Fishing, Outdoors

Eating large

Onboard meals can be as extravagant when presented in a fine-dining style. A fisher’s experience in one of his fishing trips, however, has proven that even people used to onboard fine dining can also appreciate and even enjoy eating simple meals.

Onboard meals take many forms, but when you’re hungry, even the simple things taste great.

Ever wonder why food tastes so good on the water? There are two simple answers. Get hungry enough and you’re liable to eat anything. And secondly, what else are you going to do? You can grow old waiting for the fish to bite or the wind to blow. But over the years my palate has acquired a taste for fine dining at sea and quite frankly, sea rations don’t necessarily cut it, no matter how empty my stomach.

I was reminded of this on a recent fishing trip aboard the Whaler when I uncovered a flattened package of Saltines and alone mint buried in the tackle box. The mint was dissolving amidst plastic worms and the crackers resembled breadcrumbs, having been crushed by lead sinkers. Sure, after 30 days in the raft these rations might hold some appeal. But at that point, I was content to absorb nourishment by reading the dietary information on the soda can. It brought back memories of a trip years ago.

The 29 [feet] Cubavich was the smallest boat I had ever delivered to Florida on its own bottom. It was November when Capt. Conrad Greer and I cleared New Jersey’s Manasquan Inlet heading to Pompano Beach. Accommodations were skimpy. No shower, no refrigeration, no heat, and no genset. We’d eat ashore each night, but we needed a plan for lunch. Then I recalled what my friends fishing canyon overnighters aboard 31 Bertrams learned long ago. There’s a lot of heat pouring off those engines, why not use it constructively? Slap a can of beef stew on the manifold at first light and by noon, you have a piping hot meal.

During the seven-day haul, we ate tins of ravioli, chili, all kinds of good stuff. It was delicious. I don’t think food ever tasted better on a southbound trip. All we had to remember was to remove the paper labels before placing the cans on the engine and hold the steaming lunch with cotton gloves to avoid burning our hands. About the only thing we couldn’t do was smell our lunch when it was ready.

But my stomach and olfactory senses had a real party one night the next summer while tuna fishing near the 100-fathom curve. It wasn’t just-caught sushi that filled my belly that evening in the canyon but bowls of linguine with white clam sauce. The boat had been chartered by a group that owned a restaurant and the chef had prepared enough Italian food to feed the Titanic. Our plan was to troll a few hours in the late afternoon and then shut down and drift for swordfish after dark while mango on pasta.

But instead of the breeze dropping out as the sun went down, the wind stiffened. Beam too, it wasn’t long before we were rocking and rolling. Still, I wasn’t concerned. The generator was banging away and I had installed the seat rails on the cooktop on the way out. Smacking my lips, I expected the scent of the clam sauce to filter its way from the galley to the cockpit any minute. I kept waiting for someone to come out of the saloon with a bowl of pasta for my dinner but the boat had become surprisingly quiet. Opening the saloon door, I was met with a delectable whiff of steaming home-made sauce and the groans from the party sprawled out on the sofa and cabin sole. They wouldn’t be eating anything tonight. But I sure could.

I filled a bowl with linguine, ladled on the clam sauce and went back out in the cockpit. I had to sit on the step by the saloon door, resting the bowl on my knees. Sauce spilled over the rim onto my foul weather gear and dripped on the deck each time the boat tossed about on the black ocean, but I wasn’t concerned. Seawater rushing through the scuppers took care of the mess. Three times I went back to the galley for refills but not once did the subject of sushi come up again with this party.

That doesn’t mean I’m not a fan of fresh fish, however. A few years ago in the Bahamas I spent a weather day casting from shore. I landed an ocean tally, a curious fish that looks to be a cross between a winged bat and a radial tire. But is it good eating.

The next day after a fruitless morning trolling the edge, working rips and surface water temperature breaks without a bite, I went into the galley and batter-fried my tally for lunch. No sooner had the group finished licking their fingers that I got the word to head back to the dock. Forget marlin. We spent the afternoon catching more tally off the rocks and ate them for dinner.

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