Tag Archives: Catfish

Just Another Fish Story

I often dream of fish tanks. Several large and small and each and every one full of goldfish with bubble eyes and fish with glowing skin and sharp, innumerable teeth. There are also bettas and a few catfish. Quite the collection.

The fish tanks appear in different dreams, dreams not about the fish tanks but in which they linger in the background.

Regardless, in every dream, whatever the dream in which the fish tanks appear, I approach them and am horrified, struck by the realization that I have not fed the fish.

The fish are starving, and it’s all my fault.

So I feed them. But as I feed them the fish grow larger, they swell to grotesque size and multiply. More feed, more fish, more fish more feed. So many fish, it is insane.

I don’t often wake up at this point. But beyond this point the dream gets hazy, and I don’t know what happened (what happens) with the fish tanks and I don’t know what became (what will become) of the fish.

I know I don’t regret feeding them because of the fact I forget (have forgotten) that they are my responsibility, and I need to make up for it. It’s too late not to feel that way. Everything after that is perhaps regrettable, but then how do you fight the multitudes? Is that even the point?

Not when the fish are starving.

No, not then.



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Fish Story

1. Storm Waters

The pond was located not too far from my cousin’s house, just behind the park, close (but not too close) to the highway.

“We’re going fishing,” she said, bucket and net in hand. She was a year older than me and, therefore, wiser by ages. I was in charge of the fish food: a full canister of blue and yellow and pink flakes that we had procured from her parents’ vast inventory.

Hers was a family of fish breeders. Her parents, my aunt and uncle, breed and raised fish and showed them competitively, sold the rest. Not a profession, just a hobby. But one they took very, very, ever-so seriously.

The storm pond water was murky and littered with patches of thick-grown, brown flecked green scum that rode the motion of the overflow as the pond lapped at our flip-flops.

“Ready?” She filled the bucket with some of the water, careful not to collect too much of the scum. Then she opened the canister, popping the foil seal just so (releasing its freshness), and held the net at the ready. “Now!”

We tossed handfuls of the fish flakes onto the water’s surface, rich fragrant snowflakes among the assorted waste of the storm waters.


It didn’t take long. One by one and then in groups and then in droves came the fish. Fish of all shapes and colours – anything, really, that you could imagine from your local pet store. Murky water turned a riot of gold, white, red, black mixed with blue, yellow, pink. Tails swished, fins broke the filmy surface, bodies churned the murk it into a frothy mess from which bulging, unblinking eyes glared at us like spotlights. Open mouths; so many open, toothless mouths.

Poor, abandoned creatures. Tossed away (discarded, dumped, flushed) by people who I imagine had once been enamoured by their charms, by the prettiness of their delightful hues, clever contours and cute underwater antics, which were now all rendered grotesque. Life in the storm waters had caused the fish to change, to grow to monstrous sizes and into unseemly proportions. Into ungainly, ugly masses; living breathing tumours. Absolute freaks among freaks.

“When we have enough, we can go home,” my cousin said matter-of-factly. With practiced strokes she began netting the fish, the weight of them bending the pole into a most unnatural angle.

I never asked her how much was enough. It would not have been the proper question to ask, at that time. It was a lot.

And I never asked what the fish were for, what she intended to do with them.


2. Over Turned Bucket

Here, catfish aren’t exactly good eating, and I remember my dad holding a particular distain for the uncouth creatures – all eyes and slick mottled skin and barbs you could not convince him weren’t somehow dangerous. But luck is a fickle thing: we caught so many fish that day, and all of them catfish. Perhaps he felt that he needed to salvage the day somehow, redeem ourselves as best we could. In perhaps the only way we could.

The garage was the only place my dad was allowed to clean and prepare the fish we caught. Mom, ever fearsome, made sure of that, and it’s hard to blame her. The stink of fresh water fish, no matter how freshly caught, no matter how much my dad insisted he’d get it all, had a way of lingering long past due.

The preparing of the fish was always a solemn affair. Dad talked little as he worked, and we either watched him or we didn’t. Talk little, work fast, that’s all that mattered. Be there with him or no, dad would do the work regardless.

I crept into the garage, careful not to make unnecessary noise. Dad was at the worktable, effortlessly sliding a big knife lengthwise through the body of a particularly girthy catfish. Its head was missing, its fins and tail soon to follow.

