_by Hal Herring
I’ll get right to the point. I’m looking for information, and maybe even an informal poll. Do you or your fishing buddies throw unwanted fish on the bank to die rather than letting them go? If so, why do you do it? If not, how often do you see this happening?

Now I’ll tell you why I want to know.

I just got back from a spur-of-the-moment family trip over to the Missouri River, with a stop in Great Falls for a few groceries, some circle hooks and bank sinkers, and a hundred pack of nightcrawlers. The river was rising fast on a scorching 87-degree day, but the water temperature was still in the upper 40s, and the fishing was sporadic for the first day. My son and daughter and I have waded and swam (in the summers) most of our fishing holes, so we kind of know where the runs are that are deep enough to hold catfish, walleye, sauger, sturgeon. None of which were biting on Sunday.

What was hitting, of course, were suckers, that quick tap, tap, take-off, bow-the-rod bite that leaves no doubt about what is on the line. My son hooked an immense- 12 pounds or more- carp that broke off as we tried to land him in the deep mud near the bank. Goldeyes moved in at noon, and went through our worm supply like the Union Army through Georgia. We’ve always kind of liked the thieving goldeyes- the toothy little scrappers have saved many an otherwise fishless afternoon, even if they are too bony and oily to eat (unless you smoke them). So what happened Sunday afternoon was disturbing.

A man driving a four-wheeler showed up on the far bank, and started setting out a few rods. Two of his friends appeared out of the thickets, and set up next to him, one of them throwing a little spoon while he was waiting for something to hit the bottom rig. The goldeyes were thick over there, too, and he was catching them every cast, beaching them, and throwing them back. I overheard the four wheeler guy say “Man, don’t throw those things back. Just pitch ’em up in the bushes.” The spoon-fisherman, who looked to be in his early twenties, kept releasing the goldeyes, though. But the other two guys were catching them and tossing them onto the mud.

The next morning, we hiked out to the point where they had been fishing. It reeked, of course, with dead goldeyes, suckers, a carp, scattered all around. Sadly enough, two nice smallmouths were on a chain stringer, dead and fly-covered, half-eaten by a coon or the birds. This was obviously not the first visit to the point by the fish-pitchers. There were fish everywhere back in the willows a few feet, rotting and stinking. My kids were extremely disturbed by this, so much killing, for nothing.

I’ve been fishing this place for almost ten years. There were always a few fishermen here (and one woman in particular) who were serious fish-pitchers. The place where she fished was always marked by bloated and stinking carcasses. But I kind of thought it was just a quirk. But now, at this place, it seems to have reached a kind of epidemic level. What exactly is going on?