Is there an ichthyologist in the house?

It was a beautiful day today, about 65 degrees and sunny. Kevin was sitting in our backyard, taking a break from shoveling compost when a trout feeding frenzy erupted right in front of him.

Trout are enigmatic creatures. Often, when you can see them breaking the surface right in front of you, they’re very difficult to catch. They’ve got their little fishy minds on one specific kind of prey, and unless you’re something out of A River Runs Through It, you’re not going to fool them into thinking you’ve got what they want.

But Kevin couldn’t help himself. He ran into the basement, pulled on his waders, and grabbed a fishing rod, a gold spoon lure already on it. In ten casts, he hooked five fish and landed two.

That happens with bluefish, but it doesn’t happen with trout. It just doesn’t.

Where was I while all the excitement was going down? Heedlessly planting arugula seedlings in between the rows of romaine in the cold frame. Kevin called me, but I was listening to an audiobook (A.S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book) and I didn’t hear him. I only found out about the great sport I missed when I went down to the pond to fill the watering can.

I went for my waders while Kevin outfitted another rod, and we both went back in, but it was too late. They were gone.

I gutted the fish in the pond while Kevin made a few more casts, but two was all we were destined to catch today. One of them even had roe, but it was immature – not the beautiful, bright orange beads that I’ve only found once. (Don’t mourn for the unborn fish – our pond is stocked and the trout don’t breed in it.)

I’m beginning to learn how to catch them. I certainly know how to cook them. The only thing I absolutely can’t do is identify them. Last year, we caught mostly what I suspected were rainbows. These two are something else, but I don’t know what. I don’t think they’re brown. Speckled? Shasta? If anyone can help me ID these two, I’d be grateful.

11 people are having a conversation about “Is there an ichthyologist in the house?

  1. My brother John, a consummate fly fisherman, says they look like German Brown trout, or a hybrid thereof. He said they appeared to have been deceased for a while before the photo was taken, which causes the colors to fade. German Browns are the most common trout in the U.S., and love the east coast environment. Bon appetite!

  2. Mimi — The fish had been dead about an hour when I took the photo, but the light may not have done the colors justice. We also suspect the two fish may be different breeds (the jawline looks different). Regardless, they’ll make a fine meal.

  3. I can’t i.d. them but I just wanted to say how BEAUTIFUL they are! What’s your favorite way of cooking them and what do you like to serve them with?

  4. Next time, gut your fish over a hole in the garden, cover it with wood ash, and then bury that under soil. Fish guts make great fertilizer! My neighbor in Florida, who had an incredible organic garden with dark, crumbly, beautiful soil (while the rest of us were dealing with sand) was also an avid fisherman. Actually, I used to say that Mike was the Euell Gibbons of Florida- he could spot wild oregano growing by the side of the road from his truck at 35 miles an hour- he also knew which tributary creeks of the St. John’s river had the best clay for making shrimp bait- anyway- he always buried fish guts in his garden and he said that the wood ash keeps the raccoons from digging it back up.

  5. Sara — My all-time favorite way of cooking trout is smoking them. Kevin builds a fire on one side of the kettle grill, adds soaked wood chips, and cooks the fish on the cool side. Takes about 20-30 minutes. I usually flake the meat and make something out of it. Caramelized onions, some white wine, the trout, and a little cream makes for a fine pasta sauce. That may be tonight’s dinner …

    Paula — Don’t you love guys like that? And I was going to put the guts right in the compost pile, but last time we did that the varmints got ’em. But now that I have the wood-ash technique, I’ll give it a go.

  6. We vote brown trout (salmo trutta), but we can’t be more specific vis sub-species.

    The jawlines are different because the top one is a cock (boy fish) and the bottom one is a hen (girl fish) The male can be distinguised by the kype, that litle hook on his bottom jaw. The males are usually smaller than the females too.

    Mike tells me brown are generally harder to catch than their rainbow kin. Kevin must have a bit of the ‘fish whisperer’ about him…

    I look forward to seeing what you do with them in your Starving Challenge!

  7. How do you know the two trout Kevin caught were among the fish that were stocked? All our ponds here in Wellfleet have signs warning folks not to eat the fish. I heard Gull Pond is stocked, but I would worry that I’d catch non-stocked fish who are also swimming around.

  8. Oh lucky you to have such gorgeous trout! Wish we could have the chance to catch more trout and maybe then, we’ll be able to help you id them. Until then, we can just drool and be in awe of such beauty.

  9. Jen — That’s two votes for brown trout, and one very cogent explanation. I’m constantly chagrined by the sheer volume of things I don’t know. We’ve been trout fishing here for two years now, and I had no idea males had a kype, or even that such a thing as a kype existed. Thanks.

    Alexandra — The trout don’t breed in our pond (the conditions aren’t right), so we know that every trout we catch is stocked. But I’ve also eaten small-mouth bass out of the pond, which grow native. As long as I don’t make a habit of it, I don’t worry too much about toxins — driving a car or going out in a boat is way riskier than eating the non-stocked fish.

    D&T — Next time you’re in the ‘hood, come on down to the Cape. We’ll fish! Then we can all have a trout-identification lesson, followed by dinner.

    • Andrew — I love it when someone stumbles on a long-ago post and bothers to answer one of my many pressing questions. Thanks! And just in time for this year’s trout season, too.

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