WILTZ: How you handle big fish is very importantWhat a time of the year! Should we go fishing, grouse hunting, duck hunting, archery deer hunting, turkey hunting or prairie dog blasting? We have a grand assortment of activities spread before us.
What a time of the year! Should we go fishing, grouse hunting, duck hunting, archery deer hunting, turkey hunting or prairie dog blasting? We have a grand assortment of activities spread before us.
I have a Brule County rifle deer license, and Brule deer have been dealt a serious blow by the EHD virus epidemic. My partners and I will have a decision to make with regard to deer hunting that will be primarily based on the judgment of the land owner. I think it’s fair to say that most deer hunters in our reading area will be facing the same decision. If I were to make one recommendation, it would be to give the does a break.
I took a very nice whitetail buck in Brule last year. He was big-bodied, and his antlers had excellent mass. I have felt a wee bit guilty about killing that deer as he probably would have been a real bruiser this year. However, my guilt feelings have subsided as he may well have fallen to EHD this summer. EHD has no mercy when it comes to trophy bucks. Nothing else can be said about EHD that hasn’t already been thoroughly covered.
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About two years ago, my frequent fishing and hunting partner, Jerry Hnetynka, gave me some advice about handling trophy fish. He told me not to hold a fish by the head or gill cover if the fish is going to be released. Ninety-nine percent of the time we would be looking at a photo-taking scenario. Jerry said it may seriously injure the fish and make survival more difficult.
Because I have so much respect for Jerry’s vast experience, I paid close attention to his advice. Along with changing my personal bad habits, I paid close attention to how the professionals handle fish. After two years of observation, I can say that most guides and professional TV fishing personalities pay no attention to Jerry’s advice. I was beginning to wonder if Jerry knew what he was talking about.
This past June, I made a fishing trip to Saskatchewan’s Reindeer Lake, a world-class fishery and North America’s 10th largest body of fresh water. One evening while paging through Saskatchewan’s fishing handbook, I came across the topic of fish handling. It said exactly what Jerry told me, and added that fish were not made or designed to be held by the head. The vertebrae behind a fish’s head would not bear the weight of the fish without causing damage.
The largest lake trout of the trip was a 20-pound laker that our guide handed to me by the gill cover. He snapped a picture and I gently released the fish. Is that fish alive today, or did the guide’s mishandling kill that fish? I do know this. In the future, before any large fish is handled in the boat, I will caution the guide or fellow angler about handling the fish if it is to be released.
Last week I wrote about a recent Minnesota muskie fishing adventure. To Dave Williamson’s credit, both Jerry’s and my muskie were very carefully handled. Dave, our guide, was emphatic about supporting the fish by the head and the belly. He was emphatic to the point that I told him to hold my fish, and I would sit next to him for the photo. Other than properly holding the fish, he was also concerned that the muskie might touch my sweatshirt and leave some of its protective slime on my shirt. It had zero to do with care of my sweatshirt.
When I page through my photo albums, I feel badly about the numbers of large fish I see that are being held by the head or gill cover. All that will change. I hope it will for you, too.
I do know of one large pike that survived a head hold for pictures. I caught the 30-pound pike 46 years ago. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do with the fish when I caught it, so I put a wire through the base of its tail and made a loop. I then put a rope through the loop and tied the other end to a dead limb that protruded from the channel bottom. When we came by a day later to see how my pike was doing, he was engaged in a mighty battle with a beaver.
What eventually became of the brute? My great aunt, Hulda Bjorn, was a Swedish immigrant. She knew all about fixing northern pike for the table. He was baked and served head and all on a long platter. In counting who sat at the table that Sunday afternoon, the pike fed ten of us. I’ll tell you something else. There was no whining. None of us kids would dare to say, “Yuck, I won’t eat something that’s looking at me.” It would have called for disciplinary action.
My mother was an Olson. There was some money on her side of the family, and the Olson family belonged to Chicago’s South Side Swedish Club. To this day I can vividly remember the club’s buffet table. It seems like it was sixty feet long and covered with big fish, mostly salmon, with their heads on. Aunt Hulda knew exactly what she was doing. Oh yes, in my humble opinion, her Swedish meatballs were much better than those fish.
*See you next week.
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