Much has been written on the pages of this publication about sportsmanship, and throwing big fish back into the stream or lake to insure that there will be fish available in the years to come. Such conduct on the part of a fisherman is commendable, and I support it completely. But, habits of a lifetime are difficult to break, and, even now in my old age, liberating a prize fish is like starting a fire with a ten dollar bill.
From necessity, I have been a meat fisherman and meat hunter. The fish caught and eaten immediately, or stored, and then eaten during long, cold winter months helped defray the cost of the license, gear, and fishing trips. Many times over the years, the fish and game of summer and fall have contributed to nourishing meals that otherwise would have been rather meager. A large trout was not only a prize to brag about, it was also the potential main course to a much needed, much enjoyed repast.
Again, the habits of a lifetime are difficult to break, and, over the years, I have not fished and hunted merely for the thrill of the catch or the kill. I have been imbued with the concept that if I could not eat, I should not kill, and even now I watch helplessly as deer deplete my limited pasture, steal the apples and pears from off my trees, and as squirrels swipe the pits from my peaches and apricots, leaving chewed fruit chunks on the ground, and as rabbits trim the young lettuce and gorge on the newly formed watermelons and cantaloupes of my garden.
I was a meat fisherman and a meat hunter because of limited finances and a large family to care for, but now in my old age, I can afford to be a sportsman. Last summer I vowed that I would try. I was at Black Canyon, and the fish were both hungry and plentiful. I filed the barb from off my hook, and went fishing. I caught many fish eight to sixteen inches long, and I felt good about liberating them. I talked to them as I turned them loose. I said, "Now you get back into that stream, eat a lot, and grow a lot, and I will see you next year."
Then, I approached one of my favorite holes. Soon after my barbless hook hit the water, I had a strike, and I and that big fish had a fight. I knew I had to keep a tight line, but that is difficult to do when a fish keeps reversing the stream. Then, all of a sudden, the fish, a cutthroat, changed his tactics. He climbed right up out of the water, flipped his head and his tail, and threw my barbless hook out of his mouth. When he disappeared into the depths of the hole, I must admit I felt cheated. Because of that lousy barb, I didn't just lose a prize fish, I also lost a tasty dish of sauteed trout, golden brown and shimmering in a lemon sauce.