We’d been fishing for the better part of five hours when I resolved that I probably wasn’t going to catch a trout.

I’d been sent to catch a trout at Bennett Spring State Park near Lebanon and get it cooked at the dining lodge, a service they’ve been offering since 1985 at the Civilian Conservation Corps-constructed lodge. The assignment was to catch a trout, have it cooked, eat it, and write about my experience. There was only one problem: I had never caught a fish in my life.

With that last piece of information in mind, I enlisted the help of my boyfriend, Jim, who happens to be a semi-expert fisherman. The park was already bustling when we showed up a little after breakfast. We changed into our fishing shoes and then we waded into the water without waders or waterproof clothes. The coldness of the water pierced my skin.

As we fished, little raindrops hit the water like thumbtacks. The wind picked up, and I shivered as I tried to cast my line the way Jim showed me. No matter what I did, the trout didn’t bite.

After a while the sun came out. I was enjoying the day, but I still hadn’t caught a trout. I felt tugs at my line and reeled in what I thought was a fish, but it turned out to be algae.

Photo by Notley Hawkins.

Right before we had to leave for dinner, I made one last cast. I felt a tug on the line, and I was half in shock as the trout leaped out of the water. The fish fought as I reeled it in. My boyfriend helped me remove the hook, and I showed it off proudly to those nearby.

We had three fish between us, and we took them to the dining lodge for dinner. The lodge offers a unique service, which is cooking a whole fish caught at the park. Guests can bring in a freshly caught trout for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and the kitchen at the lodge will bake it amandine-style, with brown butter and almonds, or deep fry it to order.

Fishing enthusiasts should clean their fish before they bring them to the restaurant. Sometimes the dining lodge will let this slide and clean the fish, but that’s only on rare occasions. “If they abuse the privilege, they clean it themselves,” said Jim Rodgers, the concessionaire at Bennett Spring and the head of the fly fishing school there. My boyfriend cleaned the three we brought in, and I watched and tried to learn.

Summer is the most popular time for guests bringing their catch to the restaurant. During that time, the lodge gets about eight customers a day who bring in a trout, said Marie Lorenz, the dining lodge’s general manager. Lorenz has worked at the lodge for 29 years in various roles including waitress and cook.

“People carry in the fish in a cooler, on a string, in hand, in newspaper, and we take them back to the kitchen and cook it for them,” Lorenz said. “The kids are the most excited about it. Their faces light up when they see it coming out of the kitchen.”

After a day of fishing, there’s little more satisfying than sitting down at a wooden table at the dining lodge, sipping a cool glass of iced tea, and digging into a plate of freshly caught fish. The meat was so tender, it practically fell off the bones. I enjoyed every bite knowing that I had achieved my mission against the odds. I’m looking forward to my next catch.