Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Reverence and a Monster Walleye

I know guys who weep when they kill a deer.  The moment means a lot to them.  They feel a connection to the prey animal whose blood they've spilled and whose flesh will nourish them and their families.  I'm not big on weeping myself.  I respect it as an act of reverence and we could use a bit more of this kind of reverence in our lives, but it is not my way of reverence.

Consider for a second, however, the average deer killed is about 18 months old.  Impressive for a squirrel; nigh impossible for a wild rabbit, but in the grand scheme of things, not that old.  Just a tad older than the average steer going to market.  Why does the harvest of Cervid species seem to corner the market on reverence?

I suspect the reverence arises from a confluence of circumstances.  A deer is often the largest animal
harvested by a hunter.  For some hunters it might be the only animal he kills and consumes in a year.  The emotional energy and time put into a hunt can be significant.  Deer also benefit from having long eyelashes and deep brown eyes.  It is easier to revere something that is lovely.  There is privilege in being pretty.

Reverence for the animals we consume grows from thankfulness and thankfulness from knowledge.  New knowledge can lead to new experiences of thankfulness, to epiphany. The distinction between the common and the holy is subjective.  One man's god is another's idol, one man's grape juice in another's host.

As sportsmen and women, but also farmers, we expand our opportunities to experience the holy every time we seek to understand our place in the ecosystem.We benefit, we become more mindful, more honest, more virtuous when we recognize any thing made dead for our benefit.  If I would choose any characteristic for particular reverence I'd choose, the older prey, the more elusive prey, the survivor prey.  That brings me to this news article.

From the LaCrosse Tribune:

BLACK RIVER FALLS — There’s a monster that lurks in the depths of Lake Wazee. And Daniel Hatleli has a photo that proves it. 
Hatleli, a fisheries biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, was netting fish Dec. 16 in Wazee when he noticed a large fish rolling around in the net. With the help of fish technician Brad Betthauser, Hatleli landed the walleye. 
How big was it? Using an uncertified spring scale the fish weighed 17½ pounds and was 32.3 inches long, Hatleli said. That’s only one-half pound less than the official state record walleye of 18 pounds, which was caught Sept. 16, 1933, in Vilas County. 
The fish was returned safely into the lake. It’s possible it may continue to grow and could be the new record by spring — if someone can catch it. 
That’s the challenge of Wazee, a 146-acre former iron pit mine which at 350 feet is the deepest manmade lake in the state. It also has different temperature layers and is devoid of most plant life. 
“Because of its uniqueness, a lot of your typical fishing techniques you would use in most lakes around here and in Wisconsin aren’t going to apply,” Hatleli said the DNR is working on a fish management plan for the lake. In 2011 about 250 ciscos — a forage fish common in northern Wisconsin — were transplanted in the lake. Hatleli said the fish were introduced for forage to support larger populations of game fish. 
It is not known if the whopper was male or female — since it’s not spawning time — but Hatleli suspects it was female. A scale and spine was taken from the big walleye to help determine its age, Hatleli said. It’s not a young fish, as the growth rate in a low-nutrient — or oligotrophic — lake like Wazee is very slow. A large fish like the walleye can live 10 to 13 years or longer. 
Now that we know there is at least one trophy fish in Lake Wazee, the challenge to catch it may lure more fishermen to try their hand.

The record for the largest Wisconsin state walleye has stood for nearly 85 years.

That the record has stood so long is probably a sign of the growing intensity of human use of the resource, big walleye have less opportunity to grow into monster walleye.

Less opportunity, however, is not the same as no opportunity.  Walleye can live for decades.  You just have to find that place where fish are contained to a spot where there is low fishing pressure or the techniques employed by the average Bozo (I myself am a below average Bozo) do not apply.

While I've driven within a few miles of Lake Wazee a hundred times, I never knew it was there. Reading the description, I doubt it is a big fishing draw.  It sounds more like a lover's lane or a place to go skinny dipping to me.  Not that I'd know anything about those activities.

At least it wasn't a big fishing draw.  It is a low nutrient lake and now that it is likely to be the focus of more attention, it won't be long before even the walleye just big enough to be kept are exhausted.

When that fish, and others like it, are taken, however, I hope they treated with the reverence those survivors deserve, if not immediately, then after the hoops and hollers have faded.  She may not have the large eyelashes of a whitetail, but it is just as much a living thing harvested for human use as that grain fed six pointer and it has the virtue of having survived predation, probably since the Reagan administration.  

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