There is one secret fishing spot I have no qualms about revealing to others. It is Reno Bottoms near Brownsville, Minnesota. I mention it because motorboaters can’t get there, fishermen and fisherwomen without boats can’t get there, and anyone fishing from a canoe or kayak needs to portage his or her watercraft several hundred yards just to reach the water. I have yet to see another person on the this stretch of Mississippi River backwater, and I don’t think my mention of the location will change anything.
I fished the Bottoms yesterday, and something unexpected happened. Unexpected, not necessarily welcome. On my recent fishing trip to Door County, my fishing buddies and I kept one medium-sized northern pike each day to add an hors d’oeuvre to our evening meal. In the past, I caught northerns on the Mississippi, but because they are so difficult to fillet, I hadn’t been keeping any. The Door County trip reminded me that the taste of northern pike is almost indistinguishable from perch or walleye. Upon my return to La Crosse, I went directly to the Reno Bottoms, in part for the solitude, in part because it is a northern pike hotspot.
I caught several northerns in the Bottoms. Most were the small skinny ones anglers call “snakes.” Three of them, however, were in the 25”-28” range, which are ideal for eating. I’d gone in with the intent of keeping one fish for dinner, but then I released them all. The sense of guilt I sometimes feel about eating a creature that values life as much as I do was unusually strong.
Henry David Thoreau warned me this might happen. In Walden, he wrote, “[A child] goes thither at first as a hunter and fisher, until at last, if he has the seeds of a better life in him, he distinguishes his proper objects, as a poet or naturalist it may be, and leaves the gun and fish-pole behind.” I’ve always enjoyed this passage, because fishing as a kid unquestionably led me to a career in the outdoors, but I never saw myself leaving my fish-pole behind. And I won’t. I won’t ever stop fishing, but I never thought, just days before my sixty-seventh birthday, that I would develop a newfound connection with the fish.
I am not sure what will happen next. I enjoy eating fish. I also believe that so long as I consume seafood, beef, pork, and chicken that some of the harvesting should be done by my own hands. I probably will bring fish home the next time I go fishing, but something has changed.