Susy and I were rolling out of the mountains after an almost perfect day. We had taken a scenic drive along the river, picked fruit on a farm, walked to a waterfall, eaten lunch in a historic lodge, and ridden the chairlift to a panoramic viewpoint. We had stood above the clouds and looked out over mountains, forest, desert, and city. Then we had plopped ourselves back in the car for the ride back into town.
Just before the forest gave way to RV parks and mini-golf courses, we saw a sign that read "Rainbow Trout Fishing, next right." Well, I thought, what better way to end a day in the mountains than by catching a nice rainbow for dinner? We could come into town and tell our friends, "That's right -- beautiful scenery, fresh fruit, sky-high adventure, and we caught some fish!"
So off the highway we went and right into a trout farm. I can't say I honestly expected a twisting mountain stream with an old coot loaning out fly rods, but something a little more romantic than a trout farm would have been nice. There was a smattering of tin sheds, a trailer or two, and a bunch of small, round ponds.
We walked up to a teenager at a folding table and announced we'd like to catch some fish. He hardly lifted an eye as he gave us two rods, a little box of live crickets, and a white plastic bucket. "The ponds are sorted by how big the fish are," he said. "Whatever you catch, you have to keep. You pay by the size. The lunker pond is over there." He pointed, without looking, to the farthest pond.
He was hardly a wizened guru, but, hey, I told Susy, let's go catch some fish! We decided a few foot-long fellas would feed us and my roommate nicely, so we headed for lucky pond #7. I took out a cricket, gaffed the poor bastard onto the hook, and handed the rod to Susy. I grabbed another cricket for my hook, and I was thinking that maybe someday it'd be nice to come back with a fly rod and go hook a two-foot lunker, when all of a sudden I heard a little shriek from Susy. I looked over, and the tip of her rod was bouncing around like a car antenna with a flag on it.
She settled down and reeled it in, and in a few seconds, there was a trout flopping around on the side of the pond. Susy made a whimpering sound as I tossed the squirming fish into the bucket. "Well," I said, "that was easy."
I went back to my rod and tossed the cricketed hook into the pond. I was about to tell Susy that I'll show her how to catch a big fish when, bang, there was a fish on my hook. I didn't even have the chance to play it! I reeled it in, and then there were two dying fish in our bucket. It had been less than three minutes.
Susy had a look of disbelief on her face. "Do they feed these fish?" she asked. I loaded up another cricket and cast it out there, and this time two fish practically jumped out of the water to hit it. Four minutes, three fish. "They must not feed 'em," I said. "I think we could tie our car keys to shoestrings, and these fish would hit it."
We looked at each other, then at our haul. Three fish is what we were thinking for dinner, and there they were. At the farm, you can't catch just for pleasure. As the boy told us, you catch it, you keep it. "So," I said, "I, uh, guess we're done."
We took our bucket over to the cleaning table, and the three fish -- which just moments before were hanging with their buddies in pond #7 -- were gutted and beheaded on a bloody slab by another uninterested teenager. We forked over about 17 bucks, and we were on our way. Another day of sport fishing.
As we got to the car, Susy stopped and said, "I'm not really 100 percent on this." I had to agree. That wasn't fishing; it was harvesting. It was the same challenge we'd had picking strawberries.
We drove on back to town and went to the grocery store for the rest of our ingredients. I had to shake my head when I saw fresh rainbow trout on ice, for about the same price we had just paid. At home, my roommate wanted to hear all about the day, and she lit up when we produced the fish. "You guys caught those?" she said, with wonder in her voice. "Well," Susy said. "Yeah. We caught 'em."
Without saying it, Susy and I decided to latch onto my roommate's enthusiasm. We went up the river to the mountains, had a great time, and caught some trout for dinner. Now let's cook the poor little bastards. n
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup butter or margarine, melted
6 large trout fillets
Salt and pepper to taste
Dried thyme to taste
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
Sauté almonds in butter in a large heavy skillet until golden brown; do not let butter burn. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Sprinkle fillets with salt, pepper, and thyme; dip in milk and dredge in flour. Fry fillets in hot oil (360 degrees F.) in skillet over medium heat until golden brown, turning once. Drain on paper towels. Transfer to a serving platter; sprinkle with almonds and parsley and drizzle with any remaining browned butter. Serve with lemon wedges. Yield: 6 servings.