I have not taken a trout home for dinner in a few years. Out of the few dozen rainbow, brown and brook trout that I brought to the net, each fish was released back to the stream and swam back into the depths. I practice catch and release fishing for the health of the streams, knowing that if we were all to keep every fish caught, the rivers would soon be empty.
The simplest reason why I release the fish that I catch is that I do not enjoy killing a fish. Rainbow and brown trout are beautiful creatures, sleek, elegant and graceful. When holding a fish in hand, I feel the power of its body and I see the beautiful dark purple spots of a brownie or the long pink stripe of a rainbow. To kill such a beautiful and graceful creature feels somehow wrong.
Perhaps I have started to view a trout as more than just a fish, like a pet. Although other cultures eat dogs as part of their cuisine, we would never want any harm to come to our canine friends. I feel a similar attachment to the trout of the stream, as if all of the rainbow, brown and brook trout are like pets that I sometimes have the opportunity to look at and hold for a few brief moments.
Despite my appreciation for trout, I have been thinking that next spring when I find myself back on the water, I may take the occasional trout home for dinner to fulfill the basic human need for food. On a fishing trip a few years ago, I kept two good size rainbow trout. I broiled the fillets with olive oil and salt, and they tasted amazing.
To eat a trout for sustenance is part of being human. In the Bible, after the great flood, God told Noah that humans could eat animals, as long as they removed all of the blood from them. The blood was seen as the very life force of the creature, and to not eat the blood was a way of respecting the animal. God told Noah and all humanity that we are able to consume other animals as long as we respect them and acknowledge their Divine source.
While the Bible acknowledges the relationship between humans and animals as hunter and prey, many of us today have lost this fundamental aspect of being human. We purchase our beef and chicken at the grocery store, packaged in cellophane, sterilized and removed from all connection to the animal from which it came. Most of us urban dwellers never kill an animal ourselves in order to eat. Instead we leave that job to others in meat processing plants far away.
Killing a trout is not easy, and I do not enjoy it. I try to end the life of the fish in a humane manner. I do not use a creel, keeping the fish alive for hours, which I consider cruel. Instead, I dispatch the trout as quickly as possible and I place it in a cooler that I bring along with me for that purpose.
The fly fishing tool used to kill a trout is called a priest, with a wooden handle and a brass end used to strike the fish. We call it a priest because you are offering “last rights” to the trout. However when dispatching a fish, we can also think of ourselves as priests, rabbis or ministers. Just as we expect our religious leaders to conduct themselves to the highest ethical standards, we too must kill the fish in the most humane way possible.
Picture: a fly fishing priest.
Ending the life of a beautiful trout is difficult and I sometimes feel guilty doing it. But it can also teach us spiritual and ethical lessons. We realize what it actually means to kill another animal and so we strive to treat animals with respect. We also remember that a trout is one of God’s creatures, a true miracle of creation. While we are able eat this fish, we do so with a heightened sense of appreciation for the trout itself, and for the world in which it lives.