For decades, fishermen who visit the 1000 Islands region have enjoyed shore dinners as a traditional part of a day of fishing with a professional guide. In the early 1900s, river guides set forth with their parties each morning in their St. Lawrence Skiffs. Rowed by their guide, often more than forty miles in a day, they would have their shore dinners on any island that was convenient at lunchtime. Today, modern fishing craft decked out with state of the art navigational and fishing equipment ply the same waters and offer the very same shore dinner.
As you might expect, the one necessity of any shore lunch is fish. This responsibility falls on the anglers who hire the local fishing guides for the day. A common question asked the guides is "what happens if we don't catch any fish; how do you have a shore lunch?" The answer is right to the point, "I don't know." Never has there been a day that a shore dinner wanted for fish.
The traditional Shore Dinner is included as an option on all of our
Package Fishing Trips featuring Full Day Private Charters.
The shore dinner is quite a production, since everything
is prepared from scratch, right before your eyes.
Shortly after noon the guide will call an end to the fishing and head to the Guide Association dinner grounds where the lunches are prepared. It is located on Grindstone Island at a small NYS park with a portion of the park reserved for the exlusive use of the guides and their guests. Shaded lunch sites are fitted out with picnic tables, work benches and a large fire place adequate for the number of guided parties the site can accommodate.
After the fire is started and water put on to boil for coffee, potatoes and corn on the cob, the guide sets the table, complete with table cloth. First to hit the skillet is the sliced fat-back. Sliced thin, the fat-back resembles bacon with one obvious difference. Where bacon or salt pork have lean meat, fat-back is just that, 100% fat from the back of a pig, with no lean meat.
The difference is important, at least to Clayton guides, as the grease rendered down from the fat-back is used to fry the fish and dessert. It is the one absolute necessity of the entire production.
As the fat-back fries, it reduces in size by as much as 80%, as the grease that will be used to cook the meal is created. When done, the morsels turn golden brown and crispy. A slice of bread is covered with thinly sliced onion, topped with three or four pieces of the fat-back, folded into a sandwich, and the appetizer is ready for tasting. Those who have never had such a thing usually only eat two or three. Those who know what they are getting usually use two slices of bread for a much larger and more traditional sandwich.
While the fishermen enjoy the appetizer and a freshly tossed salad, with 'Original' Thousand Island Dressing of course, the guide will dust their fish with breading and put it to fry in the super hot fat-back grease. The flesh sears immediately, preventing absorption of the fat. By the time the fish is golden brown, the fresh coffee grounds that were dumped into boiling water have settled for more than 30 minutes, changing the river water into a true outdoor delight. The potatoes have been at boil for nearly 45 minutes and the fresh corn on the cob for ten. All comes to readiness at the same time.
While the group digs into the freshest fish they have ever eaten and the corn and potatoes, the guide begins preparations for dessert. Eggs are broken into a bowl and sugar and cream are added. The batter is used for bread that has been drying in the sunlit breeze for about an hour. Thrust into the rolling hot fat-back grease, the batter immediately puffs up, making the french toast resemble the finest french puff pastry.
The french toast is
served on the clean
bottom of the
upside-down plates that were used for the meal. It is topped with
butter, a bottle cap of maple syrup, a bottle cap of cream and
bottle cap of brandy, with strict directions "not to let
your cap runneth over." While this is devoured, a second
issue is prepare.
All of this is topped off with the brew locally known as "guides coffee". Strong and dark, it is a necessity for those wishing to stay awake for the ride back to the Clayton dock.
The shore dinner is a
to behold. While 40%
of returning anglers admit that they enjoyed the lunch once, but
prefer not to lose the fishing time, the other 60% volunteer that
their trip would not be the same without this enjoyable
tradition. The shore lunch adds about $25.00 per person to the
cost of your trip, but plan on it replacing lunch and dinner.