Catch, Fillet, and Release

by Humberto Fontova

Think I’ll SCREAM(!) If I see ONE (!) more fishing show where they release the freakin fish!!

What the hell’s WRONG (!) with these people!

Worse — ten times worse — is the smug little sh*t-eating smile they get in the act. Even worse follows: the sanctimonious mini-sermon as the exhausted fish wobbles away — probably to be gobbled by an Alligator or Hammerhead shark.

"Ain’t this a beautiful fish, Bob?" As they hold it up.

"Sure is, Jim…just the purtiest damn thang"…Then they put him gently in the water beside the boat. "Go on now feller, swim off. Yep, we’re insuring that future generations will enjoy nature’s wonderful bounty…gives me a warm feeling just to…." blah, blah, blah.

In Louisiana we have "catch-n-release" too — a version of it anyway. Catch, FILLET, and release, we call it. The poor crabs don’t even get any pickings from the fish WE throw back. I’ve watched crabs converge on a fish carcass we just threw in. They stop, seem to sigh, then throw up their claws "Nothing to eat here!" they say to each other while waving their claws. "Forget it. Let’s go over by the boat with those guys doing the fishing show with bass."

And how can anyone call a bass pretty, anyway? Much less beautiful? Let’s be completely objective here. Look at a bass; a frontal shot, a profile, and a rear view, just like in Play — ooops! I meant just like in a Victoria’s Secret catalog. Now try to imagine an uglier fish.

The thing’s hideous. Everything about him affronts any normal sense of aesthetics. Next to a bass the noble and symmetrical redfish (red drum or channel bass for you yankees) represents the very picture of gratifying design. A redfish stands next to a bass as Sharon Stone in an evening gown stands next to Janet Reno in a Tanga. Imagine Cindy Crawford in a sheer nightie next to Bella Abzug in a string Bikini and you’ve imagined the contrast between a spec (spotted weakfish to you Yankees) and a bass.

The stately sheepshead, in his elegant striped tux and distinguished pout, next to a bass, in his lime green polyester suit and loutish grin, reveals mother nature as more heartless a hag than Cinderella’s stepmom.

The bass is completely out of wack. Picasso or Goya, in their darkest moods, could never have painted anything half as hideous. The mouth’s way to big for his body. Imagine a human infant with the mouth of ten Mick Jaggers and you get an idea of his proportions. Recall the stuff spouting from Linda Blair’s mouth in the Exorcist and you’ve got his color. Recall Ralph Kramden and you’ve got his physique; Ed Norton, his mind; Hillary Clinton, his charm; Bill Clinton, his code of ethics.

An imbecile and pig he still crams things in his mouth which are way too big, and often chokes in the process. John Belushi in Animal House had better table manners. In matters of class and style a Redfish compares to a bass as Cary Grant compares to Coolio.

And they get uglier and uglier with age — bloated, pot bellied, simply nauseating. Stephen King collaborating with Steven Spielberg would still need help from Alfred Hitchcock and Boris Karloff to concoct anything half as ghastly.

And here’s the star of all the fishing shows! And the bigger (uglier) the better! Go figure!

Any TV reporter babe who gains four ounces over the anorexic ideal of TV producers better start looking for a waitress job. Any model who starts showing any meat on her bones wont be gracing any magazine cover without plastic wrapping. But let a bass bloat to disgusting proportions, let him sport huge jowls and a beer gut, and you’ll see him on the cover of EVERY freaking magazine! And on EVERY freaking TV fishing show as somebody swings his disgusting bulk around by the jaw: "Ain’t dis a purty fish Billybob? Ain’t it just the purtiest damn thang you ever saw? Ain’t it even purtier than Betty Sue picking Poke Salad in her short-shorts?"

Go figure!

