondered, that someone in this day and age still cooks trout stream side? It was popular during the 1970s and ‘80s when I was in my teens but seems to have faded away after that.
That was due to the creation of of catch and release, which has continued to become more and more popular over the years. It’s a practice that has gotten out of hand in certain circles to the point where some see the killing and cleaning of a trout as unethical. It sends the wrong message as some fish need to die in the act of conservation for the species to survive.
As I rounded the next bend in the stream, I noticed two older gentleman standing behind a small propane camp stove. One was just placing a trout in a fry pan while the other was gripping a trout in one hand while running a knife blade up its belly with the other. He then removed the head and entrails, ran his thumb along its backbone to remove the dark streak, rinsed it in the cold stream before tossing it into the pan with three others.
I watched the fish curl up some before they were flipped onto their other side while I stood chatting with the guys. I commented that they don’t come any fresher than just being pulled from the stream.
He responded with, “I like to fry the trout in bacon grease until the outside starts to crispin’ up, then flip it and do the other side the same. The secret to a fantastic meal of trout, wild or fresh stocked, is cooking them in bacon grease in a cast iron skillet outdoors.”
I agreed with him, of course, as we all know that bacon makes everything taste better. Even my grandmother cooked a lot of things in it and that’s why I always liked visiting her when I was young.
With that thought bringing back numerous memories, I wished the guys good luck and began thinking of heading home to cook some trout myself.
Yes guys, you can enjoy a meal fit for a king while still practicing your catch and release philosophy. The fish commission stocks plenty of trout every year with the idea of it being a put in and take away system. You aren’t hurting the resource at all by keeping a limit of trout for table fare.
But when it comes to fishing for wild trout, it’s best to refrain from harvesting any. Those populations can be very fragile as native fish are sensitive to water conditions and quality that it can easily effect reproducing populations.
So get out there and harvest, clean and cook a few trout stream side. You could maybe put your twist on it by adding a few leeks, or scrambled eggs and biscuits for breakfast.
Then teach stream side cooking to the next generation so they don’t let the art that our dads and grandfathers practiced become lost with time.