Make a meal of trout

Fried, baked or grilled, trout are easy to prepare and easy to cook.

Angler harvest has no effect on populations

To keep or not to keep a trout is sometimes a question and sometimes a dilemma.

Conservation-based groups such as Trout Unlimited are militant in their approach to trout fishing: release, never keep. As a long-time member of Trout Unlimited, I appreciate its diligence in preserving trout and untiring work to improve trout habitat. I just don’t embrace the strict catch-and-release policy.

First, I love a good trout dinner, whether it’s fried, baked or grilled, but it must be prepared fresh from a stream. Quality is reduced even if the trout is kept overnight, more if it’s frozen. I never order trout in a restaurant, nor will I buy trout at a grocery or from a fish monger. It just isn’t the same.

Second, I am particular about where I fish for trout to keep and eat. The state’s hatchery-supported streams are, for me, guilt-free catch-and-keep fishing. The Commission lists around 4,000 miles of streams capable of supporting trout populations; approximately 2,000 miles of these streams are designated as public mountain trout waters, and half of those streams are capable of supporting self-sustaining trout populations. The remaining 1,000 miles are stocked with hatchery-raised trout, about 900,000 rainbows, brooks and browns annually. The trout are there for the taking. If anglers don’t thin them out, the majority will die.

I live a short distance from the Oconaluftee River’s hatchery-supported waters, and that’s where I fish for my trout dinners. It’s a rare outing that doesn’t produce a trout or two for dinner; more when I’m fixing dinner for my daughter’s family. No matter if I’m cooking for several people or for myself, I keep only enough for that day’s meal.

My trout fishing, however, is not limited to stocked waters. Within a half-hour’s drive are the trout-rich waters of the Great Smoky Mountains Park. When fishing these wild-trout waters, I seldom keep a trout, unless I’m camping and want trout for dinner. Even here, I can keep a trout without worrying that I’m depleting a precious resource. Survey after survey shows that angler activity has minimal impact on wild trout, affecting only 15 percent of the population, according to park biologists Matt Kulp and Steve Moore, the latter now retired.

Nature has the largest impact on trout populations, especially flooding and drought. Flooding adversely affects reproduction, and droughts reduce the number of adult trout. Plus, wild trout have a short life span due to scarcity of natural resources. On average, biologists say, a wild trout will live for about three years and reach a maximum size of 10 inches because of limited food. When a trout reaches nine or 10 inches, it can’t find enough food to maintain its metabolic rate, so it loses weight and dies. Brown trout, however, switch to a diet of fish and crustaceans when they reach about 8 inches, allowing them to live longer and grow bigger, some reaching 30 inches and longer.

Keeping trout or releasing trout is really a personal choice. As long as the trout are there for the taking, I will continue to have my guilt-free trout dinners. If you do decide to keep an occasional trout, here are a few tips for preparing them.

Clean the fish, using a knife or scaler to remove the scales from brown and rainbow trout; brook trout do not have scales. Coat the fish with a seasoned commercial fish-fry mix such as New Orleans Fish Fry, or make your own mix using cornmeal, flour, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and Old Bay seasoning. Stuff the cavity with fresh thyme, rosemary and diced fresh scallions.

When frying trout, my preferred method, I use peanut oil and fry them on medium heat for about five minutes per side or until the trout is golden brown and the meat easily flakes off. Spoon hot oil into the cavity before and after turning the fish.

For baking, heat the oven to 400 degrees, coat the fish with olive oil, stuff the cavity with herbs and bake for about 10 minutes. Add water to the baking dish and cook for another 10 minutes or until the meat flakes off.

For grilling, coat the grill and the fish with olive oil, stuff the cavity with herbs and grill for about six or seven minutes per side. To prevent sticking, place the trout on orange or grapefruit slices.

The skin of a trout is good eating when it’s crispy. Also, don’t forget the cheek meat, a dime-size scallop of meat located behind the eyes, considered by many a delicacy.

People often ask if there is a difference in the taste of wild trout and a stocked trout. If the trout has been in a stream for a while, my taste buds cannot discern a difference in the quality of the meat.

About Robert Satterwhite 180 Articles
Bob Satterwhite has been writing about the outdoors, particularly trout fishing, for more than 25 years. A native of Morganton, N.C., he lives in Cullowhee, N.C., close to the Tuckasegee River, Caney Fork, Moses Creek, and several other prime trout streams.

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