The Fish Camp

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As we roll up on steelhead season, many will head to “fish camps” as a part of that annual ritual. Living out of a true fish camp makes the expedition authentic – here’s the skinny.

I was slow in school.  I never fully appreciated the definition of “lowest common denominator” until I walked into the fish camp for the first time.  Don’t take that as an insult… rather.. the fish camp is the bottom line of what you need to be happy as a guy.

The phrase “fish camp” comes with baggage, so I need to be more specific.  The fish camp is kind of like a Bed and Breakfast, only more exclusive.  A B&B is an operation where you can rent a room for a small fortune, the proprietor feeds you breakfast and happily tells you worthless facts about the local town, its history and provides insight into things to do.  The fish camp, on the other hand, is highly exclusive.  You need to know somebody to get an invite, you might get breakfast, you will certainly get a beer or two, and the host doesn’t bother with what’s going on at the craft fair downtown – instead focusing on the ONLY thing that is important… fish.

And not just any fish.  “Fish”, in the context of a true fish camp means only one type, one species, the focus of the trip, the goal of the search… it could be trout, bass. pike or walleye, but everyone at the camp knows exactly what a “fish” is.  If asked, “how many fish did you catch”, the answer had better not include any extraneous species. To answer any other way would quickly doom you to the back of the beer line as a novice… make way for the true fishermen who UNDERSTAND.  Sit at their feet and learn!

You don’t pay to go to a true fish camp.  This instantly eliminates all the fancy-dancy sports camps advertised in the back of the magazines or on the internet.  Yeah, you can pay to stay at a place, and then pay more for a guide, and then pay for your meals, and even stay in a room with clean sheets but that’s really a bed and breakfast.  A fish camp has a heart, a soul and a smile as wide as the lake or stream it sits next to.  The host is also your guide who readily shares his deep knowledge of where to go for fish to all who will listen, and happily gives you a seat in his boat as you strike out in search of prey.  The rooms in a bed and breakfast have prissy names like the “Queen Anne Suite”.  At the fish camp, it’s the back bedroom, a cot, or just a sleeping bag on the floor.  You know you are in a true fish camp, one with that heart, when the host not only gives you the best and only bed in the single-wide but puts clean sheets on it as well while he sleeps on a fold up cot.

To help you decide whether you have ever been to a true fish camp, here are some guidelines:

You know you are in a fish camp if:

  1. You open the fridge and the only thing in there is worms and beer; maybe some Gatorade
  2. You can leave the toilet seat up and not get in trouble
  3. You can fart and it improves the smell
  4. The only things that work in the kitchen are the electric skillet and the coffee pot
  5. The kitchen table is covered with lures or the makin’s for lures
  6. The big fish hanging on the wall is not a “Billy Bass”… but you are allowed to make jokes about that as long as you wink at the end
  7. The only decorations on the wall, if any, are fish, fishing lures, maps of where to fish, or pictures of fish
  8. The hot water tank has less than 5 gallons causing you take take a Navy bath.  Rinse.  Turn off water, soap, rinse.
  9. There is no air conditioning; heating might come from a fireplace or pot belly stove.  
  10. There are no women around. If there are any, they will bait their own hook
  11. There are no pictures of women unless there is also a fish in the shot
  12. “High tea” in the afternoon involves beer and cheese instead of tea and cookies
  13. You hang out on the front porch.  Folks feel free to drop by and chat – mostly about what happened with the fishing that day, yesterday or will happen tomorrow
  14. A major remodel of the host’s boat is changing the piss can from a cut up milk jug to a cut up Gatorade bottle
  15. You always look before you sit to make sure there you do not hook yourself with a lure
  16. Nobody knows how many fishing rods there are around the camp
  17. Breakfast is bacon, eggs, toast, butter, honey… stuff you can pronounce and can make in that electric skillet
  18. You are an instant friend of anyone who bellies up to the table on the porch and cracks open a beer
  19. The temperature always reads 70 degrees on the old, broken thermometer with the jumping bass – perfect weather all the time
  20. There are more filet knives in the kitchen than butter knives
  21. The coffee mugs are old, heavy, and chipped a bit; dropping them just adds more character
  22. Nobody cares where you leave your stuff; floor is just as good as the sofa
  23. Everyone is smiling
  24. You don’t get bummed out if you don’t catch any fish because you know that the real reason you are there is all of the above
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