Sometimes our fishing days are awesome. Other times it seems like everything that can go wrong, does go wrong- and then some. I’ve come to learn that being a mother often means taking the backseat or sitting on the sidelines. Sage’s needs will always come first, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but sometimes it’s hard. As Sage gets older, he finds interest in the things we’re doing, but not always. He’s always loved the outdoors, the cold weather even, but then sometimes he’s not in the mood. He loves being carried around like a little prince in the backpack, and then sometimes he just wants his freedom. Don’t even get him started on how much he loves scrambling around in the sand and the dirt- picking up rocks and grinning his mischievous grin as I tell him “No! Don’t put that in your mouth!!” He loves when we catch a fish and he giggles as we show it to him. He hates staying put, he’s always driving us to push farther.
But ! Alas, today was not the Sage goes on an adventure and loves every second of it kind of day. Sage napped for a nano second and was in a cranky mood on the day we get to fish private water. The weather was a bit iffy, and we were hoping the rain would hold off so we could get some fishing in and Sage wouldn’t get wet- he doesn’t have a rain jacket just yet. He outgrew his REI snowsuit in the blink of an eye and our wallets are hoping his summertime rain jacket will last a bit longer- and yes, I’m planning to size up. We hadn’t been fishing for more than twenty minutes and the rain started coming down in blankets. Running to an old barn from an 1800s homestead, we ducked in for cover. Cold, fresh, senses clearing, mountain rain. Holy in a way, cleansing and purifying, it down poured.
As it eased up, we saw the end of the storm clouds, and Josh went out to look for sheds while Sage and I explored our surroundings, taking in the feels of architectural history. Not five minutes later, eagle eyed Josh found his first elk spike of the year- a little unicorn tine!
We headed back down to the river, the wind was crazy, blowing in more stormy weather. I couldn’t get a bite, my waders were leaking and I was freezing. My waders were my husband’s hand-me-downs from his high school years and have been patched up time and time again, but no patching could repair the toll time had taken. There was a leak in my foot, my shin, oh and my other foot, and my other leg too- they since have been replaced. Thank you my love! Anyways, as I was getting untangled from setting on a gosh darn stick, the wind put its finishing touch on some knots. Sage started screaming. No consoling, other than getting him out of the pack so he could play on the banks and in the stick piles beavers left behind. So I was out for the rest of the day. Josh was tagged in.
We came up on a beaver pond, there were some huge shadows we could see from below the dam. We hadn’t been doing amazing nymphing so hey why not throw a streamer in there and see what happens. Sage was in the limbo stage where he’s too tired to be entertained but too upset about being so tired to fall asleep. Josh decidedly started fishing the beaver pond and not five minutes later had Sage fallen asleep in my arms, it began to snow; big wet Colorado springtime snowflakes, the slushy kind that get you soaked to the bone right before they start getting real cold. Josh had hooked something big in no time and I was trying to be excitedly quiet cheering him on from afar. I was also trying my best to position myself as a human canopy. Josh had hooked a pike but all I saw was a fish take his line straight to the opposite side of the beaver pond and get stuck in some branches. He had to cross over, waist deep and as soon as the pike saw him it untangled itself.
Now the owner of this property has asked that we remove any pike we catch. They’re an invasive, non native fish that have come down from being stocked unnaturally in a nearby reservoir. They eat the trout on his world renowned trout fishing property, and he hates them. We’ve never supported killing anything that we wouldn’t eat and get full and complete usage out of. So that’s what we decided to do, and the story of us doing such with this pike will stay with us forever.
Josh had thought he had killed the pike outright, hitting it over the head with a stick. No animal, mammal or other, should have to suffer. A swift end is the best way to respect its life. We thanked the pike for its sacrament, it would nourish our family and we headed back to the truck in the freezing cold. Not ten minutes later, packing up the rods and taking off all our waders had the fish flopped its way off the tailgate. It was very much alive, and we were horrified! What kind of fish can live out of the water for that long anyhow?! We thought it was just nerves but then we saw its gills moving and it completely wriggling around. So Josh put an end to this again. We drove off, had to stop for diesel and some beer. It was still snowing and took us a good 45 minutes to get home after we stopped to admire a bachelor group of bull elk. Their velvet was growing strong, and a couple already had impressive sets.
When we got home we set the pike in the sink while Josh showered. I waited until he was done to filet the fish, playing with Sage. It had snow on it keeping it cold, and I got up to take a look at it. I’d never seen a pike in person before. It was like I didn’t know what I was looking at, I couldn’t tell the sex. I looked at its pointy sharp teeth, it was so much different than a trout. It looked like a prehistoric creature. And it reminded me of the barracuda in The Sorcerer’s Stone. I could have sworn it was looking right at me. Josh went to gut it, and it was alive! I can’t explain how. I can’t explain why. We couldn’t believe it! What in the world!! It had been almost an hour at this point since we had taken the fish from the river. It couldn’t breathe out of the water it was a fish after all, we tried again and again to put its out of its misery. I was mortified. Josh went for its brain, it bled out.
I got the cutting board and went to filet and debone it. It flinched as soon as I touched its slimy scaley body. No way. This can’t be happening. How?! There it was, watching me. I felt my stomach knot, my heart sink. I was on the brink of tears, but scared just enough of the situation to hold them back. I couldn’t gut this thing while it was alive, but I had to put it out of it misery for once and for all and quick. I’d never killed anything before I was freaked out about this whole thing and I just couldn’t do it. My husband is a hunter, and I have the utmost respect for him in all that he does. He feeds our family organically, sustainably, from the freest ranging animals this Earth supports. The aim is always for the animal to not suffer, for a clean end, to expire without ever even noting your presence. But here this pike was, defying nature and science and living out our worst nightmare. To me it’s life was worth just as much as that of an elk. Josh finally took a clever to it.
When all was said and done, this is the type of freak accident that turns someone vegetarian. And I understand that. But I couldn’t do that, especially not now. I owed that pike my absolute best cooking, I owed the pike the complete usage of its sacrifice.
I haven’t told Josh this just yet, but he’ll find out when he reads my post. That night the pike visited me in my dreams. It wasn’t a vivid dream, it wasn’t an angry dream. It was foggy and muddled, all I saw was its face. Her face, her eyes. I didn’t say anything that I was thinking but as I looked at her she understood, and all was forgiven. She was somewhere she didn’t belong, though it wasn’t her fault. She was somewhere where the eggs I found inside her would be hunted. Not all the men who took pike out of streams put them to use, most even hold a vendetta against them. I was thankful we would put her to use. But never again do I want harvesting a fish to unfold anything similar to how it did that night.