Let’s be honest, one of the greatest satisfaction, when we catch a fish, is to cook it right on the spot.
Why would a group of friends spend a day out fishing and eat homemade sandwiches when they can have a delicacy served right under their noses?
Most of us tend to just put our catch in the fish box and bring it back home. Which is fine, of course.
However, sometimes we should also cut the slack and try to immerse ourselves in a full outdoor experience by cooking the food that we gather in the wilds.
Those who have tasted a fish prepared right after it came out of the water know that the taste is unlike any other. There’s even a great satisfaction in starting a fire, and the process of preparing a fish in such a way can also be a great deal of fun.
However, cooking in the wild isn’t easy. It requires patience, the right tools, and of course, a bit of experience.
That’s why we present to you this ultimate how-to guide. We’ve explained every process in detail in order to make sure that the fish won’t get torched and become inedible.
The First Steps
But before we start cooking a fish, we have to catch one. Also, we’ll need the right tools and to do some preparation first. So let’s see what awaits us before we even get to the cooking process.
The Tools We’ll Need
We can always use camp stoves, knives that are made for cleaning fish, multiple dishes, etc. But the real fun begins when we try to prepare our meal with what we have in our surroundings. That way, we can have an immersive experience in the wilds. That’s why we should always carry these three things that are staple pieces of equipment for outdoor cooking and fishing.
Even though we can start a fire with only a couple of dry branches, that can be stressful. Cooking outdoors should be relaxing and fun, and that’s why we always carry something that will speed up the process. Matches, a lighter or a simple piece of flint will do. So make sure to have something like that around.
A simple stick with a line and a hook will usually do, but in order to improve our chances of catching fish, we usually learn the water conditions first. Fishing rods are something that we always have ready in our car trunk, but there were times when we experimented by improvising and making them on the spot. If you do so, be ready to wait a bit more until the first fish bites the hook.
Here are some great portable fishing rods for fishing in the woods.
A Reliable Knife
If going out into the wilderness without a proper knife was a good idea, John J. Rambo wouldn’t go through all the trouble to get it back at the beginning of the movie. Every modern day survival enthusiast knows that having a sharp piece of steel is vital, especially if we’re in need of building a shelter and preparing food. For this purpose, even a pocket knife will do. However, it needs to be sharp enough if we want to avoid the knife slipping and hurting us while we’re gutting the catch.
How to Catch the Fish
We all know how this part goes, but just for the sake of beginners, we’ll share a couple of vital pieces of advice that will help to get the catch faster.
- Silence is everything — Loud noises drive the fish away. Always stay silent and watch for their movement in the water. Shadows are a great indicator of their presence if the waters are clear.
- The key is in movement — Don’t sit and wait. This isn’t our regular fishing session. We need food. That’s why it’s important to move to other nearby locations if a fish didn’t bite a few minutes after we threw the hook.
- Use bait — Even though we’re improvising, for the most part, fishing without bait is ridiculous. Look around. You’ll probably be able to find worms, leeches, grasshoppers, or some other suitable things. Much more on this here.
Cleaning the Fish
This is probably the most unpleasant step in the cooking process. Even some of us who have done it indefinitely still don’t feel at ease while doing this.
We’re catching fish, so that means that we should end its life first. Find the most merciful way to do so. A method that has been used over the years is to hit its head as hard as possible. That way, the death will happen almost instantly. Now let’s see all the important steps for properly gutting and cleaning the fish.
- We gut the fish by inserting the tip of our knife into the belly near the tail. Then, we make a shallow cut all the way to the head. However, make sure not to hurt the intestines, as the fish will then have an awful and bitter taste.
- Slowly open the body and get all the intestines out. Cut out the anus. If there’s a dark spot near the backbone, remove it with something dull, since that’s the kidney.
- Find running water to rinse the fish. A stream will always do. However, if you’re planning to fish on a lake, make sure to bring bottled or tap water with you.
- Cut off the fins. You can leave the head on if you prefer. Fins need to be cut out simply because they’re sharp and unnecessary.
- Scraping the scales is probably the most tiring part. It needs to be done thoroughly. You can do it with your knife or anything that’s serrated.
