I fished in a new place last week. Along the river near home there are four or five spots I know well and go to often, but there also a dozens of miles of backwater not only not visited by me, but also hard to get to by anyone not in a canoe or kayak. Some of my favorite outings are those when I explore new water, get semi-lost, and expect each bend in the meandering backwaters to provide the next good fishing hole. Last week’s new place was prime smallmouth bass habitat (i.e., rocky shorelines and clearly defined lines between the still and flowing water). I don’t usually bass fish, preferring either to panfish or go after walleye, but when the terrain says smallmouth, I adjust.

Bass are low on my list of tasty freshwater fish. Trout come first, then perch, then walleye, followed by about another four or five species before smallmouth and largemouth bass show up. Therefore, bass fishing for me is usually catch-and-release. Manyu, however, has a Chinese social function coming up, and she specifically put in a request for a bass. In day-to-day eating, Chinese meals are one or two dishes plus rice, but at fancier events, dining is in courses and the final course usually is fish – and the best way to serve it is as a whole fish. Bass are the perfect size. Scaled and gutted, a sixteen-inch bass can be steamed, then covered with a spicy or a sweet-and-sour sauce that masks the mediocre flavor of the meat. To eat the fish, Chinese diners communally go at it with chopsticks, breaking off individual chunks of flesh and putting them directly into their mouths. They polish off one side of the fish and then, again with chopsticks, flip it over to eat the other side. Eyeballs, cheeks, every tidbit of meat gets eaten, and all that remains at the end of the meal is a laid bare skeleton. When I witness the dismantling of a whole fish at a Chinese function, I realize how much meat I waste when I fillet. 

Over the course of a year, I supply four or five fish for various Chinese festivals; as a result, the Taiwanese/Chinese community in La Crosse consider me some kind of fishing guru.

Steven Simpson