By Matt Mittan
I will swear by it until the day I go to fish the heavenly lakes in the sky… Food tastes better when you’ve been outdoors all day and your lunch has been sitting in a bag waiting for you. There’s not even any debate about it. PB&J sandwiches melt in your mouth. Frito’s, Doritos or Lays taste like a five star chef cooked them right there on the spot – in a kettle – just for you. And Pop Tarts? Jerky strips? Forget about it! Manna from heaven. And if you are able to parlay one of those sandwich lunch bags with the zipper sealed, insulated bottoms that you can pack a drink in with an ice pack then you, my friend, can rest assured that the first sip of that beverage is going to have you closing your eyes and offering up a slow motion smile to God, with the deepest and sincerest level of satisfaction that one could ever derive from a pop tab can or hand held juice-pouch.
With these truths laid out behind us, imagine my delight the first time I was invited to partake in a riverside fish fry. I was in the Service at the time, stationed in Europe. I had gone out on a fly fishing day with some locals I met days before. (Anglers, I find, can overcome language barriers very quickly.)
The day before our outing, I got a call from one of the guys letting me know that I needed to bring a few ingredients, enough to cover my share of the cooking for all four of us. I was confused. We were going fishing. What was this talk of “cooking”? What about my PB&J? What about my chips? What about my Pop Tarts? I knew being out on the banks of the river all day would bring heightened value to these low cost meals. He responded, “You’re going to catch your lunch!”
Stop the presses!
Now, I am not one to lack for confidence in my catching capabilities but when you start talking about either producing fish or going hungry after several hours on my feet, well… that’s just not a very funny joke. He had a balanced mix of humor and frustration in his voice when I suggested that, “just in case”, I should bring a box of neatly packaged, frosting covered, breakfast goodness. There was no fooling with his expectation.
On the ride to our destination, I got to hear lots of stories of their favorite waterside meals, their best river born recipes and even a couple confessions of days that ended with some rumbling tummy’s. I was starting to wonder if I was going on a fishing trip or a foodie tour.
Once on the water, we all spread out. Laughter, teasing and good chatter all subsided. We each got absorbed into our own zones. Nature has a way of blurring out the rest of the world when you let it. And I did just that. The extra pressure of knowing that I had to produce, if I was going to eat, started entering my mind. These were native waters. No stocked fish here. These trout were tough. (Did I mention that it was also about an hour drive out into the middle of nowhere and not a single store or restaurant was seen the whole way?)
As the gentle hum of the bugs and bees around me mixed with the ripple of water over rocks and the breeze wrestling through the trees, I began to feel something stir inside of me. And it wasn’t just hunger. It was a deeper appreciation for how fortunate we are to have so many things and for the ease at which we can get, pretty much, anything we want. But I also started realize something else… How precious and fragile true survival in nature is. Can you imagine if we all had to actually catch, kill, or harvest our own food? Could the wilds even sustain so many of us? I’m betting either we would go or the natural world around us would.
While I won’t deny the immense enjoyment of a fresh caught meal on the banks of an ancient river or the deep appreciation that producing my own meal brings, I decided that day, for the preservation of such natural beauty and sustainable wilds, I’d stick to my bagged lunches moving forward when fishing on non hatchery-supported fresh water. There’s only going to be so many wild fish produced in any water body year to year, but the super market shelves are pretty flush with Pop Tarts, Chips and the makings of a great PB&J. So, I learn the skills but spare the kills. I like to let the fish go and my lunch still tastes pretty awesome!
Matt Mittan is a long time broadcaster in WNC, an entrepreneur and USAF veteran who has fished all around the world. He can often be found aboard his classic red Old Town canoe in search of mountain Bass. Matt currently has an insurance business, partnered with AFLAC, providing benefits and tax solutions for area businesses. Email MattsFishingDiary@gmail.com with story ideas or feedback.