Cooking Your Catch

Since childhood, I’ve been addicted to fishing: spending the summer casting in ponds, lakes, dirty rivers, small creeks, and irrigation ditches. As a middle-aged adult and a professional chef for 30 years, I continue this passion by mostly catch-and-release fly fishing the magnificent blue-ribbon rivers and streams of southwest Montana and Idaho. As a restaurateur at John Bozeman’s Bistro, I have prepared tens of thousands of fresh fish and seafood dishes for patrons, family, friends, and myself.

In most states, catch-and-release regulations are set forth with good intentions and reason. Keeping fish once in a while for the purpose of baking, frying, sautéing, and grilling an enjoyable meal is a great (and delicious) learning experience. Thinking back to past chapters in my life, some of the fondest and most fun memories and flavors seared in my brain are from catching, preparing, and eating fish. Beautiful pan-sized brookies floured and sautéed in butter. Drooling over deep-fried smelt from Lake Michigan, dipped in tartar sauce. I still recall the tender crunch of backbone. It was like popcorn—I just stop!

A particularly dangerous and exquisite culinary adventure and memory occurred with my dad and brothers in upper Ontario. We were flown in and dropped off at a remote chain of lakes for a week of pike and lake trout fishing, equipped with two tiny, weathered motorboats. We packed light and headed out for a day of casting. Five miles from camp, the weather worsened, and one motor gave out in treacherous conditions—with a water temperature of 42 degrees. Luckily, we got stranded on a tiny island. We were cold, hungry, and isolated on a small piece of dirt in the middle of a big lake with four-foot waves crashing on the shore. What does one do? Hell! Go fishing! While the others made a makeshift boat shelter and started a fire to dry out and stay warm, I hauled in half a dozen 14-inch lake trout. Moments later, the oily fillets were draped onto hot granite slabs placed in the fire; tasty, greasy, finger-licking goodness.

I’ll always remember floating down the lower Yellowstone River with my youngest son on a three-day floating and camping adventure. Late afternoon, Jamie caught his first brown and said, “Dad, can we keep it and eat it?” I got the proud shivers then and now. We set up camp in the dark, got a small fire going on the beach, and positioned the foil-wrapped trout on the coals. Laying on the sand with the brilliant stars shining, talking fishing stories in anticipation of dinner, we unwrapped that savory and gorgeous trout, sprinkled jalapeno potato-chip crumbs on the sizzling flesh, and picked the bones clean.

Tyler Hill is chef and owner of John Bozeman’s Bistro in downtown Bozeman. He’s an avid sportsman and loves to teach cooking classes and write adventure stories. Stop by the Bistro and he’ll cook your catch.

River Hobo Trout
Gut trout, leave whole. Stuff with seasoned, cut onions and butter cubes. Wrap fish with raw bacon and foil wrap, then cook over coals. Turn occasionally. 10-12 minutes depending on size.

Trout Poached in Stir-Fry
Make your favorite vegetable stir-fry (sweet and sour, Indian curry, or ginger teriyaki), with enough broth to slightly thicken sauce; delicately position one-inch, skinless trout fillets submerged until tender. Serve over favorite rice or noodles.