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Steven Rinella, Chicago, perch, consumptive/non-consumptive: Pheasant Fest

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Steven Rinella, star of MeatEater, will headline the keynote speech at the National Pheasant Fest Quail Classic, which is Friday through Sunday at the Schaumburg Convention Center.
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Steven Rinella gave this hint on his keynote speech Saturday evening.

“It will have to do with being attacked by a bear,” Rinella said.

Omnivore-on-omnivore talk from the star of MeatEater, the multi-platformed outdoors media.

The 2019 National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic is Friday through next Sunday at the Schaumburg Convention Center. Rinella gives the keynote speech at the sold-out Saturday night banquet.

I’m really looking forward to Pheasant Fest. I will be there all three days and filing updates. I’m as excited as when the BASS Masters Classic came to Chicago in 2000.

Rinella has more ties to the area than I realized. Every Christmas, they packed up and came from Twin Lake, Michigan to where his mother was raised in a smaller and wilder Naperville.

“My grandma lived on the DuPage River,” Rinella said. “I would go on the bridge and look at the carp, and flatten coins on the railroad track.”

His dad was born on the South Side and grew up in Little Italy.

That brings us to the yellow perch of Lake Michigan.

“We had a hell of a lot of them on our side [in Michigan],” Rinella said. “My dad was a yellow-perch specialist. . . . I have filleted tens of thousands of perch. . . . Hand-scaled them with beer caps screwed to a stick, s—loads of them.”

Respect for Rinella ratcheted up even more when I heard he generally scaled perch before filleting them to keep the skin on.

From his travels, he found the Holy Grail of perch waters, in a place where perch are under-appreciated with the salmon and other fish readily available for eating and catching.

“Lake Washington [in downtown Seattle],” he said. “That lake should be lined with old dudes in Lund boats. It’s the best perch in the world, got perch like I’ve never seen. If that was in the Midwest, it would be world-renowned.”

Perch talk came easily.

“Conversations around fishing tend to be easier than around hunting, they don’t have eyelashes,” Rinella said.

Here is where Rinella really matters, he bridges the roiled waters between the consumptive (hunters/fishers) and the non-consumptive camps in the outdoors.

“Growing up in Michigan, people I knew avid about the outdoors, they hunted and fished,” Rinella said. “That is how I viewed things. The people that were outside year round, that is what drove them to be outside.”

That changed when he moved west. He graduated from the University of Montana’s Master of Fine Arts creative writing program. MeatEater is now based in Bozeman.

There was a “real strong recreation community” in the Rocky Mountains, but it was different. They were kayakers, ice climbers, hikers and mountain climbers. Rinella found people very happy looking at a bear, deer and elk.

But he also understands the truth that hunters and fishers primarily paid for much of modern conservation.

“I’m a hunter, I demand a certain amount of respect for what they have done,” Rinella said.

At the same time, he understands that a dialogue and working together between consumptive and non-consumptive groups is vital for 21st Century conservation.

“I learned it by being put in situations, academically and professionally, with those who didn’t grow up the way I grew up,” he said.

Resized/Sun-Times

Steven Rinella will do book signings before he gives the keynote speech at the National Pheasant Fest & Quali Classic Saturday at the Schaumburg Convention Center.
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