Even during the COVID-19 summer of 2020, there is still lots to do.
Actually, here in Newfoundland and Labrador, we are blessed that our infection rate is very low and we can enjoy our summer almost sort of normally. Even the weather is great.
We got off to a rough and scary start with the funeral home cluster of COVID cases — apparently one of the biggest single infection zones in Canada — but our premier, Health Minister Dr. John Haggie, and Dr. Janice Fitzgerald have done a stand-up job in annihilating the curve.
For a while we had no active cases. Now, even with easing of travel restrictions and the Atlantic bubble we have just a few cases that are travel-associated and contained. It is the best of what is a very bad situation worldwide. Congratulations to ourselves and all involved in that — including people who tested positive and isolated responsibly.
So, what can we be getting up to?
The sun was setting below the hills and the caplin were rolling all along the beach, perfect for social distancing.
Rock concerts, folk festivals, street parties and large gatherings of any sort are not cool with the health minister. But we can go trouting, hiking, salmon fishing, off-roading, canoeing, cod fishing, camping, and the list goes on. And it appears that many of us have taken to growing our own food in our backyards. There is never an ill wind that doesn’t blow some good. We may get back closer to our self-reliant roots after all this crazy pandemic fiasco is over. Food security is a good thing. Oh, speaking of which, I forgot berry picking. Why not pick berries and make our own jams and jellies like our ancestors did? I soon have to think bakeapples — my favourite.
Last week I did something I’ve been talking about doing for a long time but just didn’t get around to. I’ve had a portable propane smoker for years but just haven’t found the time to use it. I planned originally on smoking some trout, salmon and sea trout.
I finally got around to trying my rig out on some caplin.
We were sitting around the yard six feet apart and having a chat. One of the kids next door said that the caplin were rolling in Back Cove Beach. We decided to all go and see if we could get a few. I hadn’t had a fry of fresh caplin in a while and fancied a few for breakfast or lunch. I went home first and got my long-handled aluminum caplin dip net down from the garage rafters. I still have it from my commercial caplin fishing days when I unloaded 20,000 pounds a day with it. My back couldn’t handle that anymore. Anyway, off we went to Back Cove Beach.
The sun was setting below the hills and the caplin were rolling all along the beach, perfect for social distancing. I hadn’t done this in a while and it was wonderful. Kids were having a total blast, running out into the cold Atlantic Ocean without a care in the world. That is a very good thing in these crazy times.
My long-handled net worked to perfection and I filled my pail in short order.
Cory and I took turns and filled other folks’ pails. All hands were happy and going to be well fed on fresh-caught protein. Imagine how much food we could harvest and preserve with just a little effort, and it’s actually fun. We had a fantastic evening. I came home and packaged 20 bags of fresh caplin with 16 silvery tasty critters in a bag. The rest I lightly salted and placed in a cooler for the next day.
I had originally planned on drying my catch on a flake but over my morning coffee I thought about the smoker sitting on a shelf in the garage. Yes indeed, I would give smoking fish a try. This smoker is the Bradley sort that utilizes a hopper that delivers hockey puck-shaped wafers of wood to a heating element. I chose hickory and set up the device on my cod-splitting table in the backyard.
I laid out the caplin on the metal racks and set the smoker alight. It didn’t take long for the smoke to curl upwards and begin its work, or curing the caplin. A wonderful aroma hung in the air all around the lower end of Wharf Road. It was great.
In the meantime, Goldie and I fried up a pan of fresh caplin on the deck stove and that was also fantastic. I went about doing some yard work, enjoyed the ambiance, and waited for the end result.
I’ve always liked traditional dried caplin, but I find them salty. I end up with a thirst that’s almost impossible to quench. So I haven’t dried any in years and I miss them most while hunting in the fall. Caplin wrapped in foil paper and heated in a campfire are quite a treat. So I’m figuring these smoked caplin will be great for hunting moose this autumn. We have another moose licence in our group — just one this year — and I hope we are first-day lucky, like last season. But if we aren’t, at least we will have smoked caplin, strong black tea, homemade bread and bakeapple jam.
The simple things in life, I think, are the best.
I let the caplin smoke for about six hours. I figure I did pretty good for the first attempt. I put another batch on the next morning and I fiddled with the controls based on my limited experience. I slacked off on the oven temperature and used more of a cold smoke regime. These Bradley smokers are pretty versatile. This batch turned out fantastic. I nailed it. So now I’m ready for some trout. Stay tuned.
This is a wonderful summer to relish the simple pleasures in life. And I would much appreciate any tips and comments on smoking. How about smoked cod? I’m thinking smoked cod tacos.
Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at [email protected] or follow him on twitter at @flyfishtherock