When I was a kid we ate the fish we caught.

Everybody did.

Then catch and release fishing took hold — for good reason — and fish fries fell out of favor.

I was OK with that when I lived in the mountains and just caught trout. They weren’t my favorite table fare anyway, but catch and release didn’t stop there. Folks began turning back bass and walleye, too.

That wasn’t the only reason anglers quit eating their catch. The warnings about heavy metals and mercury in fish scared people. You were only supposed to eat fish from certain waters a few times a month. It was difficult to tell what was safe and what wasn’t.

Releasing them all was easier.

Unless, of course, you like to eat fish.

I do.

It‘s delicious and there’s something very satisfying about catching your own food.

I still release most of the fish I catch, but not until there’s one or two eaters in the live well. It doesn’t take much. A couple of smallmouth makes a meal for Barb and me. So does a single 18-inch walleye.

Fish is always best fresh off the boat. I fillet them out on the water so there’s no mess at the dock, and prepare them simply: seasoned with salt and pepper and garlic, and quick-fried in bacon grease or butter.

Cellphone cameras make it easy to record my catch, and the big ones go back in the water so they can give someone else a thrill.

But I still suffer pangs of regret when I release a heavy fish, imagining those thick fillets turning golden brown in the skillet.

I used to stockpile fillets in the freezer, but have come to realize how much better they are fresh. I’m also at a point in my life where I can fish nearly any day I choose.

For years Barb and I fished Tongue River Reservoir a couple of times every spring. We could each keep 30 crappie and I’d fillet 60 every trip. With fillets in the freezer I was never tempted to keep any of the trout I caught the rest of the year, thus avoiding the ugly looks and disparaging comments I’d get on the river for keeping one or two.

Now I’m just looking for the entrée to my next meal. One will do if it’s big enough, but if I’m really hungry it might take two.

Parker Heinlein is at pman@mtintouch.net.