cross, john.jpg

The opening last weekend of the fishing season for walleyes and northern pike always is an anticipated event in Minnesota.

But a smaller cadre of anglers eagerly are awaiting Minnesota’s other two Minnesota fishing openers — the May 29 bass season opener and a week later, on June 5, the season for muskellunge.

Of course, a frequent measure of success on the walleye opener is a sizzling pan of walleye fillets at day’s end.

But for all of the devotion that bass and muskie anglers have for their species, a curious thing is that neither fish is one that present-day anglers are inclined to kill and eat.

There was a time when this was not so.

Page through a Free Press from 40 years ago and frequently, there were photographs of local anglers with limits of bass caught from local lakes dangling from stringers.

At about the same time, a couple of fellows from the Brainerd area named Lindner were building a name and image for themselves as fishing gurus by posing with stringered limits of fish, sometimes walleyes but frequently, big bass.

Things have changed.

No doubt a few anglers sneak off an area lake with a few bass sloshing in their live well but most are landed, perhaps posed for a quick photograph and then slipped back into the water.

Al, Ron and their kin long ago began preaching the gospel of catch-and-release.

Nowadays, catch-and-release is a mantra that has caught on for all fish species but it is especially so for bass and muskies. Hook ’em, fight ’em, snap a photo and let ’em go to bite and fight another day.

It’s impossible to logically justify all the money avid anglers of any species spend pursuing their finned quarry purchasing boats, towing rigs, tackle and gas.

And sometimes, even avid anglers wonder. If a meal of fish is the goal, a trip to the meat counter would be far cheaper.

Devotees to muskies and bass especially seemed inclined to invest princely sums for boat brimming with thousands in electronics and tackle, towed by a $30,000 vehicle, just to catch a fish and then release it.

To a non-angler, it must seem very curious and maybe even a little foolish.

But then in Minnesota, we seem to have a lot of foolish people. Last weekend, while fishing Leech Lake, it was nothing to count several hundred boats in the various fish haunts, all hoping to catch a walleye or two and knowing that most of what was caught would have to be returned to the lake because they fell into a protected slot limit.

For all of the money the flotilla of boats represented, guessing by the limited number of times landing nets were unfurled, most of the anglers came up a bit short for an opening day fish fry.

But the weather was fine, the atmosphere festive, few complaints were heard. It was opening day and though the catching may not have measured up, the fishing was great.

Some anglers truly are religious about practicing catch-and-release. Most of us are not quite so devout.

Depending on the circumstances, I’ve been known to keep and kill a 5-pound walleye. (And for all of that talk about the 16-inchers being the best eaters, that 24-incher ate just fine, thank you.)

 Personally, I’ve never chosen to eat the few muskellunges I have boated, so I can’t vouch for the culinary value of that big predator fish.

But over the years, I’ve eaten a bass or two, and while they don’t measure up to a panfish or walleye, a two-pound largemouth offers its own curious culinary appeal when served up on a plate.

But then, I suppose the same can be said about bullheads.

John Cross is a Free Press staff writer. Contact him at 344-6376 or by e-mail at jcross@mankatofreepress.com.

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