Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Eelpout guts and Iraqi brains.

The Walleye is a revered fish in Minnesota and is also known to be finicky, especially in the winter. When watching the bobber go down below the ice, it often is taken slowly. If you set the hook too early the walleye will drop the minnow and you will have to take up all the line and check your bait, before dropping it down 20 feet or more to begin again.

Sometimes the bobber goes down fast when the walleye is hungry and you need to set the hook immediately as the walleye is running away with its dinner. If she is a "good one" it will feel like you are setting the hook into solid ground and there will be little give before the line starts to pull in short jerks away from you.

But, when the walleye isn't really feeding you have to let the bobber go for a while. Sometimes it will pop back up, but you can tell the walleye is still down there playing with its dinner by the movement of your bobber. Slowly it sinks and you need to give it some line. It will eventually stop taking line and this is where you have to be patient. The walleye still might be just playing with the minnow and getting ready to spit it out at the slightest provocation. Sometimes you have to wait for a minute or more. Then, the line will start to get taken again a little more forcefully. Hold the line tight till you feel the fish and then pull hard to set the hook. Again, if its a "good one" it will feel like you are setting the hook into solid rock.

There is only one problem with this approach. The dreaded eelpout. An eelpout is an introduced fish to Minnesota from Europe, I believe. I was told they were rough fish, like carp, as a kid and should be treated as such. Eelpout take the bait just like a walleye, but they usually are not playing around. While you are waiting they are swallowing the minnow and hook deep into their bellies. They also are taking the minnow and swimming in circles and, more often than not, tangling up the line in other nearby holes. One of the first clues that you may have an eelpout at the end of the line is that the other fishermen or women in your party will be kneeling before holes near you anticipating their own walleye as their bobbers disappear below the ice in succession one after the other. When setting the hook into an eelpout it will also feel like you have set it into solid rock. But then, there will be long steady pulls of the line against you instead of the short quick rapid burst from the tail flicks of the walleye. When other people ask you if you got a "good one?" the response of "nope, pout!" will immediately clear everyone away so they don't get drawn into the inevitable lengthy untangling of line, cutting of hooks and reattaching a new rig and minnow.

The eelpout is slimy like an eel and it is difficult to handle. Once it comes up through the hole it will immediately curl up into itself like a snake. Its mouth is clamped shut and it is necessary to step on its back or stomach to force it open. If you can't see the hook you will often just need to cut the line. No one keeps eelpout to eat, though there have always been rumors that they are good eating and healthy for you. Instead, they are tossed onto the ice in disgust and left to die on the frozen tundra. On a Minnesota lake, like Mille Lacs, in the winter near ice fishing houses the lake is often littered with eelpout carcasses.

As a boy, after an eel pout was caught by myself, my dad or other members of our fishing party, I would often put on my Sorrell boots and march out into the cold after them and proceed to stomp on the backs of the eelpout until all of the organs and entrails were forced out of its mouth. This desecration of the eelpout was made possible because this fish was hated and its life was considered worthless and a stain upon the revered walleye waters of Minnesota. I was a normal kid and the stomping I did was not done because I had a vicious streak inside me extending towards other animals and humans. It was done out of boredom and because it was fun and also because the life of an eelpout was considered worthless.

It is the way humans are. If we are taught that a life is worthless we will be conditioned to destroy it and kill it out of boredom and for entertainment. Thats what marines are trained to do with Iraqis. Kill. Its what we train our youth to do with video games. It is what we see in Colorado and Oklahoma. It is why we don't flinch at the idea of specious extinction due to climate change - not even our own. In our society we revere little life. Certainly the military portion of our society reveres none. What returns from Iraq and Afghanistan will be with us till the end and the end is coming nearer simply because we can no longer love. Marines congratulate each other because soldiers today are much more likely to fire their weapons in battle than soldiers of yesterday - like WWII. They are trained to kill and they do it efficiently without flinching. They think that is progress. Iraqi brains and blood on the desert streets in Baghdad or other Iraqi towns is no different than eelpout guts lying frozen on the ice covering Minnesota lakes. That is until years later, when we become haunted by our conditioning as we discover the last remnants of love and humanity residing inside each of us below the ever-present conditioning to hate we get from our society.

I don't see the blood lust of the modern marines as progress. I see it as a tragedy that, if it is not corrected, will eventually lead to the end of us all. As Scott Ritter once said. "Weapons of mass destruction? A platoon of marines with unlimited ammo - that is a weapon of mass destruction." or a kid with big boots in the case of an eelpout.


Richard said...

I never heard of an eelpout before. I will alsways associate those little worthless fish with Iraquis' now. And marines with big boots stamping the guts out of them.

Andy B said...

Its peculiar, but you only catch eelpout in the winter through the ice. You never catch them in the summer - or I should say it is rare.

They are a bigger fish and supposedly their oil is a lot like cod liver oil that is high in vitamin D and other nutrients. They coexist quite nicely with the Walleyes and I don't think they cause any known problems in Minnesota lakes. I believe they have actually become rare in Europe and have had to be reintroduced into some areas.

I'm thinking about going ice fishing again and taking my son. I am thinking I'll have to find a use for the eelpouts we catch and perhaps I'll give them a big kiss on the mouth after I yank the hook out of its belly setting a better example for my son than my father did for me.

Tyler said...

Burbot or eelpout are native to North America. In fact they are naturally distributed all around the arctic in fresh water. Also, they do taste good and are said to be similar to lobster, and like lobster best with melted butter.
Also, the reason that you killed them as a child is that people around the world love to kill fish.

Andy B said...

Thanks for the info Tyler,

The question I have is why do Minnesotan fisherman treat the eelpout like carp? I guessed that it might be because they are non-native, but that isn't right. Killing fish is all part of the natural cycle. We kill fish to eat them. Of course, there is a little sport to it as well. But, Eelpout are caught unintentionally while attempting to catch Walleye and they are not eaten, not are they thrown back to live another day. They are simply tossed aside in disgust. Then, the point of my story, a little kid comes along with big boots...

Anonymous said...

I am a fisherman and I was told as a boy that they were no good. I think what most fisherman dislike is when the pout wraps itself around your arm,and yes they are slimy. But today I have found that they have very good meat and would trade walley for eelpout any day..Nice firm white meat. Not greasy and slippery like the outside..I am going to try catch some tomorrow. As for the marines they do what they are told so I guess they are not the ones to place the blame on.......