By Doug Claycomb, Outdoor Ethics Chair
Greetings, Ikes! I am honored to have been appointed by the Board to be our chapter’s first Outdoor Ethics Chair. Since this role is brand-spanking new, and there is no established position description, I get to figure it out as I go. The first thing I want to do is to write, on a somewhat regular basis, about local outdoor opportunities (usually related to fishing, hunting or foraging). I envision these “outdoor opportunity” pieces to be entirely apolitical, “light” reading. Later, I anticipate writing on relevant environmental issues. These “issue” pieces will address controversial environmental topics from an advocacy standpoint. But for now, I’ll keep it light. Here goes:
If you have never gone fishing, living in Minnesota, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. The easiest way to get started is to pursue Minnesota’s most frequently caught fish--the “sunny.” The term “sunny” is used to refer to several similar species including the pumpkinseed, bluegill, and sunfish. Although sometimes a bit on the small side, sunnies are plentiful in nearly every waterway in Minnesota (including Bush Lake), are almost always eager to bite and are really great to eat.
To fish in Minnesota, a license is necessary--with a few exceptions I describe here. First off, children (15 and under) who reside in-state do not need a license. Also, in most Minnesota State Parks, fishing privileges are included in the admission fee--without a license. And then there is “take a kid fishing weekend” (June 9-11, 2017) during which an adult may fish without a license if accompanying a child who is also fishing. Everybody else needs a license.
Now for the hardest part of any fishing trip: catching fish. First of all, no angler is ever assured a fish. For those who want certainty, there is a seafood section at the CUB foods. Nonetheless, it does not take an expert to land a dozen or so sunnies from shore. The most rudimentary “kiddie” rod, a few worms from the garden, a hook, and maybe a small bobber is all you’ll need. Experiment a little bit, watch others who are catching them, and soon enough you’ll be catching them too.
Did I tell you that sunnies make excellent table fare? Well, they do. Although even the smallest sunnies are delicious, most anglers consider 6 or 7 inches to be the minimum size “keeper” and anything over 8 inches is a “nice one.” The really good news: in most waters, an angler can keep up to 20 sunnies per day, year-round.
Although some fishing purists practice strict “catch-and-release,” there is no reason to feel guilty for taking home a bucketful of sunnies for the fry pan. The limit on sunnies is set by the DNR at 20 because they reproduce prolifically. In fact, because many lakes in Minnesota are over-populated with sunnies resulting in stunted (abnormally small) fish, taking them home to eat can sometimes actually help the fishery!
Cleaning and cooking sunnies is a snap. All you need to do is scrape the scales away, cut off the head (optional), slice open the belly and pull the guts out. That’s it. Then rinse it and it’s ready for the kitchen. Sure, you can try all sorts of fancy recipes, but with a fish as tasty as a sunny, less is more. I like to sprinkle them with a little salt and pepper, coat them with flour, and fry them for just a few minutes in butter--until they’re brown. Easy, tasty, and nutritious!
Be warned, eating sunnies the way I suggest requires a bit of patience and practice because the bones are left in. The best way to go at them is gently with a fork, lifting the meat off the bones, inspecting each morsel visually, then occasionally plucking a stray bone from your mouth. Although a bone is sometimes unpleasant, you cannot actually choke on a fish bone. They are too small.
If you absolutely cannot bare the prospect of a fish bone in your mouth, then you probably should just practice catch-and-release. The other solution is to fillet them. Although filleting sunnies is technically possible, especially if the knife is in skilled hands, it is uncommon. This is because filleting works best on larger fish, not sunnies.
So, if you are interested in giving it a try, find yourself with some spare time this summer, or you want to try something “outdoorsy” with a child, consider sunny-fishing. Be sure to consult the DNR website about specific regulations (don’t take my word for it), always be safe near water, and leave nothing behind but footprints.