How To Catch, Clean and Cook a Fish While Camping

The simplest way that I have found to catch a fish when camping is to start off with 5 simple items: a nice sharp knife - a carbon-steel Mora will do nicely, a simple fish-hook and lure, a length of string or fishing line, and finally a fishin' pole - a carved stick!

Be sure before you start that you have a fishing permit. Attach your permit sticker to your Outdoors Card and then you'll be legal.

There are several ways to better your chances at catching a fish. I haven't read any books on fishing and don't watch television shows about fishing, but what I have picked up are a few tips:
  • Fish notice shadowy shapes on the banks, so sit low if you can, or stay by a tree, and above all try to reduce your noise-level and movement.
  • My friend Matt told me a rather clever tip - if you're not catching after a few minutes in one location, move to another. Obvious I guess, but human nature as it is... just a few more minutes here, I'm sure one will bite...
  • Fishing on the lee shore (i.e. the side of the shore where the wind blows off the woods and into the water) will increase your chances as the fish congregate to eat the insects that blow from the trees into the shore waters. They're more apt to go for your lure in these circumstances.
  • Throw your lure near holes in the water floor, near boulders, exposed roots, or floating vegetation.
  • Fish like to stay close to objects in the water - they feel safer there from larger predator fish.
  • When the fish bites, yank the hook so as to set it deep. The last thing you want is for the fish to get spooked and drop the hook on the way up to the surface.

Once you've caught said fish, take it out to the shore. Bonk it on the back of the head with something heavy to end it quickly (i.e. terminate with extreme prejudice) and remove the hook carefully.

It is now time to clean your fish. It's easy. You'll be done in a minute. You can scrape the scales off if you'd like, but I don't bother. Make the first cut by inserting your sharp knife into the vent in the belly of the fish right in front of the anal fin and slice out forwards towards the gill region. Watch your fingers. Split the gills' central connection.

Now take out the intestines, liver and other internal organs from the gut cavity - a quick wipe with a cloth will achieve this. Cut out the gills too. Once mostly clean inside, just give the insides a rinse and wash out any blood that you can see. See, that only took a minute.

Now - getting the fish ready to cook depends on how you want to cook it... If you want it whole, you could just stuff it with aromatics (juniper and blue berries etc...), wrap it in leaves and place it in the embers of a burned down fire or just throw it on a grill. You could cut it up into pieces and make a fish soup with it.

My preferred way to is to grill it over an open fire. To do this, I open it up from the belly with my knife and remove the backbone, ribs, head and tail - leaving just a flat double fillet with the skin on. Remove the fins with deft cuts from your knife and mind you don't get poked - they can be sharp and slippery. You can remove the ribs and bones just before removing the backbone by slipping your thumb from just behind the head and drawing down between the meat and the rib cage all the way down the length of the fish.

Without a frying pan, you can make a simple frame. Slip 2 or 3 debarked deciduous branches (coniferous sticks are resinous and this will leave a poor taste in the fish) about the thickness of a pencil into opposing holes on the edges of the fillet. Then slip this all perpendicular through a thicker split branch - split about 12 inches down the shaft. Bind one or both ends as needed with split spruce roots or twine. Push the shaft of the supporting stick into the ground or brace it with stones, and position the fish close enough to the fire.

Shortly you'll be able to settle down to a meal of fire-braised fish. Mmm.

Looking forward to my next trip into Algonquin Park to catch a fish or two.



In Case of Emergency, Locate the Pine, Cedar & Birch Trees

About fifteen years ago I went solo canoeing in Algonquin Park. One afternoon I decided to explore a backcountry area near where I had set up my tent. I reached the end of a long, winding river where it turned into cattail-filled marsh and ended up at a long beaver dam; water was trickling over it. I stepped out onto the loose knit branches to pull the canoe up and over and as I did my foot went deep into the dam. After extracting my very muddy and scratched leg, I carefully maneuvered my way up and over and found myself in a wide lake, sheltered by cliffs on both sides - a perfect place to fish. I fished and caught nothing.

After a while I decided to return to the camp site and make some lunch. This time as I got out of the canoe to pull it back over the dam, my adventurous foot went partly through the bottom of the canoe itself. I got back to the site in a wet, leaking canoe and used duct tape to seal the crack that I had made and cleaned up the blood and mud.

Later on during my trip I was butter-fingered and dropped my paddle into the lake during a semi-heroic trip through stiff winds. I used my hands and arms to propel the canoe over to the shore towards the paddle and fetched it.

