A monthly column in the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Two Guys’ Mission: Catch-M-All!

Clay Groves & Dave Kellam ... and yellow perch.
The sudden onset of spring has an amazing way of triggering a deep-rooted desire to fish.

That’s especially true for two guys named Dave and Clay.

Dave Kellam and Clay Groves are on a mission for fishin’. They’re determined to catch -- and eat -- every species of freshwater fish in New Hampshire. By their count, that’s 44 fish species in all, including the big, the small, the tasty and the not-so-tasty.

They had hoped to accomplish this impressive gastro-angling feat in 2011. But, a few of the species have turned out to be challenging to catch, so the adventure continues.

Dave and Clay met more than 10 years ago when they worked at Amoskeag Fishways in Manchester. Dave lives in Exeter and now works for an ocean planning group called SeaPlan and Clay lives in Conway and works for Lakes Region Community College. Though their work lives have parted, they still share a passion for fish and fishing.

Last year, they took their fishing skills to a new level with their quest.

Each Fish a Research Project

At the outset, Dave and Clay set out to catch all 48 species of freshwater fish as cited on an onlinelist kept by the N.H. Fish and Game Department. Then they learned that two are endangered: American brook lamprey and bridle shiner. Figuring it would be bad form to eat these (and also illegal) they were scratched from the Catch-M-All list. Another two are old records and may not occur in New Hampshire anymore, if they ever did: blacknose shiner and tadpole madtom.

That leaves 44 freshwater fish to catch and eat, which the two thought was a fair goal to pursue.

A mission like this begs for rules. The fish have to be caught legally, preferably with hook and line, but other innovations may apply. No nets or traps. They must eat the first legal example of the fish they catch. While they can catch the fish on their own, they must eat the fish as a team.

So far, they’ve caught and eaten 36 of the 44 species.

“This quest completely turns the typical fishing experience on its head,” Dave said. “Targeting each fish becomes its own research project.”

Clay enjoys the challenge of learning the habits and habitats of each species, then figuring out how to catch it with more or less traditional tackle.

“For most of the fish, we have to gear way down and use tiny hooks, about the size of the letter J in 12-point font size,” Clay said. “But it’s been a lot of fun and seems to resonate with a lot of people.

Eating each species presents another set of challenges. “We have to deal with fish that no one cares to eat,” Clay said. “And we can’t just fry every fish. We like to mix it up.”

Aquatic Superlatives

Many times the dynamic angling duo have been asked about the quest’s superlatives. So here are a few:

Smallest: a 1 ¾-inch-long mummichog, a notoriously hardy little fish that thrives in coastal or brackish waters. With mulled mummichog and egg nog, they made “chog nog” and served it to the apprehensive host of White Mountains Today TV show in North Conway.

Biggest: a 36-inch, 12-pound, 8-ounce Northern pike that Clay caught last month on the frozen Connecticut River in Hanover. It became the main ingredient in a maple blackberry pike jerkey.

Scariest: a margined madtom, a small catfish that’s native to the Appalachias and Eastern U.S., but not New Hampshire. They made a “margined madtom mousse,” a risky meal, considering the fish has a venomous gland near its pectoral spines. Fortunately, no one suffered margined madtom mousse malaise.

Biggest surprise: golden shiner, which they thought would taste terrible. After flipping a coin to see who would eat the head (Clay, as always), they fried the shiner. “It was fantastic!” Clay said.

Worst-tasting: slimy sculpin, a little bottom-dwelling and nocturnal fish. After catching it with worm and hook, they made “slimy sculpin scampi” and shared it with a reporter from N.H. Public Radio. Clay said that horrid meal ties with “pickled pickerel.” Though Eastern chain pickerel is a game fish and normally pretty pleasant, their preference of pickling the piscine proved problematic.

Hardest to catch: banded sunfish. After at least 10 trips intended for this little sunfish, their search continues.

And as the quest continues, so do Dave and Clay’s excellent adventures. Aside from their popular column in The Wire and the Mountain Ear, they’re working on a book and have pledged 10% of its profits to support the NH Fish and Game Nongame Program.

Wish them luck and follow their story at