Last spring I was fishing on Tim’s Ford Lake with a die-hard smallmouth bass fishermen, casting plastic jigs along a rocky bank.
We had landed a dozen good-sized bronzebacks, famous for their fierce fighting ability, when my partner suddenly had a jolting strike that almost yanked the rod out of his hands.
He let out a whoop and set the hook. His rod bowed and his reel drag screeched as the fish bored deep and peeled off line.
“Get the net!” he yelled, “I’ve got a monster!”
After several minutes the big fish began to tire. It grudgingly came to the surface where it rolled and splashed, and we got our first look at it.
It wasn’t a giant smallmouth. It was a giant drum.
My partner, who been enjoying a thrilling battle, muttered a word he didn’t learn in Sunday school.
He pulled the big, broad-sided fish alongside the boat, twisted out his hook, and with a sheepish grin watched it swim away.
I’ve seen it happen time after time over the years, and it’s happened to me, too: a fisherman hooks what he thinks is a prize game fish and is delighted and excited -- right up to when he gets a look at it and realizes he’s got a trash fish on the line.
A “trash fish” is generally defined as any species not protected by game-fishing regulations and has no creel limit, possession limit or harvest-method restrictions.
In Tennessee that includes drum, buffalo, chubs, carp, gar and skipjack (although this year some restrictions were placed on their harvest.)
Regulations are detailed in detail in the 2013 Tennessee Fishing Guide.
Another defining quality of “trash fish” is that they aren’t considered edible – although I suppose that’s a matter of taste and appetite.
My late fishing crony Jerry Thompson and some pals were camping on Kentucky Lake one summer and caught several drum. Thompson decided to defy conventional cuisine wisdom and fry up a batch.
They looked good -- brown and crisp -- and smelled delicious while cooking. But when it came to eating the drum fillets, they were as tough as an old tennis shoe, and tasted similar. Thompson’s great drum-fry was a flop.
I’ve seen recipes for carp cakes but never tried one.
My Uncle Bud once pickled some herring (skipjacks). He said they tasted like sardines. I took his word for it.
But is not being tasty really a drawback to catching trash fish? After all, not many fishermen nowadays go out to put food on the table. More and more anglers fish for fun and practice catch-and-release, especially for such species as bass and native trout.
That could actually be a plus for trash fish: you can enjoy catching them without having a mess of fish to clean when you get home.
Every fisherman has made trips on which game-fish weren’t biting. Catching some hard-fighting “trash” fish can liven up an otherwise dreary day.
I don’t think they deserve their trashy reputation.