Trout a la Mouse anyone….?

Now here’s a fishy one…

This last summer, a friend came down to Nelson from Atlanta USA to fish for trout with a fishing guide, Zane Mirfin. Matt and Zane headed south, past Murchison and turned off onto a gravel road, through a series of locked farm gates and found a fellow American trout fisher fanatic camping by a river.

He’d been there for a month. He’d come out to Nelson to catch the big one, say a 17 pounder. And he did.  With 17 mice inside it.

Mice in trout? Long time Nelson fisherman Ian McAlpine says there’ve always been mice in 10 -12 lb trout at this time of year. “They swim the river.”

Once down the Matukituki he told me.  His mates when ploughing a paddock, unearthed a nest of baby mice. They cut a stick of willow, tied twine around it with a mouse on a hook, and then cast it in the river. And each time they passed the rod, they checked it. And pulled up another trout.

But the summer of 2014/15 was to be different. There were warnings in the bush and warnings from scientists and environmentalists. A mouse plague was predicted – an invasion of Alfred Hitchcock proportions. Roy Groose, a DOC manager forewarned in the Marlborough Express, ‘our forests would be under siege’. Mice would take over our forests.

For this summer a beech mast was due. A heavy fruiting of beech trees would produce a vast beech seed drop – a ginormous feast for mice; the mouse population would explode and further endanger our native birds.

And if this bad news for birds wasn’t enough, the issue of 1080 started to boil. “What would happen,” asked Bill Moore in The Nelson Mail in May 2014, “if people ate trout that had eaten mice poisoned by 1080?” Remember that during the summer of 2014/2015 DOC planned to 1080 blitz our forests.

1080 emotions and lack of agreement played out in the media. After Nelson’s Cawthron Institute’s trials provided evidence that there was 1080 in the flesh of trout that had eaten 1080, a spokeswoman for New Zealand’s Ministry of Primary Industries said in The Press in December  that the Cawthron had over done it.

She said to face any food safety risk ‘the trout would have eaten 30 mice, all poisoned to the maximum level and all eaten at the same time and the angler (sic) would have to eat affected trout every day for day for 90days.’ No thanks. However common sense prevailed, when the Fish and Game Federation President, David Hayes spoke out in the media:

‘Warning anglers to steer clear of waterways near 1080 drops.’

Yes mice invaded the South Island’s beech forests in prodigious numbers over the summer and spread into built up areas. In November the Greymouth Star described motorists seeing hundreds of mice scurrying across State Highway 73 in front of them and throughout December 2014.

The Press covered action on the battlefield at Arthurs Pass National Park where its villagers at one stage were trapping up to 50 mice a day. One Arthurs Pass couple turned up at their batch and found their lino floor transformed into grey shag pile moving carpet.

However, every cloud has a silver lining and the predicted beech mast news this last summer raised excitement levels for trophy anglers. The word went out on email and social media: dreams of trout facing upstream with mouths wide open, invitations for mice to swim right in and photos of mouse binging trout with great big bodies.

Ninety  per cent of trophy anglers practise catch and release, but what about the other 10% and we other Kiwis who like a taste of the wild? The consensus is that trout at its best is bland.

How about Trout a la Mouse?

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Janet Hart

Janet Hart lives in Nelson, where she taught English in secondary schools for nearly 30 years, before dabbling in a little historical New Zealand Art. In 2012 she took up Magazine Journalism, which now consumes her.