The Legendary Fish Cleaner

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Published on: Dec. 2, 1995

Last revision: Oct. 20, 2010

Let the Greeks have their Achilles, the English their Lancelot, the Romans their Aeneas.

Missouri anglers are blessed in having their own awe-inspiring hero, a man whose cunning, daring and tenacity have brought pride and nobility to generations of fishermen, a man who youngsters of all generations hope to emulate when they first pick up a baitcasting rod and fillet knife.

By now you must have guessed that I'm talking about Fred Carper.

Yes, Fred Carper, the fish cleanin' man.

Fish were not always in Fred's background. His father was a wealthy industrialist from Kansas City who owned several factories and railroads, and a few insurance companies, to boot.

Although the Carper family groomed Fred to take over as CEO of their major companies, his interests never led him in that direction.

Instead, Fred spent his youth trying to make sharp knives sharper with a whetstone he carried in the pocket of his drawers.

All his life, Fred's arms were hairless from testing the edges of the blades he had honed. One day, just as he was approaching the year of his majority, Fred took his future into his ownhands.

Sitting across from his father at the country club breakfast, he suddenly blurted, "Daddy, I gotta clean fish!"

His father exhaled eggs Benedict in relief, for he had long believed his knife-loving son was fated to become a notorious serial killer.

"Son," he said, "It's your life and I won't hold you back, but I won't support you, either. You're going to have to fillet your own way."

Well, Fred did exactly that. He started small, with panfish, of course, cleaning the catch of bankside anglers at local lakes. Deftly, precisely, swiftly, his hand and knife worked as a single unit, scooping out entrails, skimming meat from bone, slicing skin from meat, wasting not a precious gram of flesh.

Fred finished off each cleaning job by gouging out, in less time than it takes to flip a coin, substantive and tender scallops from the cheek hollows of each fish.

Fred's future wife, Amanda, who followed various fish cleaners during her teen-age years, used to say that this trademark trick would make her swoon each time she witnessed it and finally tipped the scales of her heart in favor of Fred.

It was a decision she never regretted. In 25 years of marriage, three meals a day, 365 days a year, she nor any of the young Carpers would ever have cause to complain about a

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