If you’re going ultra-light camping, leave the frying pan at home. Backcountry fishermen can cook their fish in other ways, whether it is grilling, baking or even cooking fish on a stick.
Fish can be easily grilled whether they are cut into fillets or kept whole. When backpack fishing I bring a small, portable 6-inch by 12-inch grill. Use a larger one when fishing by boat. I build a fire, get some coals up and place the grill over the coals. Make sure your coals are evenly spread and the grill is sturdy before cooking.
Consider keeping a fire on one side of the fire ring in case extra coals are needed to continue cooking your fish. Simply scoot the coals from the adjoining fire under the grill. If you have butter, rub it inside and outside the fish before grilling. Add spices. It is almost impossible to keep a fish from sticking to the grates of the grill, though nonstick cook spray can help.
Fish cook more evenly if you cover them with foil. Slow-cooking fish over the coals using steady but very moderate heat will give fish a pleasant smoked taste.
Foil packets can result in scrumptious fare for the patient backcountry fisherman. Start with a few feet of heavy duty foil. Break off a piece 12-16 inches in length, then place fish fillets or cleaned whole trout in foil. Pour in melted butter or squeeze margarine, and mix in cut onions and spices such as garlic and/or lemon pepper. Tightly fold the foil to where no liquids will escape, adding more foil if necessary.
Once prepared, the fish can be cooked two ways. If you have a grill, set the foil packet atop a grill, atop a deep bed of coals. The traditional method is to place the foil packet directly on the coals. Make sure to have adequate coals before cooking. The upside of using a grill is the ability to keep sliding coals under the grill. It is also less likely to burn the fish. But it does cook slower.
This is where patience comes in. Depending on the size of the fish, give at least 30 minutes before turning the foil packet over. The fewer times you turn the packet, the better. Be patient. After an at least an hour, take the foil pack off and carefully unfold it. This way, if the fish is underdone, you can put it back on.
When feeling lazy I’ll cook fish on a stick, requiring next to no preparation. First, you will need a whole clean and gutted fish. Find any live stick big enough to hold your chosen fish and long enough to have 12 inches of extra stick beyond the length of the fish. Cut off any outlying twigs, and then insert the narrow end of the stick into the fish from tail to head. Next, force the stick into the ground or set securely with rocks, with the fish leaning over the coals. This takes time, but that is the beauty of cooking fish on a stick — they cook slower and you really don’t have to pay too close attention. They will be tastier if you drip a little butter and spices on them.
As you can see, ultra-light anglers have fish cooking options beyond the frying pan.
Johnny Molloy is the author of several outdoors guidebooks. Visit www.johnnymolloy.com.