A FATHER’S PASSION: The state trophy fish that got away

One of my best fishing partners is Mark Fiorentino. You may know him as the fellow who initiated the youth group fishing program at the Bowman Pond.

Not only is he an avid and accomplished fisher, but is also a great dad who has encouraged his son, Gage, and daughter, Ellie, to appreciate the outdoor conservation ethic. We’ve fished together many times and as you might expect are often out-fished by both.

That brings us to one of my favorite stories, unfortunately one to which many of us can relate.

The Great Perch Tragedies

By Mark Fiorentino

I suppose there are lots of times in life when you don’t need to know exact numbers. The length of my driveway, the number of cookies I had for dessert and the amount I spent on THE PANHANDLER (a double-edged, single action fish filleting piece of genius that I have never used) all come to mind.

But, let me tell you something. When it comes to perch, exact numbers are very important. I learned this the hard way in what will forever be known as The First Great Perch Tragedy.

It all began a few months ago. My daughter Ellie and I were fishing one of our favorite lakes and were down to the last few casts. We were due home so I could clean up before taking my wife to dinner for our 14th wedding anniversary (anniversaries being one of those times when exact numbers and punctuality are critical). Ellie pitched her worm next to a submerged boulder and almost instantly yelled: “Dad, I got a nice one here.”

When she got it on board, I saw she was right.

“That is a huge Pumpkinseed. I bet it qualifies for the state’s trophy fish program. We have to photograph and measure it.”

I explained that the state issues a certificate and pin if you catch a fish of sufficient size. There are two ways to qualify: by weight and by length. To qualify by weight, you must have the fish weighed on a certified scale. This usually requires killing the fish in order to transport it to an approved scale. Or, you can release the fish if you take pictures of the angler holding it and clearly showing its length. We keep a yardstick on the boat for this exact purpose.

My buddies alternatively refer to me as “insane” and “well-prepared”.

Killing the fish wasn’t an option for me or Ellie, so we carefully took the required pictures. We haven’t heard from the state yet, but her Pumpkinseed was clearly a qualifier. The minimum length is nine inches. This one was a shade over 10.

That fish triggered something. Now, Ellie can’t get enough of fishing. I am convinced that the prospect of earning trophy pins has replaced the desire to occasionally humor me. I am convinced because she told me so.

“Dad, we have to get back out on the lake and do some more fishing.”

“Really, you enjoy fishing with me that much?”

My heart, ignoring signals from my brain, was swelling.

“Well … sure. But, don’t you think we can get some more pins? You have always said there are some huge fish in that lake.”

And so, about a week later, we were back at it. I wasn’t optimistic about our chances. The wind was blowing really hard. I knew I could put us on one of the honey holes, but I didn’t think I could keep us there long enough to catch fish.

Turns out, I had nothing to worry about. Ellie made her first cast, and before I could even put bait on my line, she said, “Oh my”.

Those were her only words as she hoisted into the boat the largest yellow perch I have ever seen. I mean, it was a monster.

Twenty full seconds of stunned silenced passed. And then, “Does it qualify?”

“I don’t know. Let’s take some pictures and measure it.”

It was no easy task getting a good shot of her holding a fish whose girth was three times the size of her forearm. Twice it powered its way out of her grip by flicking its enormous head. Finally, with her arm shaking, she was able to hold it just long enough for me to snap a picture.

We then carefully laid it on the yardstick. Sensing, I’m sure, the magnitude of the circumstances, the fish lay still; 17 1/2 inches.

“Is it big enough?”

“I’m afraid not. It needs to be 21 inches. Sorry, honey.”

“Shouldn’t you take a picture of it on the yardstick just in case?”

“No need. I’m sure. Twenty-one is the minimum.”

We made the drive home in silence, each lost in our own thoughts. And my thoughts were consuming me. What started as nagging doubt was quickly turning to sheer panic.

“What kind of idiots set these standards? How can a perch exceeding 17 inches not qualify? I was looking at the standard for smallmouth bass. Please tell me I didn’t confuse the two. Why, oh why didn’t I just open the book I keep on the boat? Better yet, why didn’t I just take a picture like Ellie suggested?”

I waited until the next day to tell her.

“I made a mistake. The minimum is only 15 inches. Your fish easily qualified.”

In response, she stared at me with a mixture of shock, anger and pity. I’ve never seen that expression on her face before, though its commonplace with my 13-year-old son.

And then it passed.

“Well, dad, we’ll just have to go catch him again.”

Mark’s Lakeside Grilled Rainbow Reward

A great way to prepare rainbow trout at your campfire near one of those small lakes is to cut the fish in half down the backbone. Cut slits in tin foil, place fish in foil, salt and pepper and spread mayonnaise generously over fish.

Slice lemons and lay on top of mayonnaise, or onions, whichever you prefer, wrap fish and put on campfire. Melt 1/2

cup butter; pour in some lemon juice and brush on fish once in a while during cooking.

A five-pound fish takes about 30 minutes. Fish flakes easily at thickest part when done.

Campfire Trout in Sorrel Sauce

2 pounds of trout fillets, flour seasoned with salt and pepper for dredging;

1 cup oil for frying fillets;

1 cup dry white wine;

1 cup water;

2 celery stalks, coarsely chopped;

1 medium carrot, coarsely chopped;

1 medium onion, chopped;

3 garlic cloves, minced;

10 tablespoons butter, softened;

1 tsp pepper;

2 cups fresh sorrel, torn into 1-inch pieces;

Cook celery, carrot, onion and garlic in two tablespoons of butter until vegetables are soft but not browned; add wine and water and cook covered over medium-high heat for 20 minutes; remove cover and bring to a boil while whisking in butter, salt and pepper; remove from heat and stir in sorrel.

Prepare fillets by dredging in flour and fry in a cast iron skillet; drain fillets on paper towels; place on a large serving platter and pour sorrel sauce over the top. Serve immediately.

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