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Fish have to Eat; So do Fly Fishers

Recently I wrote about how, even in the winter, fish have to eat. That is all fine and good. It means that we can be out on the water all year. However, there are conditions that need to be met for us to go fishing. Conditions that transcend temperature, vacation time, and permission from a spouse. Whether it be winter, summer, or the seasons that are worth being outdoors in-between, fly fishers have to eat too.

I love food. If I’m not looking for a trout stream, I’m looking for a barbecue restaurant. (The finer points of that particular subject, I am afraid, will have to wait for another day.) Food is important, for a lot of reasons. If I have to tell you that eating is about more than fueling biomechanical processes, then I fear for your humanity.

Inasmuch as I plan out where I’m going to fish, where I’m going to sleep, and where I can buy any gear I might need while I’m out; I look for food. “Come on,” you say. “Are you here for fine dining, or are you here to fish?!?” Well, I am here to fish. But if I can, instead of eating a cold beef stroganoff MRE I’m going to find something satisfying. If, after a day of wading, being in the elements, and (potentially) catching fish, I can sit down and have a real meal, I am going to do that.

By my estimation, there are three tiers of dining during a fishing trip. This doesn’t include the extreme ends of the spectrum, which are A) not eating and B) white table cloth affairs. I know that hardcore outdoors folk eat twigs and berries (they still have to practice catch and release). I’m also aware that there are lodges catering to those with hoity and/or toity sensitivities that provide five-star dining. Excluding those experiences that exist on the lunatic fringe, here are the three ways you can eat while fishing:

The Quick: Jerky and Sunflower Seeds

When you’re on the run (or wade), something that can be stashed in a vest or pocket is the most precious commodity. A universally recognizable part of fishing is the situation when you’ve been focusing so intently on rising trout that when you finally snap back to reality you realize that your stomach is caving in on itself. A granola bar is, in that moment, the most delicious morsel on planet earth.

I happily eat Cliff Bars and freeze-dried edamame for lunch during the work week. Making that my mid-day meal on the water isn’t any great sacrifice. Foods that don’t liquefy if squished or congeal when subjected to inner-wader warmth are best suited for on the water consumption. Turkey sandwiches are great. But if the bread ends up thinner than the cold cuts, and the whole thing takes on the color of the condiments from being repeatedly compressed by your armpit; it becomes less appetizing.

CA recommends: Cliff Sierra Trail Mix bars, Big sunflower seeds, Wild Bill’s Bacon Jerky

The Easy: Fast Food and Bag Lunches

I’m not against fast food. I don’t consider myself too good for McDonald’s or better than Long John Silvers. And I have literally sung the praises of a gas station. Shuttling between rivers or for a quick and hot bite, the closest drive through is satisfactory. If health is a concern, think about how many calories walking upstream for hours burns off.

On the healthier end of the spectrum is a cooler full of peanut butter and jelly, Gatorade, and homemade cookies. But let’s be honest: unless your spouse is a saint, this is going to require a lot of foresight.

I suppose a shore-lunch is kind of in this category. Outside of a guide-provided meal, I really have to applaud the initiative of the guy who packs (and fits) a camp stove and all the necessary elements on the river. I have come across guys boiling coffee on the stream bank, and in those moments I’ve considered Esau-esque bargains.

CA recommends: Wendy’s chili & JBC, Arby’s roast beef, Sheetz MTO miscellanea

The Reward: Diners and Pubs

If you’ve anything like me, you’ve had a day when the fishing wasn’t too thrilling. You can conceivably empathize then with how my mind will, from time to time, leave the stream to daydream about something like a steak. If you’re familiar with an area, or have adequately planned, you can have that steak.

Relaxing and winding down is important, especially when you’re out when it gets dark around 5:30. A day of hard fishing is best completed by taking a seat, warming up, and eating. Aside from some real food, this is also a great opportunity for some of the communal aspects that fly fishing affords. Experiencing local culture and chatting with friends is, for many, significant to the whole picture of the sport.

CA recommends: the lodge’s restaurant, places where the locals eat, barbecue joints that use real wood

I’ve had some awful meals on fishing trips, and I’ve had some exemplary ones too. The cuisine matters but kind of blends in with the entirety of the context. Food can be good because you’re having a blast with friends after a day of great fishing. Food can also be good because the fishing was terrible, so the meal stands out as the most remarkable part of the trip.

Breakfast at Anita’s (Northern Virginia), dinner at the Wapati Pub (Estes Park, CO), and all-you-can-eat catfish at A.J.’s Fish House (on Lake Fork, TX) all stand out for me. Surely the combination of company, food, and fishing make them more memorable than so many other meals I’ve eaten on trips. But I also look forward to hitting a hatch so hard that I lose track of “lunchtime” and have to eat a handful of trail mix at 3:00 to keep from falling over. After all, both the comfortable diner booth and the frozen stream bank make for perfect fly fishing mealtime ambiance.

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