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Kill and Eat or Catch and Release?

Blog by: Lloyd Tackitt 11/6/2017
Kill and Eat (K&E) is the way I grew up fishing.  If we caught it, and it was big enough to provide more calories than would be burned by the cleaning of it - we ate it.  Only quite small fish were returned to the water, anything above a minimum size, oh, let's say about 6 inches long, was taken home, and cleaned. By cleaning I don't mean filleting.  I remember when filleting was mentioned once in a mixed family group.  You'd have thought it was a topic found in sex magazines.  Fillet?  Oh my, no, never!  That would waste meat, and waste was almost worse than sinful.  It would not only waste meat but it would tarnish the soul of the filleter and the person that ate that fillet forever and ever and ever.  

I recall once when tv channel flipping we came across a fishing show and this guy was releasing a large bass back into the lake.  I thought my grandparents were going to die right there in front of the tv.  They had never heard of such a thing and were aghast that such a fine meal was being thrown back for no good reason.  They were literally cringing at the sight of it.

So, you see, I grew up in the fishing is fun but it is also putting food on the table kind of activity.  I grew up in the environment that putting a fish back, or filleting was wasteful.  If there was a sin lower than being wasteful in the world in which I grew to maturity, it would have to have been something invented and only practiced in Hollywood, Satan's very basement.  Being wasteful was down there, way way down there.

And yet I eventually grew into C&R as a way of life.  Not 100% pure C&R, but 99% at least.  When I was growing up we fished in stock tanks, not rivers and certainly not lakes.  In stock tanks it was pretty easy to evaluate the health of the fishery.  You could tell by the number of fish you caught, how hard or easy it was to catch them, their size, and their overall health, whether a tank was over or under stocked - and you knew what to do.  

If it was overstocked with bluegills for instance you carried every (too small to eat) bluegill you caught to a tank you knew was understocked with bluegills.  Same for bass or catfish.  If you caught a bass that was real skinny, more head than anything, you either ate it or took it somewhere that had too few bass (if it was too small to eat mind you).  And so on.  So there was a form of wildlife management that was followed in a natural way.  It worked too.

But I did eventually start fishing rivers and lakes and understood that these public waters had a lot of fishing pressure, and that releasing fish was beneficial to everyone.  I wanted (still want to, well mostly) to do my best for the fishery, not just for my own personal table.  Like everyone everywhere that lives long enough I go through phases as I mature and get a better understanding of things.  C&R was a natural phase for what turned out to be mostly a sport fisherman and not a table fisherman - as I became over time.

Eventually I even actually embraced the devil and filleted some fish.  Oh man did I feel that shiver of deep guilt when I first descended those basement steps too.  But with time it became a more or less acceptable practice - mainly because my wife would freak out over fish bones.  People that did not grow up eating fish the way I did are often like that.  We kept a loaf of bread on the table when eating fish and if you felt a bone get past your chewing and go down your throat you balled up a piece of bread and swallowed it to push the bone on down.  That was probably crazy as bat guano, but that's how we rolled in those days.

Folks that grew up eating the occasional fish from the supermarket, on the other hand, kind of got used to not knowing about fish bones.  Can't blame them, that was their frame of reference.  My frame of reference was just different, that's all.  So I filleted like any other demon would, and everyone ate fish in the city-hive-like-civilized-fashion and not like the crude country folks that raised me that despised waste.  Life, especially marriage, is full of compromises and some of those compromises scar your soul the way filleting did.

But these days things are changing again.  If you can read two words in ten minutes then you know that the fish you buy in the store are farm raised and might as well be Satan's Scat for all the bad things they have to say about farm raised fish.  You read a couple of those articles and afterwards when you pass the fish counter in the grocery store you avert your eyes - you don't even want to see that nasty stuff, much less buy it and take it home with you and then, gasp, feed it to your loved ones.  You might as well put dog turds on the dinner table, or worse, according to those articles. If you can't buy decent fish what are you to do?  Give up fish?  HA, now that's just funny right there.  Give up the best meat in the world?  Best tasting, healthiest, easiest to cook meat in the world?  Not this cowboy.  No sir.

What I do is I K&E more fish.  I've personally gone from 99% C&R to about 85% C&R just this year.  Nowdays when I get a hankering for fish I keep some - in fact nowdays I go after catfish deliberately, just to eat.  Bluegill and Crappie are a tad bit better than catfish, but they are also a hard choice between eating whole or filletting.  I still have a wife that abhors fish bones.  She is from West Texas, way out there in the Permian Basin a semi-desert area that is called "centrally remote" from anywhere, out around Odessa for those that don't know the Permian.  It is perhaps the most fishless place in the universe - and she never liked fish because it tastes "fishy".  A logic that I never understood at all.

