Shore Dinner DeLuxe
Editor’s note: this is the second of a 3-part journal entry, preceded by “Sojourn” (ACZ Archive, August 2015), and followed by “Return to Civilization” (ACZ Archive, September 2015) – Paz
I awaken before sunrise in a tiny green and tan canvas hut to the sound of morning bird song and critters foraging about on the forest floor, what seems like inches from my bedroll. I can’t even remember the last time I slept alone in a tent. I was probably fourteen, camping on Scout Island on the Great Sacandaga Lake with my family. Best rest I’ve had all year.
Up and out, get the coffee going first thing. Percolating coffee on the stovetop. Turn the heat down when it starts to perk to prevent scorching. How do we know when it’s done? No automatic drip or brew-and-pause or beeping sounds from the Keurig. When it looks like coffee in the glass, it’s done. No, that’s tea. No, it’s getting there. Patience. And finally-coffee! The littlest things seem like luxury at camp. This is a perspective I shall try to retain when back in the modern world of convenience and comfort.
It’s probably between 6:30 and 7 am, Joe steps out of the woods from the direction of his camp. We share the morning coffee minute briefly, then we’re ready to hit the water for the early morning rise. Greg and I strike out on the AquaMarie, head for the favorite hot spot with hopes the morning would bring a better result than yesterday. Joe and Bowin in the Tracker cruise past us as the engine on the AquaMarie begins to give us some trouble, trouble that would dog us all day. Overheating, fuel-starved, stalling.
Bowin lands the first keeper of the trip, a big bass, 18 to 20 inches or so. The rest of us snag sunfish and toss back the 10-inchers. At mid-morning we retire to camp and place Bowin’s bass inside the minnow trap so it won’t be eaten by the beasts that comb the shores for chain-ganged fish, unable to flee.
We’re feeling the pressure to catch fish now, expecting thirteen people in camp for dinner. By noon we have one fish. We troll, we drift-fish. We head for the dropoffs, we head for the inlets, we head for the weedbeds. Finally, by late afternoon, we’ve begun to add some keepers to the live well. Greg and I each add a nice bass, and Joe crosses the lake to hand off several nice fish. We’re well on our way to a traditional Forked Lake stringer-full of fish dinner.
By four o’clock, we’ve landed a little more than twenty pounds of fish, all bass this year. I set to work scaling and filleting the fish, then washed the fillets off in the crystal clear lake water from which they were liberated. I did the cleaning in the woods, away from camp, and carefully cleaned up the area including the leaves drenched with fish stuff. Then the remains were moved farther into the woods, a couple of hundred yards, away from campsites and the trail. This is black bear country, and we didn’t want to invite any into our camp (or our neighbors’!) Behind each site is a bear safe. A steel box in which to place your food to deter bear raids. The box has a heavy steel lid and not one, but two spring-loaded clasps that latch into hasps to keep the box closed. I typically use just one latch. I figure if there’s a bear smart enough and dexterous enough to open one spring-loaded catch (sometimes tedious for me), a second one would only make it aggravated. Who wants an aggravated hungry bear in camp?
Joe whipped up a batch of beer batter, and heated oil in the big cast iron dutch oven over the open fire at his camp. Joe’s wife Danielle, their son Luke, and the other guests arrive in camp and preparations begin for a Shore Dinner DeLuxe, complete with grilled potatoes with onion and garlic, chips galore, watermelon and a number of other complements. In fact I can’t remember all the great offerings on our table.
Joe dropped fresh batter-dipped fillets in boiling oil, and in few minutes we were partaking of one of the finest meals in recent memory. Everyone had their fill, and plenty was left over, including some fish. And we were worried we couldn’t catch enough!
As darkness closed in on the day, those not staying took their leave. Joe ferried a couple folks to the launch, and others took the trail, a quarter-mile hike, back to the parking area. As we cleaned up, we marveled once again at the bounty of fish. So much fish we had leftovers, even with all the people we fed.
“Next year, we should keep just one fish each. Any more is a waste.” Joe stated, and I agreed. “We brought way too much food this year.”
Somewhere around nine o’clock, Irv and his boy Collin bade us good evening and headed back to their camp. As is Saturday camp tradition, the remainder of us gathered around the open fire as the cool July night settled in. A wide variety of topics were discussed, not the least of which was our hard-won victory at fishing to feed the clan. One by one, the weary campers nodded off in their canvas umbrella chairs, Sparky finally retiring to his camp. The last one awake, it must be around eleven, and I thought of a regular Saturday night at home. Wondered if my wife (and dog) were watching monster movies on Svengoolie, falling asleep on the soft couch (or deep carpet, depending on species).
A call to my campmate, and Greg stirred. We headed back to our site next door, incarcerated the food supply in the bear safe, and hit the hay for our last night in camp.
Alone again in my little tan and green canvas hut. I fell asleep to the gentle evening breeze, punctuated by calls of the loon. Slept like a hibernating bear.
Next time: the return to “civilization”.