When I was a boy I loved fishing.
It was something I did with my family; something I did with my friends. We fished for mackerel or trout for the most part. Funny thing is, I don’t remember ever killing a fish, although I know I did. I remember catching them and eating them, but never killing any. For me fishing wasn’t really about catching fish. It was a time to go sit by the lake or river, or go out on a boat and just be there. I guess it didn’t matter what we were doing. Life was simple. I never had to think about it.
Nowadays I make the odd trip out to a lake or to the ocean, but I haven’t caught a fish in years. To be honest I forgot that was even part of it. My friend Jimmy the Fish (such a perfect nickname) used to take me out salmon fishing. We always dropped crab traps on the way out of Pedder Bay, and a good thing too because we never even caught a snag. At least it was relaxing to get out on the water, and we felt like a thrifty's bag full of crab was a pretty solid consolation prize.
My career as a chef took me all the way to the east coast and back, and when I finally got home I couldn't find my rod! I tore my mum's garage apart hunting for it, but came out empty handed. Thankfully my birthday was right around the corner and Ma Dukes hooked me up with a stylin new fishin pole. Zang! I went out a few times and tried it out. I felt rusty. I couldn’t cast. I didn’t know what “power balls” were, or what gear I was using, but I knew instinctively how to do it. I could fish, I just hadn’t for a long time.
Last week Rob and I cut work early and went fishing at Prospect Lake. I went in with the same kind of zeal I try to bring to every fishing mission. Gotta catch something. Positive thoughts. Sending out all the good vibes. By the time I had my tackle all tied up Rob had already caught two trout! They were jumpin'. Today might just be the day. I sent out a couple laughable casts, then managed to drop my hook close to the spot Rob had all that action. It didn't take long for me to get a bite... “FISH ON!” I'd been waiting a long time to say those words. All I had to do now was get it up on the rocks. I pulled him in quickly without much of a fight - just a wee rainbow trout. For the first time that I could remember, I whacked a fish over the head with a little club. It was a new experience. It was a challenge. I felt a bit like Gollum. "To catch a fish, so juicy sweet!"
I eat mostly plants, but I do eat fish from time to time. And while I didn’t feel like I had something to prove, I guess I kinda did. If you're gonna eat it you better be able to catch it type thing. This was personal for me. One on one. No fisherman. No grocery store. No chef. Just me and the trout. I appreciate that,
I spent a good portion of my cooking life working with seafood and there's a certain respect that carries over to the finished dish when you respect the fish. Take your hockey mitts off and be gentile. After catching this little guy I was the most gentile. I took my time cleaning it: watching the rainbow colours fall flat as I scraped off the scales - feeling my knife slice ever so delicately along the flesh. It’s the same feeling as cutting fresh lettuce from your garden, or cracking an egg form the chicken coup in your backyard (I don’t actually know what that feels like, but I can imagine!) It's the feeling of respect and understanding what you're eating.
Fishing for food is an exercise in embracing the fact that we humans need to develop better relationships with the things we eat. We need to better understand the process and where our food is coming from. I'm in no position to preach, but I can't un-know facts about food and that's going to effect my choices. I can drive twenty minutes away from Victoria and sit on the side of a sunny lake with a pal, a couple lawn chairs and a few dad-pops, and fish for our dinner. That's a real relationship. That's understanding where your food comes from. Luckily, this time, we came home with fish.
When I think of fishing experiences I always remember steelhead fishing with my pal Sam on the Stamp River. We hiked down the edge casting up stream and reelin’ er in. Over and over and over again. Alas! No fish were caught, yet still it was cathartic without searching for that. The air was the freshest. We got a chance to catch up. We don't get to see each other very often. We didn't even have to talk, it was great to share the river and the trees and the sunshine. We saw a deer munching on some greens right on the path. She paused and looked at us with the greens hangin out of her mouth. That's my go to deer impersonation now. It was an inspiring experience!
I’ve always had this romantic relationship with fishing. It holds so much mystery out there, under the water. For a moment you taste a self reliant life. For a moment you get to forget it all.
"Luckily, this time, we came home with fish."
I wanted to make something interesting with the trout and was inspired by my memories of friends and family, and feelings of a simple life. Two summers ago my mum and I found a recipe for green tomato chow chow that was hand written by my great aunt Gretta. It was a cool summer and we had a bumper crop of green tomatoes so we made a batch. It was fun to make an old east coast recipe with my mum, and it was gonna go great with the trout. I love eating greens, but sometimes you need to braise them in cheese sauce, and chili oil. I’m usually against cheese with fish, but trust me, this one works. The 6 minute egg helps to balance the acidity of the chow chow and the richness of the cheese sauce, and who doesn’t love a farm fresh egg!
It took me half my life, but I finally caught a fish. Cooking inspired is when the best dishes come around. This time I got to make something with a lifetime of history and inpiration, stirring up some feelings I needed to sort out and proving to myself that I could close the 'fish-to-table' loop, so to speak. I'm looking forward to the next time, and the next time, and the next time... FISH ON!