My fishing hotspots change with the seasons. During the first open water of spring, the main channel of the Mississippi River flows too swiftly for me to feel comfortable in a canoe or kayak. I usually start my summer fishing season in a quiet backwater called Black Deer. As Black Deer starts to weed up in late April or early May, I often move to Third Lake near the town of Trempealeau. Third Lake is part of a chain of four small lakes (First Lake, Second Lake, Third Lake, Round Lake) just off the Mississippi River. At certain times of the year, I can go there and catch a meal of large perch. 

Last week my friend Dennis and I put my canoe in at Third Lake, but caught only perch the size of large fishing lures. After two hours without a single keeper, we moved from the middle of the lake to the shoreline. There, among the downed trees on water’s edge, we got into bluegills, and I brought home the four largest fish. Now that Clare no longer lives at home, four is the ideal number for a meal. Four panfish provide eight small fillets – three for Manyu, four and half for me, and a chunk or two for the dog.

Unfortunately I ran into a problem I’ve never encountered with any of the bluegills I catch out on the main channel of the river. There were parasites in the meat. With bluegills, two parasites are relatively common, and both were in that day’s catch. One is the larval stage of clinostomum, a white grub the size of a grain of rice. The other, also a larval form, is a much smaller black dot. I know it only as black spot disease. Among my four fish, only one had the white grubs, but all four had a smattering of black dots. Neither of the two organisms is harmful to humans,* but Manyu wanted me to toss the whole lot in the garbage. Had it been left up to me, I would have kept the three less infested fish, but only because I abide by the rule, “If you kill it, you eat it.”

Clinostomum and black spot disease are common in fish living in shallow stagnant water. Neither is an indication of an unhealthy ecosystem. The two organisms share a common lifecycle, which consists of 1) adults living in the bodies of fishing-eating birds, 2) eggs passing out of the birds, 3) and larvae maturing first in snails and then in fish. Birds eat the fish, and the cycle repeats itself. It is a clear example of the great circle of life, but not one I necessarily want to eat. 

* The truth is I knowingly eat fish laced with traces of methylmercury that is invisible to the eye, but am turned away by harmless little flukes because I can see them. 

Steven Simpson