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Monday, December 22, 2014  |   Madison, WI: 34.0° F  
MADLAND: A group blog about life in Madison, Wisconsin
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Citizen Dave: It's never too late to learn how to clean fish
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What's the big deal about cutting up a little fish?
Credit:Andy Kosseff

I try to kill a lot of stuff: deer, ducks, turkeys, and fish of various kinds. In point of fact, I actually end up killing very little of anything, not for lack of effort but for a shortage of skill.

So, I was pretty excited last Saturday when I dispatched my first walleye, a seventeen-inch fish that I caught on Duck Lake in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. I was fishing with my friend Andy Kosseff, who knows a thing or two about the sport and a lot about that particular lake. I, on the other hand, am a neophyte. I've gone fishing maybe a half dozen times.

But I'm getting better. During this trip, I didn't cast any lures into trees or lose any fish that were almost in the boat. I also didn't burn any hash browns, but that's another story. And I've gotten pretty good at tying knots and securing minnows on hooks so that they don't swim away.

After I got my walleye, we caught a couple more good size fish worth keeping that morning, namely a largemouth bass and a yellow perch. Before lunch, we cleaned the fish, something I'd never done before. I figured there couldn't be much to it. If a guy's gutted a one hundred and fifty pound deer, what's the big deal about cutting up a little fish?

Well, it turns out that if gutting a deer is butchery, then cleaning a fish is surgery. There's just a lot less precious flesh to save. And after all, once you've killed the fish, the only way to honor its life is to eat it. If you mess up the filets, you've wasted something important.

Andy reported that I did okay. Not great, but he'd seen worse.

Here's the strange thing: I'm 55 years-old, and this is the first fish that I've cleaned. Almost everyone who hunts and fishes does it because they grew up with it. Very few of us take up these things later in life. I started deer hunting when I was 33, turkey hunting when I was 45, and duck hunting some years after that. This is pretty unusual, but let's hope that it becomes more common.

It matters because the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has long been predicting a big drop off in folks buying hunting and fishing licenses, and it's revenues from those purchases that pay for a lot of conservation programs that benefit all of us who enjoy the outdoors. As fewer of us grow up with outdoor sporting in our families and as more of us who did give it up with age, those funds are sure to decrease.

So, if you're a Baby Boomer and you haven't tried hunting and fishing, you might consider it. It is fashionable these days to know where your food comes from, and this way you will know exactly where it comes from. Then there's the philosophical stuff about confronting the reality of and taking the responsibility for killing something if you're going to be a carnivore. But mostly I find that hunting and fishing gives me a greater appreciation for nature and I just enjoy being out there.

So, you might ask how to try some of this stuff out if you don't know anyone in the sport. The DNR is there to help with its outdoor skills classes for adults.

And I'm available to teach you how to make hash browns without burning them.

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