I've gotten her beyond that by showing her that wild caught fish out of this clean and clear river do not taste "fishy" but instead that they taste delicious.  I have not gotten her past the bones though - and I haven't gotten close to getting her to clean fish for me (a dear and long term desire I have).  Or to speak in a French accent for that matter (I'd best not go there) - but hope lives on.  Some day I hope to see her cleaning fish while singing with a French accent.  Hey, a man can dream, right?  And that little black apron and those fishnet stockings and those heels!  Wow!

Anyway, back to reality - Bluegills and Crappie make for thin fillets, tasty fillets, but thin.  Catfish make for tasty fillets (maybe 1% less tasty than the perches as we called them growing up) but thick fillets.  And the texture of a river cat is way different than the texture of a farm cat or even a lake cat.  River cats have muscle from fighting current from birth.  The meat has a texture not unlike lobster meat.  In some ways it tastes better than lobster meat, although in a different way.

And healthy?  Wild caught fish from clean water is the healthiest meat you can put in your mouth these days.  It is far far far healthier than beef or chicken or any other farm raised animal - unless of course you can afford the totally outrageous prices for grass fed or free range organic meats.  Good luck with that too.  If you got that kind of money I'm proud for you, truly I am - and invite me to dinner some time would you? So lately I've been eating more fish, and it is a habit forming thing to do.    
Blog content © Lloyd Tackitt
Blog Comments
Jacob J, CO   11/7/2017 11:28:50 AM
Not very comfortable with K&E as potentially biased. Why not to change C&R to C&T for fairness? Catch and torture
Lloyd Tackitt (Lloyd Tackitt), TX   11/7/2017 11:46:41 AM
Jacob, are you a strict vegan then?
Jacob J, CO   11/7/2017 2:25:41 PM
No. I just trying to be fair for the fellow anglers who fish for food and do it legally. It look a little inferior to C&R people and I don't want to see people get offended by that definition. Welcome to political correctness. Thight lines!
Lloyd Tackitt (Lloyd Tackitt), TX   11/7/2017 3:35:34 PM
Jacob, if I understand correctly you are more or less saying that there's nothing wrong with legally killing fish to eat although there are C&R people that sneer at them for being "less" in some sense? I gotta agree that there are snobbish people everywhere, even among fishermen. I'm with you, if it is legal then it is absolutely okay and as good as anything anyone else does that is also legal. It is awfully easy to get caught up in your own self, I know, I have at times too. Personally I like to catch fish and will catch them on any legal bait I can - and I will use whatever works best. I also like to eat fish occasionally, and those occasions have lately been getting closer and closer together. I also know that fish do feel pain and that thinking they don't is a rationalization. I don't need to rationalize fishing - fishing is a blood sport. Anyone that has ever put a minnow on a hook knows they feel pain. Even nightcrawlers feel pain when put on a hook.
Smelly, CO   11/7/2017 3:38:47 PM
I'm with you, Mr Tackitt. While I don't agree with "Freezer Filling" . I never see anything wrong with " inviting " a few fish home for dinner. As far as C+R vs C+T . Think about this Jacob. The resources have CHANGED dramatically over the years. When I moved to CO. the limit was 6 fish. And the averaged a solid 12 inches. Now we get 4 with 10.5 being the norm. If every C+R guy kept all their fish. The guys that fish for Food (witch nobody really HAS to do in this day and age ) , would be getting mighty damn hungry ! I release fish,knowing that most will be caught again and eaten. A maybe a few will make it to another season ,and get bigger. And I have no "hollier than thou "mindset about it. And while there are Elititst in every group.I think the majority of C+R guys feel the same way I do. Although I admit that a few of the C+R folks on this site tend to get a tad carried away sometimes. I feel it's Cause They Care ! Not a bad way to be. IMO
Smelly, CO   11/7/2017 3:58:16 PM
OOPS ! before these guys pounce on me like a pack of wolves. My limit example is for Rainbow Trout. Although other fish limits have also been tightend or reduced,
Lloyd Tackitt (Lloyd Tackitt), TX   11/7/2017 5:36:18 PM
Smelly - your logic is impeccable. The more fish released, and the better condition that they are released in, means more fish to breed and to be caught again. Fortunately there are extremely few fishermen working the same water I fish, so I don't tend to think along the lines of a heavily fished place as you've described. No doubt if all C&R fishermen kept their catch instead the wildlife managers would have to severely restrict how many each individual could keep in order to make up for the loss. So...the more C&R fishermen there are, the better for everyone. I don't mind bumping up against the snobbish ones anyway, they can be a lot of fun to poke at.
Ryan, CO   11/7/2017 6:58:43 PM
I hope that it isn't about absolutes. C&R always or K&E always. Selective harvest is the answer. Throw the big ones back. You know the ones that are ancient (especially Lake Trout), and have a high mercury content anyway. And take the smaller fish home, if that is what you desire.
Lloyd Tackitt (Lloyd Tackitt), TX   11/7/2017 8:47:25 PM
