I hate killing wild trout.
I only do it on the rare occasion when I've obviously hurt one with a hook badly enough to make its chances of survival poor.
That's rare because I fish flies with tiny hooks that usually come out easily, sometimes before I can bring the fish to the net.
The best part about fly fishing -- or at least the second-best part -- is watching the fish swim away, looking healthy, disappearing into a pool or the shade of a willow stand.
But I killed a beautiful, perfectly healthy 14-inch wild brown trout the other day. And that matters to me. Because almost all of the trout in Rapid Creek below Canyon Lake in Rapid City are wild brown trout, self-sustaining mostly.
It’s an amazing fishery, really, running right through the heart of the state’s second-biggest city. It needs to be treated with respect.
And catch-and-release fishing — not for all, but for many of us — is one important way of showing that sustaining respect.
But I thought I had good reason to kill this particular brown trout. A guy on shore, one of a few dozen you’ll see along the creek with some regularity, wanted it.
I often have conversations with the people of the creek. They tend to be interested in my fishing, and sometimes ask whether the fish are biting and what I’m catching.
When you get a fish on, and the rod bends and dances, they often stop and watch, obviously entertained. But this guy broke off from his group of friends and walked over to the bank for a better look.
"What did you catch?" he asked as I netted the trout.
"Brown trout," I said.
"Can I see it?" he asked.
"Sure," I said, lifting up the net out of the water and reaching in to lift the fish out for him to have a look.
"Can I have it?" he added.
That stopped me short.
"You want the fish?" I asked.
"Yeah," he said. "I want to eat it."
"Really," I said. "You'll eat it? Because it's a good fish. And they're good eating."
“Oh, I know they are,” he said. "So can I have it?"
I looked at the trout, looked at the guy, reached in, and unhooked the fish, then I slogged over in my waders to hold out the net so the guy could reach in and grab it, with both hands, carefully.
"Thanks," he said with a grin, then headed over to a group of his buddies waiting in the shade of a creekside tree. There he showed off the fish to his pals before putting it in some kind of a sack or bag.
Then the group moved on up the creek.
I went back to casting, believing hopefully that he did plan to cook and eat the trout. Maybe on some rudimentary fire in a creekside camp. Or at a friend or relative’s home. Or maybe he has a little place of his own, with a kitchen or at least a hot plate.
These folks dine where they can and eat what’s available. Maybe it’s a meal supplied at the Cornerstone Rescue Mission, which has stipulations including that guests cannot be intoxicated. Maybe it’s at one of the many outside feeding locations by charitable groups without such stipulations.
It might be a boxed lunch from the Care Campus, the multi-faceted city-county detox center, halfway house and addiction-treatment complex that also offers short-term safe space for those who need it.
Or maybe it’s simply by walking over to Rapid Creek and asking a fisherman to share his bounty.
Such meals matter to people who don’t have much and don’t ask much of guys like me.
And I continue to believe the guy on the creek found a way to cook and eat that trout.
I hope so. It was a good fish. And they're good eating.
But then, the guy along the creek already knew that.