|Purple and Blue, a personal favorite hatchery fish removal tool.|
It's getting towards the end of November, which means all of the 509/208/541 area rivers are loaded with hatchery fish that are prime smoker fodder, and the really shiny pond monkey hatchery fish are just starting to trickle in to coastal streams and ready for your grill. This is a great time of year to catch both and put some food on the table so that your co-workers will quit asking "why do you go fishing if you just throw them back?". Besides, that's what hatchery fish are put into the river for, and if you give a crap about wild fish you should be bonking every hatchery fish you catch. Here are a few tips for helping to kill your hatchery fish with respect, and in a manner that creates the best table fare.
1: Bring the fish to the rock.
I still remember standing at the top of a run with my buddy Dave watching Brazda hook and land a chrome bright hatchery fish on his spey rod, grab it by the tail, and smash it's head against the rocks on the side of the Calawah as if he was chopping a piece of wood. At this point in my steelhead career I had probably killed 5 hatchery fish, all of which involved me searching the banks for the perfect club-stick, and then nearly bashing my thumb. Watching what we then dubbed "The Brazda Bonk" made so much more sense, and became the quick and efficient way to dispatch of hatchery fish. The simple technique of holding the fish like an ax and hitting it against a rock provides a quick and clean kill that respects the fish, and keeps you from fishing the rest of the day with bruised digits.
|Bring the fish to the rock, not the rock to the fish.|
2: Bleed'em Out.
Whether you are going to filet them or clean them, a quick slice to each gill will bleed your fish out, which makes for a clean tasting fresh fish. I don't have the exact science behind bleeding them out, but when every AK guide I know does it (and they clean A LOT of fish), it is for a reason.
|Chone, bleeing one out and channeling his inner Paul Mclean.|
The first tool for taking care of hatchery fish once they are dispatched of is a good sharp filet knife. I have cleaned enough fish with a gerber tool that I kick myself every time I forget the filet knife at home. One your fish is cleaned, trash bags, large Ziploc bags and a bunch of ice make for transporting your fresh catch home much easier. Fish into the Ziploc bags, guts in the trash bags, and a pile of ice to keep your fish nice and cold. Make sure you know your regulations about when it is OK to filet and when it's not. Now it's time to find your favorite recipe and enjoy the tasty benefits of protecting wild fish.