“Don’t get too close to the knife,” he said, not bothering to take his eyes off the fish. “Move.”

I did as told, accidentally knocking over the metal bucket I missed seeing on my way in. It hit the concrete floor with a soft bang, overturning its burden so that it was undeniable. There was no looking away from them.

The heads. That’s where dad put them. The squirming, gasping, wide-eyed heads. The twitched, they spasmed, they stared right through me as they whispered unheard words with wet fish lips. Curses, for all I know. Wicked incantations, gulping greedily at the air, seeking purchase.

One, two, three…five, seven, eight. All the fish we had caught that day, though even now I could swear to you that there were so many more than that, fish be dammed.

(Later I’d learn that it was an automatic nervous/muscular response, the fact of the heads moving after decapitation).

But tell that to the child who for all I know is still there, counting heads, unable to do much else. Unable to be of much use to anyone.


3. The Osprey

Years later. New house, new backyard patio. A birthday BBQ featuring my dad’s famous pork chops, chicken and quail. A most sumptuous repast.

My cousin wasn’t there. We are, for all intents and purposes, estranged.

So I wasn’t thinking of her as I let my head fall back on the cushion of my chair and gazed at the impossibly blue sky.

It had been years since I’ve gone fishing with my dad. But I wasn’t thinking about that either.

I wasn’t expecting to see the bird or much, really, of anything.

Osprey are fishers. People at the dog park near the river sometimes freak out, seeing an osprey hovering above them and, more to the point, their small dogs. There is a part of me that wants to tell them not to worry, to reassure them that everything is, in fact, OK: this particular bird of prey will do no harm to them or, more to the point, their dogs. But then I wonder how much good it will do: people also do so love drama and the dog park, indeed, is a rather sleepy one.

The osprey that came into view above my head as I sat in my chair on my parents’ patio during my dad’s birthday BBQ flew low, struggling to keep hold of its massive catch.

The fish held in its talons was easily bigger than the bird by half. But then, maybe I’m exaggerating, for dramatic effect. This much is true: the poor thing gleamed gold-orange, gold-orange-gold, huge scales protruding off its belly, which was so engorged it seemed likely to explode in the heat of the sun as the fish twitched and spasmed, struggling to free itself.

Of course, we laughed: some ridiculous person in my parents’ ridiculous neighbourhood had lost their ridiculous fish from their ridiculous (that is to say, exquisitely landscaped) backyard pool.

But now I find myself thinking of my cousin and of the storm waters and wondering what, exactly, the osprey had caught, and where, and also what my dad would have done if the bird had dropped the fish in the middle of his BBQ.






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If you have pet fish, you probably will need to know how to kill a pet fish.  Taking that long car ride to the vet like you would for gallant Fido or faithful Muffy strikes as a bit out of touch with the situation, not to mention coming immediately to mind as being an absolute logistical nightmare.

As I have learned, there are many ways to kill a pet fish.  They vary in level of difficulty, depending mostly on the materials at hand and the type of fish involved (big, small, tropical, freshwater, pretty, ugly, duration and intensity of relationship, etc).

As to the right way to do this from here on in it gets tricky.  There are standards.


1) Clove Oil

I’ve discovered that it’s easy, actually, to get attached to fish, even if it’s not quite so easy to convey to many others such affection. Affection is not necessary to the act of killing your pet fish, of course, but it is a factor. It counts for something.

Along with Lou, there have been a series of fish that I have kept as pets over the past seven years or so.  All bettas, a popular species of small, flamboyantly pretty freshwater fish more popularly known as the “Siamese Fighting Fish”.  All males.  Caligula, Bruce Willis, Pip and the recently late Jethro.  All but dear Jethro died of what I’m basically calling “natural causes” (READ: I came home and found them dead or they died too quickly or suddenly for me to worry about how to carry out proper actions).

No fuss, no muss!  Life goes on!

Jethro, however.  Jethro gradually stopped eating, eventually sank to the bottom of the tank and ultimately stayed there, twitching every now and then.  It was hard to watch, even from the comfort and distance of being outside the tank and especially if you had a bit love for the fish.

After the lustre in his eyes faded away I knew, alas, that it was only a matter of time.

