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Vacation, wherein I become a redneck and hunt and kill for my lunch

Bad Astronomy
By Phil Plait
May 15, 2006 5:26 AMNov 5, 2019 12:33 AM


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'My wife's nephew Derek just graduated high school. Since the in-laws live on a farm in Kansas, we headed off to America's breadbasket for a few days to congratulate Derek and to reune with family (no that's probably not a real word, but it should be). I'll take a moment to point out that Derek is going to college to major in microbiology and genetics, and to gently remind you that he is in Kansas. I'll leave it at that. Anyway, we had a cookout yesterday, and the Sun was riding high in the sky. People were busy chatting, laughing, uh, reuning, and my wife and I decided lunch was getting postponed a little too much, so we took over. I went outside to start up the burgers and dogs on the grill, and this is how I Became A Redneck. Duh. As an astronomer, calculating such things as the sky's opacity to ultraviolet radiation, the Sun's elevation, and my skin's absorptive coefficient should have been trivial. In reality, it's actually a simple matter of 1) me being a white guy + 2) me being a guy who spends a lot of time indoors on the computer + 3) the bright Sun = 4) sunburn. Duh. Anyway, so I have not only a red neck, but a trucker's tan as well. So be it. Later in the day, Bill, my step-great-Aunt-in-law's grandson, took us fishing at a local pond, a couple of miles from the farm. We expected to catch some fish, but things quickly spiraled out of control. As a great outdoorsman myself, I knew my proficiency with a rod would be legendary, but even I was surprised to catch the first fish. It was a huge crappie, a two-pounder for sure. Mind you, these fish are generally about 8 inches long and weigh less than a pound. This was certainly the Mutated King of the Crappies. The picture below is of me and a smaller crappie I caught a little while later. Remember that the Mutated One was substantially larger.

I looked up crappies on Wikipedia, and mine does fare pretty well: the record is only 5 pounds, and a length of 21 inches. Mine wasn't anywhere near that, but was half again larger than the other 20 or so we caught that evening. Others did well too: Chris, Mrs. Bad Astronomer's brother, caught something like 30 fish (he threw quite a few back), Mrs. Bad Astronomer nearly hooked a big bass, which I was able to recover a minute later (that's me and the bass, above), The Little Astronomer got several crappies, and Derek, the grad himself, scored a monster catfish.

We got them back to the farm, and Bill, my step-great-Aunt-in-law's grandson, showed us how to clean the crappies. Most were little, so it was tough. First, you cut off their heads (the picture above is Yours Truly, decapitating His Majesty-- I should have yelled "Let them eat cake!"), then you slice off the ventral fin and the tail and use your finger to scoop out the guts I'll note that The Little Astronomer cut the heads off several fish, and was not shy about the gut-scooping, either). Then, using pliers (you can see them in the lower left of that image) you peel off the skin, and finally, hand the carcass over to your step-great-Aunt-in-law's grandson, so he can fillet them. We then ate our bounty for dinner.

Tomorrow, it's back to California, and what passes for civilization there. My skin will heal, and the fish will digest. But a part of me will always yearn for the raw, brutal call of roughing it in the Kansas wild.'

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