An excerpt from the Missouri Department of Conservation’s cookbook Cooking Wild.
I’ll never forget sneaking my first bite of creamy white, golden-crusted catfish from between the paper towels when I was 6 or 7 years old. My mother had just scooped it out of the frying pan before supper, but I couldn’t wait until it got to the table. My uncle, an avid Cuivre River fisherman, kept our family’s freezer stocked with catfish and carp. Consequently, I had many opportunities to repeat my stealthy behavior whenever the irresistible sizzling sounds and smells of frying fish wafted from the kitchen during my childhood. Since then I’ve enjoyed cooking and eating many more kinds of Missouri sport fish, but catfish with cornbread holds a special place in my heart.
With almost a million fishing permits sold in the state annually, it’s obvious that fish rank high in the hearts and kitchens of many Missourians. Although there are more than 200 species of fish in the Show-Me State, anglers focus on only about two dozen of them. Bass, crappie, catfish, and trout — in that order — are the most popular. Although not a native species, trout stocked in the state’s cold streams have drawn fly fishers from near and far. In fact, Missouri has become one of the top five trout-fishing spots in the nation.
Trout draw many anglers not only for their outstanding culinary possibilities, but also for the “auditory and visual vacation” fishing for trout provides. That’s how angler Theresa Ferrugia, who took up the sport eight years ago, describes her time in the water. “I love the sounds of the running water, the birds and the wind … and seeing the eagles, osprey, kingfishers, hummingbirds, and flowers along the banks, rocks, and boulders. Of course, the colors of the fish themselves are gorgeous.
“Even though my husband and I go fishing together, most of the time we don’t even fish within sight of each other. I really enjoy fishing by myself—the time passes so quickly. Boat fishing is not for me, because I love to wade. In the winter I use waders and boots, but in the summer I wet wade, using only boots. My passion is dry fly fishing, and the most challenging thing about it is what combination of colors to use, how to present the fly, and how the trout might be taking the fly on