Why I am Not the Fish Nut

eating carp
Fillet a carp or clean a dozen early-season geese? The author chooses the latter.Iowa DNR

Had my family and I not traveled to Greece when I was 12 years old, I might never have become the Gun Nut. I’d be the Fish Nut.

I loved to fish as a kid, and I was a catch and eat fisherman all the way. One of the first fish I remember catching was a breakfast-sized brook trout from a New Hampshire stream that I carried back to our cabin wrapped in a leaf for my mother to cook for me. When I was ten, my parents gave me the book “James Beard’s Fish Cookery” for my birthday, along with a check for $10, which was a lot of money to a kid in 1968. I thought it was the greatest birthday present ever, and I still have the book. The $10 I spent.

Back then I had no interest in hunting at all. That came much later. Anyway, when I was 12 we went on a family vacation to Greece. Flying to Athens on Olympia airlines, we were served sole almandine. If you have seen Airplane, you know that nothing good comes of having fish on a plane. Next day we ate lunch at a seafood restaurant at one of the ports of Athens. You sat outdoors by the water on one side of a very busy, exhaust-choked highway, and waiters dodged traffic to bring food to the table from the kitchen on the other side. I had fish.

The next two days I was as sick as I have ever been, poisoned either by the airline sole, the monoxide-infused fish, or possibly both.

The upshot is, I am squeamish around fish to this day. The fishy tasting ones, like trout and tilapia, are completely out for me, and if I catch a “good” fish, like a walleye or a crappie and clean it, I can’t seem to wash the smell off my hands and I really don’t want to eat it. Fish cooked by other people (or not cooked, as in sushi) are fine. Great even.

A few years ago my wife’s late friend Lauren called to tell me to say their handyman had given them a fish and could I come help clean it. The handyman spoke only Chinese so she didn’t know what kind of fish it was. She and her husband were lovely people and she was a terrific cook, but they came from a very urban background in which cleaning fish was not a skill they had ever needed or acquired.

“What does it look like?” I asked.

“It has like this netting all over it,” she said.

I thought that one over for a while. “You mean scales?”

“That’s it. Scales!”

So I suspected it might be carp before I saw it, and it turned out to be a very big carp. Lauren’s brother was an artisanal potter, and she had the carp artfully laid out on one of his large serving platters and the head and tail hung over the ends. It was beautiful, really, but carp definitely belong in the “fishy” category. Smelling it was bad enough. Filleting was horrible. I got it done, mumbled some excuse, and left before I got sick, or, worse, they asked me to stay for dinner.

On the other hand, I have cut up piles of early season Canada geese in sticky, September heat. They stink, and that doesn’t bother me a bit.

I know, I know, catch and release, but given that a large part of the appeal of the outdoors to me is bringing home my own meat, rather than fishing I’ll hunt turkeys in the spring and shoot in the summer to get ready for fall. Gunpowder smells a lot better to me than fish does.