Buzzards, Catfish, and a Carnivore’s Angst

Our journey has already taught me that the best catfish lakes are easy to spot. The trick is to look for swarms of buzzards overhead. Fishermen typically filet large catfish and throw away the rest of the fish. This is fast but wasteful, and a lot of waste means a lot of meat to dispose of. Camp dumpsters are usually marked with prohibitions on fish parts. This leaves the successful fisherman with a choice of disposal procedures: bury the waste on land (hard work), bury it at sea (have to launch the boat again), or just chuck it down the hill into the weeds (path of least resistance). A shockingly high percentage chooses Procedure #3.

kaw lake fish


The impact of mankind on the planet has taken many forms. Global warming is the best known. Our nuclear power plants will lurk as lethal calling cards for the next 50,000 years or so. Human selection over natural selection is another. In other words, the way we live favors certain species at a cost to others. English sparrows, dogs, and starlings do very well alongside people, as do white-tailed deer, raccoons, and possums. Wolves and foxes compete for livestock but can’t compete with guns, while coyotes are so adaptable they spread like politicians. Vultures that reside near catfish hotspots have become almost domesticated. Fifty years ago you couldn’t get within 100 yards of a buzzard, and they’d watch a meal for a day or more before settling down to feed. Yesterday a neighbor threw a few big catfish skeletons down the hill between our campsites. Before I finished my beer three black-headed vultures were picking over the carcasses.

kaw buzzards


Fish parts disposal is one reason not to fish. That goes on top of the joy of cleaning them. And then there’s the smell on my fingers and the certainty that everything I eat or drink the rest of the day will taste like mackerel. And even though you know I’m a killer, I don’t enjoy killing. I belong to the only species ever to walk this planet to feel any guilt about being at the top of the food chain.

My level of guilt will not lead to a diet of greens and beans; let’s not get carried away. But it’s high enough to know I don’t want to clean no fish.

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