Farewell, sweet Prince!

A sedative at low doses, a few drops of clove oil can be used to first anesthetize your pet fish – putting it “to sleep”, as it were – and a few more drops will make sure it never wakes up again. Vodka can be added to the mixture after the initial anesthetization to ensure that the sleeping fish slips quietly and painlessly into the sweet bliss of total, unambiguous death.


2) Freezing

At a Stag ‘N Doe a few years ago, some of the prospective groom’s friends decided to use feeder fish as whimsical prizes for a game exactly no one played.  The game was a poor copy of the ping-pong-in-a-fish-bowl-win-a-fish-game sometimes seen at county fairs and your lesser amusement parks. Scenes run by carnies or occasionally, at Stag ‘N Does (“d-ohs”), by generously stupid, wondrously uninteresting 20-something-year-old brahs.

Fish Care 101 states that despite all outward appearances, fish need air to breathe.  They do not “breathe” the water but rather the air infused within it.  Ergo, fish sealed in confined spaces – such as the plastic bags placed under grimy tables at poorly-attended Stag ‘N D-ohs – can suffocate slowly, imperceptibly right under your noses and tables if air is not able to diffuse into the water.

Freezing your beloved pet fish works under the same principle but in different conditions, obviously.  Place the fish in a cup of water, place the cup in the freezer and the cold will lull the Fluffy or Goldie into slumber before shutting down all of Goldie or Fluffy’s systems entirely, forever.  There is a but, however, in that fish are cold-blooded (also per Fish Care 101), so there is doubt about whether they do in fact “fall asleep” when being frozen.

Imagine being awake the whole time.

But these dudes weren’t 101 material,[1] and it’s extremely safe to say they lacked all but the basest of imaginations.  From the outside, looking in, the fish died little by little while the brahs watched, mouths, too, agape.

I was there too, fretting over another game played by no one, feeling culpable even if still vastly superior in every other tangible way.


3) Get a Bigger Fish (‘Cause The Big Fish Eat the Little Fish!)

… in which it takes but a shuffling kind of logic to see how this one just falls apart.  Do you keep the bigger fish? Is it your new pet and/or friend?  Or have you borrowed the bigger fish from someone, with the intent to return it after the deed’s been done?  There may have to be a fee involved in exchange for services rendered.  Perhaps this is a niche market that should be explored.  I know you can rent dogs in Japan.


4) Decapitation

One summer when we were still kids, my dad took us fishing and my sisters and I caught so, so many catfish.   Medium sized, brown and beige with tapering whiskers and those big bulging, unblinking fishy eyes.

There are no mysteries of origin of the food at home; that “Chinese turkey” scene from A Christmas Story[2] remained quaint and yet unsettling until years later and after some immersion in cultural anthropology.

Turns out: people are weird with food.

Catfish are notoriously hearty, enduring fish.  They can survive without water for periods of time that are amazing.

Coupled with some form of anesthesia and a swift and steady hand accompanied by a sharp and reliable blade (a cleaver works very, very well), decapitation is another readily available method for killing, lovingly, your pet fish.  Some recommend “pithing” (physically destroying the brain with a metal rod immediately after the head is be-headed) to ensure that suffering is kept to the minimum of minimums.

On its own, a “living head” is a terrible Thing and even a split-moment after the fact can, some say, last a kind of unfathomable eternity.

And THEN did they eat cake?

Monsieur, je vous demande pardon. Je ne l’ai pas fait exprès.

Did they pith Marie Antoinette?

They used to hang people in Canada.

Other ways I just couldn’t: blending,[3] boiling,[4] bashing.[5]

No matter. It’s done. Crisis over, fishy gone. Resolve in one way or another, tested.

I don’t now feel good or bad or what, but if I had to place it I’d probably say it was the kind of unexpected experience I’d rather like to do without.

In the end, the Thing I really remember was thinking about the sight of those catfish heads in the sink, blinking and gasping as much as they could before THE END.

[1] Well. Rocks for Jocks.  Maybe.

[2] “Fa-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-cist?”  It ringers, for sure.

[3] Yes. With a blender.

[4] It’s the shock, apparently, that kills the fish and surely you too, a little.  One would hope.

[5] Using bricks, largish rocks and so on.

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