Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Trout Season: A Fish Tale

King Montgomery, seasoned angler, cast his line. "No one ever got a heart attack landing a trout," said Montgomery, an outdoor writer based in Burke, Va. While he prefers fishing for bass because they have more fight, he loves to "make a meal of fresh trout — out of the water and into the pan." He sighed happily at the thought.

I talked to Montgomery about catching and cooking trout at the annual Virginia Fly Fishing Festival in Waynesboro, a Blue Ridge mountain town straddling the South River. The South teems with stocked rainbow and brown trout, among other species. On this day, the shore teems, too — with fishing enthusiasts learning more about how to catch them.

To my chagrin, however, trout wasn't on the festival's menu. It ranks among my favorite fish to eat. It's delicate but flavorful, high in protein, low in fat and calories — depending on the preparation — and rich in beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. No wonder it's popular: The U.S. Trout Farmers Association reports that the nation's fish farmers last year raised more than 53 million pounds of the critters, mostly rainbow and mostly destined for restaurants, supermarkets and institutions. Some go for sport fishing, too, supplementing the wild trout such as rainbow, brook, brown and cutthroat found in various cold-water regions.

Fresh-caught trout was a staple of my childhood, whether sauteed on a camp stove or starring as Sunday dinner in our Wisconsin kitchen — especially in spring, when the season opened.

As kids, we froze our feet while wading and spin casting in the Bois Brule, a northern trout stream that empties into Lake Superior. No sacrifice was too extreme when it came to fishing, our dad maintained.

As an adult, I fished for trout occasionally — in New York's Catskills, where I started in the newspaper business — but more often sought it out at restaurants and from seafood counters. I've cooked or sampled lake trout poached in white wine, with leftovers shredded on a green salad; smoked trout baked in puff pastry and lapped with a mustard cream sauce; and sauteed trout sprinkled with chopped Serrano ham and parsley.

Most memorable was the trout I had a couple of years ago at a little restaurant in Argentina's Patagonian village of Traful. Pan-fried and simply dressed in brown butter and parsley, the trout arrived at our patio table bursting with flavor. My husband and I had spent the morning exploring along the nearby Limay River, the trout's likely source. If I ever get back, it'll be with a fishing rod and a skillet.

Chef Frank Stitt of Birmingham, Ala., honored by the James Beard Foundation in 2001 as the Southeast's best chef, gives trout regular play at his three restaurants. At his French bistro, Chez Fon Fon, it's sauteed and sent out with brown butter with capers and little fried potatoes. At Mediterranean-style Bottega Restaurant & Cafe, the fish is roasted whole, with lemon slices and dill tucked inside to heighten its light, fresh taste. At the Highlands Bar & Grill — which features French-accented Southern cooking and was a best restaurant nominee for the Beard Foundation Awards announced Monday — sauteed trout occasionally appears on the menu.

While Stitt appreciates "the romantic excitement of having a just-caught wild trout," he's usually not patient enough for the sport, he admits. "As far as flavor, I'd like to think the wild trout that are eating bugs and minnows are going to have a purity of flavor that is preferable — but that's not an option for us very often." Farm-raised trout ensures a steady supply to meet diners' requests, he says.

Whether trout is wild or farm-raised, it should have bright eyes, firm, glistening flesh and cherry-red gills and bloodline, which runs down the center of the fillet. Stitt says the fish should have "a clean, fresh smell. Get the fish merchant to show you the trout," he instructed over the phone.

The Virginia festival's organizer — fly fisherman, author and firefighter Beau Beasley — catches and releases far more fish than he keeps. Oh, he's fond of eating fresh trout — especially when wife Leila coats it with garlic-infused olive oil, and dredges it in a combination of panko and Italian-seasoned bread crumbs before oven frying — but his primary interests are in sport and conservation. The annual festival, launched in 2000, has raised more than $12,000 for conservation projects, mostly on the South River.

So maybe I'm doing the habitat a favor by getting a new fishing license with a trout stamp. I'll appreciate the scenery, even if nothing bites. As Beasley says, "Fish generally don't live in ugly places."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit

Carol Guensburg