116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Sometimes we are called upon to make sacrifices for the greater good.
My wife, for example, abstains from eating meat on the Fridays of Lent, and I take time out of my busy schedule to try to provide an acceptable substitute.
So it was that I recently found myself on the banks of the Wapsipinicon, desperate to catch a walleye for dinner on the fifth Friday of Lent.
Going into Lent, I had the first four Fridays covered with frozen walleyes caught last November. Surely, I thought, an expert angler like myself will catch two more to tide us over.
On March 22, I caught my first walleye of the season - an 18-incher that would make half a meal for the two of us. I breathed easier, thinking the next one should soon follow, but there was no next one.
On the following Thursday, with time running out, I landed a 2-foot northern pike - an apex predator, feared by other aquatic animals and admired by anglers for its size, strength, streamlined beauty and bellicose disposition.
While some expert anglers of my acquaintance would rather catch a northern than any other species, I myself am ambivalent toward them and have at times referred to them with the pejorative 'snake,” a nickname assigned for their high length-to-girth ratio and extreme flexibility. Apart from their creepiness, however, I do have actual grievances.
To start with, as a light-line enthusiast, I am less likely to land a hooked northern than any other game fish. The toothy critters frequently cut my line with their sharp teeth or break it with their might, taking with them a lure that I will have to pay to replace.
Among my indelible angling memories is a confrontation with a ravenous (or dimwitted) northern that in just a few casts bit off two Flicker Shad crankbaits. It bit yet again on a third Flicker Shad, and with two 3-inch crankbaits in its mouth, it could not get its teeth on the line, enabling me to land it and reclaim my lures.
Northerns' scales also are coated with a thick, slippery, malodorous layer of slime that makes them hard to handle and imparts to an angler's hands a durable and unpleasant memento of the encounter.
Under normal circumstances, when I actually land a northern, I can't release it fast enough. But as I removed my jig, gripping it where its neck would be if it had one, it dawned on me: Here is an edible fish that will do in the pinch I'm in.
I took it home, cleaned it and added it to the bowl of filets chilling in the refrigerator. Since Corinne did not witness the cleaning, and since she has preconceived notions about the edibility of any fish species other than walleye, sauger, crappie and bluegill, I told her only that Friday's dinner was assured.
I cut the northern flesh to match the shape and size of the walleye flesh and prepared them all in the usual manner - dipped in beaten egg, rolled in finely pulverized breadcrumbs and fried to golden brown in peanut oil.
As I enjoyed my Lenten Friday dinner, I waited for Corinne to comment that this or that piece tasted 'fishy.” After 45 years of marriage, she is less concerned with sparing my feelings than with my repeating a mistake.
But her only comments were complimentary, and what started as an experiment to see if a woman of discerning taste would notice the difference ended with open season on northern pike.