Not long ago a reader sent a rant to this paper complaining about the column where I mentioned that I had been bitten by a flounder while cleaning it.
The lady took me to task for my insensitivity toward the poor animal. She was correct in that my efforts were not conducive to the flounder living out its life cycle. Truth is, from the second the fish hit my jig, its destiny changed from swimming around the Halifax trying to eat other fish to a definite date with corn meal and hot grease.
This type of note comes my way quite often. I am well aware of the views of the folks from PETA. Through the years, that organization has attempted to end all fishing and hunting. If that is your true belief, fine, then you should live it. I do have a problem with folks who only give lip service to such a cause. I am a meat eater. I would never pretend not to be.
Over the past seven years or so that I have written this column, I have always encouraged my readers to take as much care with the fish as possible. As for me, I value each and every critter in the water. Whenever I come upon a fish bank where some thoughtless angler has left a catfish or stingray on the bank to die, I am saddened. Those fish and other so-called trash fish are a valuable part of the marine ecosystem. Dead baitfish or shrimp that have been left behind should always be put back into the water where they can be recycled by Mother Nature. I don't live on the river, but I make it a point to put all fish parts from fish I have cleaned back into the water. The writer said she was a fisherman. I wonder how humane she is with the live bait she uses? Small animals are just as sensitive as large. As a fisherman who uses artificials about 90 percent of the time, I am proud of the fact that I usually don't have to kill shrimp, mullet and any other natural bait.
A few years back I helped my friend Al Hauser catch a 60-pound barracuda in the Halifax. At the end of a one-hour battle, I was able to lift that huge 'cuda into Al's boat. After suitable time to admire the great animal, I insisted on putting that fish back alive. When I wrote about that, I took a lot of heat from readers. People were appalled that I had released such a major predator into water where people swim. Truth is, that big fish was such a beautiful specimen, I could never kill it for nothing. It was not to be used as food. It took a long time for the barracuda to grow to that size. In good conscience, I just couldn't kill it so that folks could take pictures and "ooh" and "aah" back at the bait shop.
Actually, I don't know the best way to kill a fish. Commercial fishermen who supply the markets and fast food places usually throw them on ice right away. I don't know how humane that is, but it is the norm for most of the fish we eat. The flounder that bit my thumb with its last gasp had been caught on a hot day. In order to keep it fresh, I had placed it on a chain stringer and attached it to my kayak where it could be kept in the water alive and therefore fresh for the table.
By the time I got it home, it was near death from its ordeal. Several others on that stringer were already totally dead. When I went to it with a sharp knife, I obviously believed it to be a goner or I would not have foolishly put my thumb into its mouth. I paid for my mistake. Just remember, all of those burgers and fish sandwiches you eat came from animals that did not die of old age.
Dan Smith has fished the waters of Volusia County for more than 40 years. Email questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, "I Swear the Snook Drowned," is available for $10.95 at (386) 441-7793.