Both times I was lucky - I had been a couple of miles away from my camp - and downstream. It would have been a long, hard slog through the bush to get back. If this had happened to me now (fifteen years later) even in a more isolated spot, and had the broken canoe been more badly holed, and had the paddle become lost to the currents I would now know better what to do from the shore. I would repair the canoe with a thick glue made of melted pine resin and powdered charcoal, and employ thick birch bark as a band aid over the surface of the canoe. And I could carve a paddle from a split dead-standing cedar log.

Repair is as vital a role during camping as is enjoying the trip. And there's nothing really wrong when stuff breaks. Stuff breaks, you fix it. And that's part of your job.

I find that in my day job as a project manager, my role is to both guide projects through to completion, and to troubleshoot and repair poorly assembled projects or projects that have - through no fault of their own - been damaged. I suppose that's my job and that's your job - no matter what you're doing.

In case of emergency, you need to locate the pine, cedar, and birch trees.



The Lunar Eclipse of February 20, 2008

I heard about the lunar eclipse that was happening this evening, so I grabbed my digital camera, my big Nikon 12x50 5.5º binoculars and went out into the backyard.

The weather is perfect for taking pictures, with not a cloud in sight. It is cold, and clear.

In case you've forgotten (or never really knew, as in my case), a lunar eclipse takes place when the earth gets right in the way of the sun, (i.e. right exactly between the sun and the moon) such that the earth's shadow (lighter shadow is the penumbra, and the much darker umbral shadow appears later) appears across the face of the moon. The blood-red or orange colour is the result of the final bits of sunlight that are able to refract around the earth's atmosphere - the earth's atmosphere blocks the blue light and allows through predominantly the red portion of the spectrum which we see. Here in Toronto, the eclipse starts at 8:43 PM and will end just around midnight. The dark umbral Earth shadow will start to change the moon's colour around 9:00 PM and total eclipse will occur at 10:01 PM. Again, the moon will slip out of the dark umbral shadow and sit in the penumbral shadow until about 10:50 PM.

I used a lawn chair as a camera rest on this very cold night (about 15 degrees below Centigrade) and huddled in my pajamas, wrapped in a scarf, hat, 2 sweaters and a coat and shot off a few pictures. At first, most were pretty blurred as it was hard to control holding the binoculars in one hand, resting as firmly as possible on a lawn chair that was unstable on ice coating the bricks out back - and then with my other hand carefully holding the digital lens into one of the binocular lenses... Anyway, it seems to have worked pretty well and I got the hang of it after a while - necessity is the mother of invention so they say.

Here is the clearest shot I could take at 7:20 PM - the moon looks rather yellow - it was still about 30 degrees from the horizon and so I think the atmosphere was lending a deeper colour to it. The colour is not related to the eclipse.

This next one is really clear - I took this and the next three shots at 8:20 PM - the colour had whitened up as the moon had climbed the sky more to about 40º.

8:20 PM again. A branch from the neighbour's tree got in the way of this picture - but the combination of the camera lens and binocular really picks up great details of the moon's surface.

8:20 PM again. There is a blueish glow at the top of the moon - caused by the distortions of the lenses, not due to the moon's inhabitants hosting a late night baseball game and using high-powered sodium lamps to light up the stadium. The cold air has made me quite hilarious, you see. I am all a-twitter. I run inside for a moment to tell Spring. Spring is bundled up in bed, and promises to look at the photographs. That means she's not going outside. For a second I see myself as a deranged fool dressed in pajamas with an overcoat looking like Dr. Who. And then the insight goes away as I fumble my way out the back door again.

9:10 PM. The eclipse has begun! For some reason, perhaps because I had to move the lawn chair to a less stable area on the snow, the images are not as clear. Here though you clearly see the umbral shadow cloaking the brightness of the moon. Watching it through binoculars is magical really - quite amazing to observe. It's as though someone is drawing a dark, heavy cloth across the luminous surface of the moon.

9:15 PM. This one is taken without benefit of the binoculars - straight through the digital camera lense. Not great. But shiny.

9:26 PM. The umbral shadow has occluded about 50% of the moon's surface. I can hear the clattering of doors around the neighbourhood as people duck out into the cold night to see it. Planes occasionally track through the sky - I wonder if the pilots and passengers are looking, or if they are too caught up in the in-flight showing of Die Hard, and gin and tonics.

