By Jacki Nelson
Three Hesston fishermen have been very busy this past year in preparation for the Hesston Area Senior Center’s Annual Fish Fry.
The Fish Fry will take place Friday, July 26 at the Senior Center. Doors will open at 5:30 p.m.
The cost of the meal is a free-will offering. Funds will be used for the maintenance of the Senior Center.
The menu for the Fish Fry will include fried potatoes, coleslaw, baked beans, drinks, and –of course – lots of fish.
The men in charge of hauling in the main dish are Ray Peirce, Joe Hershberger and Kerry Krehbiel
The fishermen hit the water the week after the Fish Fry to begin preparation for the next year’s event.
“We wait about a week, then August 5, we will be back out every Tuesday again,” said Peirce.
For the average Fish Fry, the men bring in a half-ton of fish.
“This year we brought in 820 fish,” said Krehbiel.
“We have to have 60 cartons, enough to feed about 500 people,” said Hershberger.
When preparing the fish for the freezer, Hershberger said, after cleaning, there is not much left.
“You get about 40 percent of the weight in meat off a fish. We had 820 fish, 60 boxes – that’s about 1,000 pounds of fish for 60 boxes, as it’s about four pounds to a box,” said Hershberger.
“There’s a lot of pre-work to filet the fish, de-rib it and cut away any bad meat or gouges,” said Peirce.
Krehbiel said in addition to the time put in fishing and cleaning, the Fish Fry is very resource-intensive in other ways.
“It’s amazing to me that people don’t know what it takes. You have to have a boat, gas for the boat, getting there, all that Ray puts out. Joe is the one that’s cleaning the fish and gets every one perfect,” said Krehbiel.
When it comes to this year’s fish, Hershberger said there is a good variety.
“It’s mostly white bass and wipers – they are a hybrid between white bass and a stripper. They don’t reproduce but they are good sporting fish,” said Hershberger.
While fishing on Marion Lake, their fishing hole of choice, there are strict rules on the size of a catch.
“There’s an 18-inch limit on walleye. It can’t be 17-and 7/8ths, you have to throw those back,” said Hershberger.
Because the three go fishing, rather than catching, there are days that are successes and others that are not.
“Some days you catch 40, other days you catch four. I think something like 86 was the highest. One day, we caught three,” said Peirce.
Perice, who supplies the boat, said the three have polls at the ready as soon as they hit the water.
“We all have three polls fishing two lines, a rattle-trap and a jig. We’ve had at least 22 doubles this year,” said Peirce.
After several hours on the lake, the trio typically have a cooler full of fish.
“When we’re fishing, we always say, “Oh, we need one or two more,” and we end up with 10 or 15 more. It’s a beautiful sound when you move the lid and they start falling on the floor of the boat,” said Krehbiel.
However, not every fish makes it to Hesston dinner plates.
“Sometimes, you’ll pulling on over and we’re all hollering, “It’s a keeper! It’s a keeper!” Then, when it’s a 17-inch or 17 and ½ inche walleye, you have to throw it back; its enough to make you cry,” said Krehbiel.
“Poor old Joe can hardly hide the tears,” said Peirce.
The three have established fishing spots, and maintain a good sense of humor about their self-appointed task.
“We’ve got three on the boat. Joe fishes on the left, I fish on the right, Kerry is on top and the fish are by the motor,” said Peirce.
“That’s about right. Ray catching on the left, Joe catching on the right and I’m in the middle suffering,” said Krehbiel.
The Fish Fry is an event where all attendees will go home satisfied.
“We want people to come. If they don’t get enough, come back up for more. We usually have extra, but if we go around passing it out and run out, that’s no good. We want to make sure everyone gets some,” said Peirce.
Krehbiel added the Fish Fry takes a lot of work, not just from those who are catching, but form the cooks, clean-up crews and servers.
“It isn’t about just catching fish, it’s about the whole unit to make it work. It is definitely a community project. Carl Boyer does the beans, Cecil Banning does potatoes, Richard Fulk will relieve Joe on cooking. Scott Kelso brought in a couple good batches of fish,” said Krehbiel.