MUELLER: Catch-and-eat isn’t a bad idea

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“I believe most of you guys lack good sense,” said the woman whose name appears next to mine on all tax returns. “How can you go fishing day after day, year around, then turn loose everything you hook? I like to eat fish now and then, so how about bringing some home?”

Actually, the lady scored a point. We shouldn’t feel guilty about keeping part of our catch, should we?

Bass tournament fishermen must practice catch-and-release fishing even though there’s considerable evidence that, after the fish are kept in tight confinement, feeling stress for hours on end, their release can result in eventual death. It’s called delayed mortality, and the warmer the water, the quicker it can happen. In the case of our little group of regulars, we generally release all bass immediately, but a few are held up briefly while a photo is snapped.

The releasing of fish that might be caught again another day actually started with trout anglers, who for many decades have managed creeks and streams on their own by catching, then letting go, trout that were raised in hatchery enclosures, fed Purina fish chow, to be stocked in public waters when they attained a “catchable size” - usually around 8 inches.

When I was recently ordered to bring home a dinner, however, I did what everyone who frequents the waters of the upper tidal Potomac can easily do. This also applies to those who do not have a boat but can find shoreline access in a number of places.

Upon arrival at Smallwood State Park’s Sweden Point Marina along the Mattawoman Creek, I launched my broad, flat-bottomed johnboat and ran it across the adjacent Potomac, destination Quantico Creek. In a shoreline stretch near the railroad bridge, a 2-inch-long, rubbery, fake minnow - pierced to a 1/16-ounce jig hook and retrieved in gentle hops by lifting and lowering the rod steadily - immediately resulted in a fat sunfish. It was dropped into a water-filled livewell.

Although I got away with using 6-pound-test monofilament line while casting the tiny lure on a jig hook that is no heavier than 1/16 of an ounce, I actually prefer to use 14-pound gray FireLine that is spooled to a small spinning reel and attached to a light spinning rod. The 14-pound FireLine is made of miracle fibers that are incredibly strong, and the line’s diameter is no bigger than 4-pound-test monofilament. If the hook snags on an underwater object, such as sunken branches or fallen trees, it’s strong enough to pull free without breaking, as light monofilament line surely would do. After a snagged hook retrieval, I resharpen the point with a small file and, if needed, bend it back into shape with a small set of needlenose pliers.

Several casts after the bluegill was caught, a fat yellow perch inhaled the imitation minnow. It, too, was added to the aerated tank.

A well-fed crappie that waited for food alongside a partially submerged tree branch also was fooled. Ditto for a second yellow perch. But when the tide reached the flood stage, the bites stopped coming.

I fired up the outboard and ran back out into the big river, eventually ending up inside the Chicamuxen Creek on the Maryland side of the waterway. It was there, during a slowly receding tide and while repeating the same deliberate hop-reel-hop style of fishing either with the little drop-shot minnow or a Mann’s Sting Ray grub along a heavily treed shoreline, that I found an entire school of white perch.

We’re talking dozens of the silvery perch that most Bay Country residents proclaim to be the best eating fish of all. With a crappie, sunfish and two yellow perch already in the well, I kept only four white perch and called it a day.

Back at home, my catch was filleted and the fresh pieces of fish were seasoned (don’t forget a sprinkle of Old Bay), floured, then dropped into a well-oiled, hot skillet before being served with vegetables and a big dollop of buttered, mashed potatoes. I seriously doubt if a restaurant chef could have served a tastier dish.

c Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com. Also check out Mueller’s weekend fishing report and his Inside Outside blog at washingtontimes.com/sports.

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