Fish Tales III – The Ones That Should Have Got Away

The prompt for the Chatham Memoir Group was to write a fish story, preferably about ”the one that got away”. My story follows:

After posting the last fish tale I wrote on my blog, a good friend asked what my first edible catch was. The question brought me back to one of the trips my friends and I made to Lake Waywayanda in the NW hills of New Jersey in 1967. We had made several trips to this lovely, pristine place, determined to catch some of the huge brown trout the lake was developing a reputation for. However, brown trout of any size continued to elude us. As a matter of fact, so did all the other game fish in the lake. In my mind, all these years later, I have this image of all the trout, bass, pickerel and perch in the lake, hanging together, smoking cigarettes, pointing at us with their fins and saying, “Here come those rubes again, pretend we don’t see ‘em.” This trip to the lake would be our first time renting row boats (for the princely sum of $3 for the day), our plan was to fish the entire lake. We were going to take it to those insolent prize fish.

The day was warm with barely a breeze, the forest surrounding the lake was mirrored in the calm waters. Emerging from the boat rental basin, we guided our tiny flotilla across the lake towards an unoccupied cove where bass supposedly resided. Our fishing lines dragged behind our two boats, hoping that trout would latch onto the lures trolling off our stern. The trip to the cove was uneventful, the trout we hoped to catch no doubt mocking us the entire way. After dropping our anchor, we switched out our lures to live worms. Almost immediately we began to catch fish! Not the prize fish we were seeking, but blue gills, AKA sunnies or sunfish. The crew in my boat were catching and releasing them when two friends from our partner craft shouted that blue gills were edible. Whoa! We could eat our catch? There was a problem however, we didn’t have the proper equipment with which to stow our catch; neither live wells, stringers, coolers, etc. Thinking quickly, I removed my lunch from my paper bag and began to drop the bluegills into it. Running out of room in the paper bag, I wolfed down my sandwiches and used the foil wrap to store my catch. He paper bag and foil wraps bounced around for a bit, but the contents eventually calmed down. We trolled the lake for the rest of the day, no trout or bass, but two dozen blue gills were stuffed in the items that once housed my lunch. Two dozen! I could feed my whole family, including my grandparents and uncle!

We were all abuzz on our trip home, talking about the best method to prepare our fish, the consensus of those in the know was to fry them. When my friend’s Dad pulled into their driveway, I grabbed my gear and abundant catch and sprinted to my house, only four doors away. I discovered my Mom was across the street at my grandmothers house, so I ran over there. Everyone was already in the kitchen, so I proudly dumped my fish out of the bag and removed them from the foil. My grandmother rubbed her chin and eyed them with great skepticism. My Mom stood with her arms crossed, shaking her head.

“Those fish aren’t any good,” said my grandmother.

“Yes, they are! They’re bluegills! Gary and his Dad said we could eat them!” I protested.

“But they look like they have been dead for quite awhile,” said my Mom. “How long ago did you catch them?”

It was true. These small bluegills were rather stiff. They looked like those decorative fish you might find at a craft store. A few of the fish had stiffened to the shape of the paper bag I had stuffed them in and curved like a small boomerang.

“They have been dead, and sitting in the sun for too long! They’re almost baked now!” exclaimed my grandfather.

My grandmother waved her hand at the fish bricks laying on her table and with finality said, “We’d all be sick if we ate those.” She quickly scooped them back into the bag and disappeared outside for awhile. I don’t remember what she did with them, either tossing them to the stray cats that dwelled on the other side of the fence in the back yard, or skimmed them into the yard of the neighbor she was constantly at odds with, I can only speculate. Technically then, these fish did get away in a manner of speaking. Just not in the way fish usually get away.

On a return trip to the lake a couple of weeks later, we were better prepared and had all of the necessary gear to better preserve our catch. I did get to savor the taste of something I caught, a bony little bluegill. Fried. It was not very savory. First time, last time. Bluegills, fish you hope and pray will get away.

Ernie Stricsek
Chatham Memoir Group

5 thoughts on “Fish Tales III – The Ones That Should Have Got Away

  1. Enjoyed reading your fish tail, Ernie. Thanks for sharing. Bob .

    On Fri, Apr 8, 2022, 10:31 PM The Chatham Packet wrote:

    > estricsek posted: ” The prompt for the Chatham Memoir Group was to write a > fish story, preferably about ”the one that got away”. My story follows: > After posting the last fish tale I wrote on my blog, a good friend asked > what my first edible catch was. The question b” >

    Liked by 1 person

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