Hi Ryan - I'm not much for absolutes. If I caught a gigantic bluegill I'd throw it back to keep those genes in the pool even if I was in the mood to eat bluegill. But I did once catch a 2.5 pound bluegill that might well have been a record, but that was back in my youth and my fish for fun and the table days (see blog above) and I did eat it. It was awfully good too - but these days I'd put it back in unharmed. We learn as we get older, hopefully.
FISHRANGLER, CO   11/8/2017 9:32:22 AM
Good read Lloyd. Got a question for you. Do you base the belief that fish and worms feel pain because you see them react to you poking them with a hook? Also I think that CnR can be broken down and meant for certain species and environments. It doesnít work everywhere and for every species. But in many cases itís not managed well enough to even know whatís going on. Humans are idiots, we will kill and eat just about every species on this planet and at the last minute someone may get a clue. Buffalo alligators sea turtles whales just to name a few of the thousands of species. No Iím not a vegan and I donít have the answers but in some cases and locations when it comes to fishing better management needs to take place. Just because its legal doesnít make it right all the time.
Lloyd Tackitt (Lloyd Tackitt), TX   11/8/2017 11:12:19 AM
Fishrangler - It is easy to observe a worm or minnow reacting to the pain of being pierced by a hook - and logic seems to tell me that no species could survive without sensing pain anyway. Combine the two, observation and logic and I am certain that fish experience pain. Now having said that I also believe that the inside of a fishs' mouth has few pain sensors because they eat fish with spiny fins. A fish that is hooked in the mouth area must experience pain, but not at the same rate as a hook in the gut or gill for instance. Humans often place individual desire (especially greed) above the collective good, agreed. C&R of some fish in some waters is counter-productive - putting bluegills back into a stock tank that is overpopulated with bluegills does not good, might not be doing any additional harm, but it is doing no good. So C&R has its limitations. What is legal may not always be what is optimum in every situation, but as a generalized rule it's as good as we are probably going to get. I think our fish and wildlife departments do a fantastic job given their resources and their challenges. They may not get it perfect in every instance, but imagine what it would be like without them.
Jacob J, CO   11/8/2017 2:00:37 PM
"And yet I eventually grew into C&R as a way of life." may suggest that everything other is lower to C&R. That was my point. I did not try to discuss anyone's culinary preferences environmental aspect of fishing, etc. I just do not want to portray people who keep their legal catch as not grown high enough to embrace C&R.
Lloyd Tackitt (Lloyd Tackitt), TX   11/8/2017 2:27:21 PM
Hi Jacob, I think if you read my blog again you'll probably see that I do not place C&R as being of a higher moral plane than Kill and Eat. I don't put Kill and Eat on a higher moral plane than C&R either. C&R definitely has a place in my life, it serves a purpose, but so does Kill and Eat. But if for some reason I have come across as believing I am superior to anyone about anything (other than maybe politics which isn't for this forum), especially in the fishing world, then I have mis-presented myself. I am in fact on a life long journey of fishing and self-discovery and the two intertwine at frequent and regular intervals.
FISHRANGLER, CO   11/8/2017 4:10:49 PM
Worms and fish would have to have the Brian power to process pain. They donít. What your thinking is not pain like you or I would feel if something sharp like a hook poked our eyeball. They do react, but itís more nerves being stimulated then anything else. PETA would like for us to believe that, but itís not true. Lots of studies on the subject and Dave Coulson has written about it also. Maybe he or someone else can share that blog. Pain felt by some animals like your doggie mammals even they do not process pain like we do.
FISHRANGLER, CO   11/8/2017 4:34:41 PM
I found it Lloyd I think there is another one too
FISHRANGLER, CO   11/8/2017 4:37:50 PM
Now your just messing around, make up your mind will you! You yourself wrote on the subject just 4 short years ago. LOL Here it is
Lloyd Tackitt (Lloyd Tackitt), TX   11/8/2017 5:08:07 PM
Fish and Pain - I guess that's another blog again. But basically when we tell ourselves that fish don't feel pain the way we do - we are rationalizing. We don't know, can't know, will never know, just how they feel pain - but pain they do feel. I don't care what PETA thinks, I know that I am causing fish some level of pain when I catch them, and some level of pain when I kill them. I'm okay with that, it is how the world works in real life - and fishing is a blood sport. I am not going to try to rationalize it away, there is no need to.
Lloyd Tackitt (Lloyd Tackitt), TX   11/8/2017 5:11:22 PM
I do believe that the inside of a fishs' mouth must have fewer pain sensors than other parts of its body for the simple fact that they eat other fish that have spines. Those spines must poke at the inside of their mouths. Their mouths, would seem to me, are therefore less sensitive and a hook would not likely hurt a fishs' mouth the way it would ours. But they still feel pain.