The sense of camaraderie found from spending time with friends on a fishing trip is incredible. Make it a river trip in a canoe, and it’s even better. And no matter what your fireside culinary skill level, memories made will not be soon forgotten.
Listening to Frank Venable talk about his father brought back the memory of a fishing trip from long ago. My Dad and his best friend, Bill Opengary, wanted to float a section of the New River in West Virginia and asked if I would like to invite a friend and come along. Absolutely. I called my buddy Mitch King and proffered the offer of three days and two nights of smallmouth bass fishing. He was quick to accept and immediately offered to bring the food. “No, no, no,” I responded. “You are welcome to bring beer or whatever other libation you wish, but we will handle the food.” A spirited debate ensued, but I knew his idea of camp food—hot dogs and potato chips—and mine were as far apart as Republicans and Democrats are these days. There was simply no compromise in sight.
We packed up all the gear one could imagine. We had two beautiful Galt-designed Blue Hole canoes. They were perfect riverboats made from durable ABS plastic, yet surprisingly fast and graceful on the water. It was mid-morning before we completed the shuttle and got on the water. The fishing was terrific. Mitch and I both caught over 75 Smallies each.
Just before we made camp, Mitch made a cast into an eddy on the right side, and you could see several nice smallmouths rising to look at his Rapala lure. I playfully cast mine right next to his, and one of his fish took my bait immediately. He playfully groused as I worked to land the fish, but it seemed to double in strength just as the fish was next to the boat. Mitch’s playful demeanor changed to one of aggravation as he said, “If you have two fish on one cast, I’m going to be mad.” Sure enough, another bass had joined the first, and I landed two simultaneously on one lure. We both ended up laughing and paddled onto the campsite.
There was an old, abandoned farmhouse we had permission to stay in for the night. It was complete with old mattresses filled with straw. I opted for my pad and the porch floor, fearing the little critters that might be living in the straw and not wanting to become their dinner.
While Mitch and Dad ferried sleeping bags to the house, Opengary and I built a fire and began dinner. I filleted some fish, and Ope put potatoes into a large tin can with holes punched in the sides at the bottom while he rigged up a grill over the fire. Mitch broke out some beer, and dinner was ready by the time we had all had a few.
Ope served up the ultimate surf and turf as the most masterful camp cook ever, a top chef in his own right if ever there was one. Ribeye steaks and fried bass, a vegetable casserole in mushroom gravy, baked potatoes, and even a dump cake for dessert. It was a veritable feast in the middle of the wilderness.
With bellies full and beer freely flowing, we laughed into the wee hours of the morning. I was awakened by Ope in the predawn the next day to watch a flock of wild turkeys parading right in front of the porch where we were sleeping. Time in nature is truly magical.
Dad taught me a lot about the outdoors, and Bill Opengary showed me how to create a gourmet meal on a campfire. Listening to Frank talk about how lucky he was to have received the same education from his father and Sam reminded me of how lucky I have been to have had mentors who did the same for me. I can’t encourage you enough to spend some time outdoors with family and friends, and it will make all the difference in the world.