Blackened Pike for Lunch

Every time we sit down to eat fresh fish or game, I’m reminded how amazing everything we get when we go fishing or hunting tastes. Today for lunch, Jill and I had blackened northern pike cooked on a cast iron skillet in the garage.

It tastes so good it makes me feel like going fishing again right now to catch a couple more for tomorrow. Last week, while riding with Kolt Ringer of Foley Belsaw Outdoors, on the way down to Branson for the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers (AGLOW) conference, we were talking about the trends that have come and gone when it comes to keeping and eating fish. I remember well that you kept whatever fish you wanted, when I was a kid. Then along came an enlightened period when we realized “the catches are not endless,” in the words of angling legend Ron Lindner, and we all started talking about catch and release.

The ‘release camp’ got so enthusiastic about the cause that some of us had to start keeping quiet about still keeping fish to eat. I remember being happy when Ron and Al Lindner and the In-Fisherman staff coined the term ‘Selective Harvest,’ a concept that proposed we can keep certain size fish without worrying about the populations as a whole, but that we should be releasing the prime spawning fish in an effort to help fisheries remain self-sustaining. Doug Stange, and others, have written about this now for many years, adding also that many waters are stocked with fish in order so that people can catch and keep them, known as put-and-take fisheries.

When you kill something on a hunting trip, you’re in for another real treat when you cook up what you got. This is a huge part of the tradition of fishing and hunting, something that we will be working on at the School of Outdoor Sports as we continue to develop lessons in our virtual classroom. In the meantime, here’s to a great fall for everybody, full of hunting and fishing and amazing meals made from what you catch up with.

Northern pike cooking rapidly on white-hot cast iron skillet.(Thanks to Rick Wood for teaching me how to do blackened fish, and to Mike Walsh for working on recipes that he’ll be showing us on the SOS site in the coming years.)

Let’s Paint the Next Sunrise for Hunting and Fishing

During my career as an outdoor writer and photographer – which started back in 1977 – the traditional outdoor sports of fishing, hunting, and shooting have seen alarming declines in participation. I’ve been reading participation studies for many years, and observing programs aimed at getting more beginners started, and/or keeping people in the fold… and wishing that gloomy stories about the future would be replaced by news that more people are becoming actual, active participants.

So far, trends of decline continue.

For the past 10 years or so, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I grew up in a family headed by what we would call an outdoor generalist. My dad loved to hunt, fish, shoot, camp… anything outdoors, especially if it had to do with pursuit and capture. Friends and acquaintances would sometimes ask, “do you have any pictures of your dad where he’s not holding something up that he just caught or shot?”

As the seasons changed, we would switch from fly fishing for bluegills to casting for muskies to jigging for walleyes to grouse hunting to deer hunting to pheasant hunting to ice fishing to turkey hunting, and the cycle continued. There was always something in season.

Since my dad passed away in 2002, I have spent a lot of time looking at old photos and 8 mm movies (both Super 8 and Regular 8, if you remember those) of our family fishing and hunting adventures. Comparing the world we live in now to those days makes me worry more about the future of the traditional outdoor sports. Those images remind me of how much fun we always had out there, and they cause me to look at the world we have ‘developed’ and think that too many people are missin’ the boat.

Too many people spend too much time insulated from the natural world.

It’s harder, for many people, to find a good place to go fishing, hunting, or shooting. And it’s harder, for almost everybody, to find someone who can teach them the basics of whatever they want to try. Success–defined as catching fish on purpose, creating shooting opportunities when you go hunting, and hitting what you’re aiming at when shooting–is what helps beginners form a lasting attachment to the outdoors, and the traditional outdoor sports.

I have decided to dedicate the rest of my career to helping reverse the trend of declining participation in my favorite activities.

More details to come…

– Mark