This insufferable dilettante snobbishness known as "catch-n-release" is notorious in fly-fishing circles. And how ANYONE can still flyfish knowing that Robert Redford, Ted Turner and Jane Fonda do it, is simply beyond me. But it doesn’t surprise me that Hollywood types take to this showy and stupid sport. It’s a perfect fit. They buy piles of flashy, expensive, useless ornaments then strut and prance in full view of gawkers, like they’r entering the Academy Awards or something. Sickening…simply sickening.

But there’s one group of fisherpersons utterly uninfected by "catch-n-release": Mencken described them as , " clear-headed, resourceful, implacable and without qualms."

I refer, of course, to women. Just you TRY and release a fish they’ve caught!–at least the ones I’ve taken on my boat! Hah! And problem is, the law says you have to release some fish, if they’re too small. A spec that’s under 12 inches for instance, or a redfish under sixteen — or they can confiscate your boat!

But try explaining this to my wife or daughter or nieces, or any of my friend’s wives. Mencken again: "The moment a women finds herself confronted by an antagonist she displays a bellicosity which stops at nothing, however outrageous….any man who is so unfortunate as to have a serious controversy with a woman, must inevitably carry away from it a sense of having passed through a dangerous and hair-raising experience. No attack is so desperate that they will not undertake it, no device is so unfair or horrifying that it stays them."

Mencken musta been thinking of my wife’s friend Cindy who recently caught a speckled trout on a trip with us. It looked a little small to me.

"Humberto!!" she shrieked. What?!….Don’t you DARE throw that fish back!!"

"Wont make it." I croaked as Cindy held the little fish.

"The heck it wont!!" She snarled back. "Watch." She grabbed the little sucker between her fire-red fingernails, bent down and stretched him out on the ruler atop of the ice-chest to measure. The helpless creature flapped and quivered pathetically. Finally he seemed to sigh, a serene look came over his face, and he was still. He seemed resigned to his fate.

Or maybe he was looking at the same thing as I. He was even closer. His view must have been magnificent. Cindy’s bikini top had been struggling heroically all morning. It’s task was monumental. It’s efforts worthy of Sisyphus. It strained. It huffed and puffed. Every strand and fiber gave it’s all. Often it seemed on the verge of giving up. During particularly muscular a cast for instance, or impassioned a strike, or vigorous a cranking of the reel, or particularly robust a wave to a passing boat, or abrupt and low a stooping for a drink, chip or bait. But it held the line every time.

Such a battle against such odds was worthy of our boys at Khe Sanh, Frozen Chosin or Bastogne. The Battle of the Bulge indeed. And like our boys, the bikini top never wavered in it’s duty. It covered itself in glory, at least in the girls’ eyes. A slight tactical retreat here and there. A little slipping. A stretching of the line. But it always held the ground. It never let her down. Dammm!!

She’d already measured four or five. Poor trout, his fate hung in the balance. He seemed to sense it and was hunching up and curling his tail. No tail! Don’t touch that number 12! No Jaw! Don’t touch that 0! Please! He seemed to shrink before our very eyes.

But Cindy was in no mood for clemency. And Shirley was lending her moral support. "Stretch him, more, MORE, longer, LONGER…HARDER! That’s it!" Torquemada with a heretic on the rack was humane in comparison.

We stared at the hapless fish. But the verdict on the trout was still out. Specs have that distinctive underbite, like Bruce Springsteen. This one’s juuuuuuust touched the zero. The tail, juuuuuust — not quite — not quite….maybe….

"Turn it a little, Cindy." Shirley blurted. "Just turn the top down a little….. like"…she reached down and she bent the trout’s tail .. "like this!"

"He stays!" We all roared at once. Such blood-lust. Such avarice. Such undisguised gusto in a helpless creatures death, that our taste buds might be stimulated and our egos caressed. It’s a heartwarming thing to see in this age of catch-n-release. Actually, we’ll release this one too — into vegetable oil at 350 degrees, his carcass drizzled with lime juice and coating of flour well seasoned with garlic powder, salt and pepper.

Put that in your "catch-n-release" pipe and smoke it.

Humberto Fontova [send him mail] is author of the highly recommended The Helldiver’s Rodeo.