Family vacation in the Colorado Rockies is officially over and it’s time to settle once more into the daily rhythms of end-of-summer. This means taking the kids to school rather than the trout pond.
[Insert sustained grumbling.]
Back to to the vacation part. Each summer we visit family in a rural Rocky Mountain valley. It’s an outdoor paradise of hiking, mountain biking, mushroom hunting, and above all, fishing. The Rockies boast some of the most hallowed angling waters on the planet. On the drive home, I pointed out old haunts that my children will hopefully experience as they get older: the Green and the Henry’s Fork; the Beaverhead and the Big Hole. We must have crossed the Clark Fork and its tantalizing riffles a couple dozen times on our final leg home on I-90.
Most of our fishing on the nearby rivers and ponds in Colorado involves catch and release. I’ve had friendly arguments with my pal Hank Shaw over the tenets of c-n-r fishing. He calls it “playing with your food” and wants no part. As a fly fisherman, I’ve grown up with catch-and-release fishing and take the side so eloquently agued by David Duncan: in a crowded world besieged with hard resource management decisions, catch and release is a way to preserve a time-honored experience (catching a big fish), and in the process create a future environmental steward (that little kid with the huge brown and a goofy grin).
That said, let’s be real. Fishing is ultimately a blood sport. Even with effective catch-and-release technique, a few fish will die (statistics suggest fewer than 5 percent, but still). And, hey, trout taste good, too! So we always take a few trout from the pond where we fish to keep it real. My boy has been doing this since the age of two, when he refused to release a beautiful rainbow nabbed on his trusty Scooby Doo rod. My daughter is now racking up her own pantheon of memorable lunkers.
The kids kill and clean their own fish. Riley doesn’t even ask for help anymore. He enjoys nothing more than spending a morning at the pond catching trout and then bringing one home for the pan. He wields a sharp fillet knife to open the fish and inspects its stomach to see what the predator has been eating. Then he plops his freshly cleaned trout into a skillet sizzling with melted butter and has lunch finished a few minutes later. As a parent, to watch this process is to see the satisfaction of self-reliance in action.
Lots of grandchildren fish this pond, so we don’t take home stringers loaded with trout. Therefore it’s important to sometimes make a dish that can stretch the main ingredient. One day Riley brought home an average rainbow of about 13 inches and we decided to see how big a meal we could make of it. I suggested Trout Cakes. Most of my family has feasted on my Crab Cakes recipe at one time or another, and this was no different. It’s quick and easy and can be modified to taste. Trout Cakes love a bin of leftover veggies.
1 trout, cleaned
1/2 onion, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1 dollop mayo
1 dollop mustard
1 handful fresh parsley, chopped
seasoning, such as Old Bay
1. Brush trout all over with olive oil, place on foil in a roasting pan, and broil until barely cooked through. The meat should separate easily from backbone and skin yet still be very tender and moist. Make sure to fetch out all bones. Set meat aside.
2. Saute diced onion and red pepper in butter. Remove to large bowl. Mix together with the trout meat, mayo, mustard, egg, breadcrumbs, parsley, and a squeeze of lemon. Add seasoning and spice to taste.
3. Form into patties or balls or whatever, and fry in butter until cakes are lightly browned on the outside.
Depending on how much filler you add, you can stretch a single pan-sized trout a long way. We ended up getting three hockey puck-sized cakes out of the first half of the batch before refrigerating it for later. The second half yielded more than a dozen mini cakes that the adults ate as an appetizer that night with a little sriracha sauce dabbed on top.
It’s hard to deny the educational elements to all this. As with so much in life, truth in fishing is generally found somewhere in the middle. Catch and release has its place, as does catch and kill.