9:45 PM. Sixteen minutes until full eclipse - it's getting close. My fingers are beginning to freeze off. The pain has receded, only to be replaced with a slightly frightening numbness. My fingers don't work very well, hard to click the shutter button. It was Captain Lawrence Oates on the ill fated Scott Expedition to the South Pole who said "I am just going outside and may be some time" and deliberately left his tent and went out into a blizzard in an effort to save the rest of his compatriots by leaving them with more food. I am not at that stage yet, but it is sure is chilly.

9:47 PM. This one taken without binoculars. Kneeling on mitts in the snow. Knees cold. Monty is now outside running around in the snowy paths that I made for him the other day. He has located his stick and is galloping full bore around the backyard, proud as a peacock. Now he is peeing. Sorry, back to the moon.

9:55 PM. Shadow almost taking up all of the moon - it is looking a lot more dim in the sky, and the stars around it are beginning to show brightly. A dirty orange glow - soothing and a bit scary in a way.

10:00 PM. If you look at these photos, you can really see the 'man in the moon'. Just a slice of brightness remains. Amazing.

Well, that was fun. I'm inside now, my fingers have warmed up, and I'm getting tired. Time to go to sleep and hope that the moon returns from its eclipsed state and that the sun rises in the morning and that everything goes back to the way it is supposed to be.

We shall see.



Happy Valentine's Day, Pinar!

Well, on this Valentine's Day, I thought it would be topical for me to collect together some 'red' pictures that I've taken. Wish I had more - but here they are... Here's to you, Pinar - Happy Valentine's Day!



A Nice Cold Hike in the Valley

It was very cold when I left the house this morning. It was -14 Celsius, and with the wind chill it felt like 27 degrees below zero Celsius. Brrrr. I was bundled up though.

I wore track pants under my jeans, and a t-shirt covered with 2 thick sweaters, a new fleece jacket, and my pea coat - and my thick wool scarf and shearling hat to top it off.

My gloves kept my hands warm - and if anything I think I would have considered wearing thin cotton gloves beneath these, for when I needed to have my fingers free.

The snow was over a foot and more deep off the beaten track, and I suppose a pair of snowshoes might have been fun to use - as I post-holed all the way to my destination, all the way to my knees.

Head down, tramping through the snow, my eye caught a bright pink/red stain in the snow. Looking up, I saw bunches of bayberries dangling in the wind (see photos of the bright red, round berries). Full of pectin, and very tart, these make excellent preserves, and will augment other preserves. I plucked a few and kept them in my cheek sucking on them slowly - tart, sweet and delicious, with little seeds.

I walked off of the path and pushed my way up a slope to a high point looking over the creek below.

The pines clustered together, and it was underneath one that I stomped down the snow, set up my chair and began to boil my water. My butane/propane stove performed very poorly in this cold weather - and I actually had to heat the cannister itself to keep it going with an ethylene glycol burner I had picked up from Canadian Tire - a cheap emergency heater with a fiberglass wick.

Soon enough though I was able to make hot chocolate and add a couple of cups of boiling water to my freeze-dried beef and potato stew. This is actually pretty good and I'd recommend it to all. It wasn't spicy enough for me though.

I forgot to bring my spoon so I carved a basic spatula out of a branch. Wish I'd brought some pepper though - or even hot sauce.

I sat for an hour or so just relaxing and listening to the sounds of the wind and the outside. The wind was strong, even under my tree shelter. It got very cold and every time that I had to take off my gloves to adjust something or fiddle about, my fingers got very cold.

However, my body core temperature and head was very warm as I had lots of layers on - my legs stayed warm too, and my boots and wool socks were able to keep my feet toasty.

As the saying goes, "proper preparation produces perfect performance" and to this, I would have to make the following recommendations if I were to repeat this trek:

  • In very cold weather, bring only naphtha stove.
  • Bring spoon.
  • Make sure food has spices.
  • Bring extra cotton lining gloves.
  • Bring tarp in case the wind gets too strong.

Once I was ready and fed, I packed up. Instead of heading straight back, I took the long circular route through the woods back home - so I could get some exercise, and so I could just see some of the nature out there.

It was nice to come home though - I am struck by how much I take for granted the fact that we heat our whole homes with natural gas or electricity and seldom have a thought of what is involved in having to create a small fire and shelter to stay warm.

Good thing for this civilization thing. Sort of.



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