I became particularly interested in catching and cleaning fish shortly after I found out that otherwise, I would not eat.
On the first day of a three-week trip through the wilds of inland Alaska, I was staring down at a six-pound pike that, for me to eat dinner that night, needed to be eviscerated.
I’ve always been squeamish about this sort of thing. I think, maybe, it’s because fish squirm so much.
I’d be holding a knife, distastefully looking at the fish, trying to put it out of its misery quickly by stabbing it in the brain. Inevitably I’d fail at this, and this fish would flop around and look at me with its beady little fish eyes and start mumbling about wishes.
Then it would flop into the water and try to swim away, even though most of its head was severed.
The head would always be severed because I could never find the damn brain. A fish’s brain is about the size of the freeze-dried peas I’d eat every night, before water was added to them. I’d stab and miss and the fish would start yelling at me, “What the hell was that? There’s nothing there, you idiot!”
I’d try again.
“No, no, no!” it would say. “Down and to the left! Near the gills! Sheeesus!”
“Thanks,” I’d say, trying again.
Finally, I’d hit the right spot, and the fish would give a little death wiggle, as if to say, “Last time I ever help YOU again,” and then it would sit still, one eye trained accusingly upon me.
Profound feelings of guilt would wash over me, accompanied by less profound waves of slime. Fish are slimy creatures.
Satisfied that it was dead, I’d hold the thing at arm’s length and distastefully start to remove the guts. Just to have a little fun with me, the fish would wait until I got close and then wiggle again, and I’d jump about five feet in the air and start waving my knife everywhere.
Then the fish would give a couple of flops toward the lake.
I’d remember that if it somehow managed to flop into the lake and swim away, I’d be stuck eating only freeze-dried peas for dinner, and I’d clamp a foot down on it and shove the thing back up the bank.
My friend Mark always takes time to analyze the contents of the fish’s stomach and admire its eggs and talk about the fish.
I generally grope in the approximate direction of the organs, head tilted back to avoid actually having to look at what I’m doing, and give a strong pull.
Out would come a bunch of jumbled-looking stuff. Just to make sure I was paying attention, the fish would select this time to give a couple more wiggles, and I’d run around in circles again waving my knife.
And then I’d realize I was holding a handful of fish intestines.
Few feelings are more distinct.
“Oh,” I would think, “look at me. I am holding the internal organs of a fish that just three minutes ago was swimming around. Oh, and look. It’s still trying to swim around, despite the fact that its head is fifteen feet away.”
Sure enough, the fish would be moseying on down the bank in search of the rest of its slimy little body parts.
Eventually, I’d get everything cleaned up and I’d need to peel the skin off. I’d grab my pliers and pull, and the fish would give a wiggle and I’d drop it like a ton of bricks.
The damned things never stop moving.
My friend would have three or four fish cleaned and put into a Ziploc bag, where they’d sit and look nice and clean, and I’d still be struggling, holding half a fish skin and a writhing fish body with no head.
At last though, the job would be done, and all that was left was to take the body up and fry it.
It would give one or two last wriggles in the frying pan, while it was cooking.
And then we’d eat it.
I think a lot of people wouldn’t eat meat if it were actually prepared in front of them.
Eric Simons is the Daily Nexus editor in chief. He learned all of his management techniques at the expense of trout.