We always feel relieved once we’re done with this part since the real fun starts once it’s finished. We usually don’t de-bone or make fillets out of the catch simply because it takes too much time, and we’re usually very hungry by this point. However, you can do it if you like.
Starting the Fire
We usually split up, and while one of us cleans the fish, the other one starts the fire. Why? Well, getting the right heat will take some time. We don’t need large flames, as they will simply damage our catch. The fire must burn down to embers in order for the fish to properly cook.
First of all, find some small dry branches, dry leaves and put them in one place. They will be the basis for starting the fire. Larger branches and logs are the meat. They go in as soon as the fire starts. However, the fire will need some mass, so make sure to add wood and let it burn for some time. Once it’s reduced to hot coal, you may proceed with cooking.
Here, we will show you two different ways you can cook your fish. They both give a delightful taste, and we recommend to try them out.
Wrapped Fish Recipe
- Find large leaves that are broad enough to fit your catch. Basically, a leaf should be big enough to wrap around the fish without opening by itself or falling off.
- Always go for leaves that are green and fresh. Also, depending on the thickness of the leaves, we sometimes wrap multiple layers in order to better preserve the meat. That way, we ensure that the food cooks evenly.
- Then, put the fish right onto the hot coals. There shouldn’t be flames at all, and if the temperature is still too high, we wait a bit more. Otherwise, the delicate fish meat will get scorched in no time.
- After a few minutes, flip the wraps, so that the other side gets the same amount of crispiness.
- Once the meat is tender, we can serve the fish.
Usually, it will take around 10 minutes for a piece of meat that’s an inch thick to get cooked. Also, if the fish are smaller, we should always eat with our hands. That way, small bones will be easier to detect, since they can be dangerous if swallowed.
Fish on a Stick Recipe
For this recipe, the fire will have to be somewhat stronger. However, the cooking will still be done on hot coals and embers. The process of cleaning the fish and starting the fire is still the same.
A good piece of advice is to stuff the fish with different herbs. If you are familiar with edible herbs, then you’ll probably be able to find some in your surroundings. However, taking some from your home with you won’t hurt either so feel free to do so. Just make sure to secure the stuffing by tying the fish down with a string.
- Cut off straight branches of trees that are non-toxic. Hazel or Willow are great for this purpose. The thickness of a branch should be around 2 centimeters in diameter.
- Cut the branches to around 1 meter in length. Afterward, use the knife to remove around 30 centimeters of bark from the thinnest end. Then, sharpen both ends.
- Next, get two 20-centimeter-long branches that are around half a centimeter in diameter. They will serve as skewers that will form the cross-section and secure the fish to sit tightly in its place.
- Take the main spit and place it onto a log or a stone. Then, with your knife, cut it in half. Just make sure not to split it all the way through. Splitting it right to the center will do the job. However, it sometimes happens that we make a mistake and separate it in two. In those cases, just tie one end down with a piece of rope or a straw. Then, ensure that the skewers fit by inserting them. They should sit tightly inside the spit. However, you should also be able to insert them without much effort.
- The next part is to push the spit through the body of the fish. The point should exit through its mouth. Then, line up the sides of the fish with the split on the shaft that we just made with our knife. Afterward, insert the skewers through one side, and push it all the way through the other. Also, make sure to push the skewers through the meatiest parts in order to avoid the fish ripping while it cooks. Sometimes, if the catch is larger, tie the tail down to the spit with a piece of string or a rope.
- Cook the fish over the fire, adjusting the distance from the coals as you see fit. It’s important to keep turning it over in order to prevent it from charring on one side. However, holding the stick for some time can be really tiresome. That’s why you’ve sharpened both sides of the stick. Plunge the spit into the ground and let the fish sit over the fire.
- Once the meat is cooked, carefully remove the spit and the skewers or eat the fish right out of it with your hands. This is one of the most delicious ways to prepare it outdoors.
Here is another method that’s fairly similar:
To Sum It Up
Cooking fish out in the wild can be very simple. We don’t need to bring a bunch of stuff when we go out fishing. As we’ve mentioned before, a simple fire starter, a knife, and some fishing gear will do.
At the end of the day, with a bit of imagination, cooking skills, and good company, the fish we prepare will always taste spectacular.