Overnight on the Action: Camping for Anglers

by Brett Brown

Add your usual lightweight car camping, backpacking or snow camping gear to a canoe or anything else that floats and you open new horizons with a minimal investment of money.

Select a proper aquatic campsite and learn a few easy boater's skills, and you can camp along the water and wake up to the lap of waves on the shore. You can escape crowds. You can kick back and, if you like, cast or set lines from camp to catch dinner. Best of all, you don't have to leave the water at prime fishing time for a long drive home or because the gate to the lake closes. Instead, you settle in and watch the sun set in peace and quiet. Runabouts and sailboats open up appropriate waters. Larger craft let you stay onboard at safe moorings.

You don't need much to bank camp. You probably have, or can rent, a boat. Canoes, inflatables, smaller boats open up lakes without ramps and, with decent boating skills, river waters.

Gear requirements are simple. But the most important thing you need is to know shore camping is available and easy to find. You can research fine shore camping areas through state tourism departments, or check with state and national parks and forest. In most of the East and upper Midwest, canoeist's guides offer a wide choice of decent sites to match any boating skill.

Take it easy to start, if you have not camped, or haven't camped lately. Begin with a trial overnight at a campground within an hour of home. This lets you check your grub and gear where leaving the can opener home doesn't mean a drive to the store or the use of a hand ax. Tip: Topographic maps are a huge help if you want to find more remote sites and if you'd like to know about stream gradients and more. You can buy individual USGS topographic maps. I prefer the CD-Rom maps that offer 200 or more quads. Check below for information.

Once you get your camping skills in order, add your boat and head out for boaters-only campgrounds. You start at reservoirs or lakes. Then consider the rather less protected waters of rivers and saltwater that make greater requirements on boaters.

If you start, as you should, with overnights, you don't need a lot of gear. We use little more than we would backpack unless we stay out for three or four days. Too much "stuff" and you spend your time gearing up and down rather than enjoying the outdoors. This does not mean Spartan gear. Since your boat carries the load, you can add all sorts of items backpackers can't tote. 

Basics include a sleeping bag or, in summer, a couple of blankets pinned into an envelope for each member of your group. This can go on top of a foam pad or, for optimists, an air mattress. Don't try to sleep on riverside or beach sand! Even with a hip hole it's hard.

In hot weather you might want to sleep off the ground on a cot. I like compact models that are only six inches or so off the ground. When it's cold, a closed foam pad on the ground is warmest.

Tents are not a must! They do keep bugs and rain off. But you can use bug spray to handle the former and, if you camp in summer, you may not find rain a problem. So we usually tote a tarp and leave our tent home unless the weather is changeable. This is definitely the case spring and fall!

Cooking gear need not be complex either. We tote a Coleman Peak 1® single burner white gas stove on overnights if there is no fire danger. Pick a camp lantern that uses the same fuel as your stove and tote some extra fuel. Don't forget spare mantles for the lamp either! Stash extra matches with the lamp, the stove, your cooking gear and in your cooler.

During fire season we carry a small shovel -- it's also handy for burying body wastes well away from shore in the rare case we don't have toilet handy. If fire is a hazard, we bring cold chicken and the like. A double burner stove works well on longer trips. A set of backpacker's pots, cooking utensils and other gear slides into a storage box that contains spices, salt and pepper and the stove. We set the stove on the box top where there is not a table available. Add a plastic cup and plate and a knife, fork and spoon for each member of the party and you are all set. Remember to keep it simple!

A cooler and water containers are absolute requirements these days when you can't safely drink water anywhere. You can buy all sorts of filters, boil water, use chemicals or simply suffer the beaver two-step. We bring water to drink and boil up cooking and tea water. Don't use ice cubes in coolers. Use block ice or freeze water in plastic jugs in the cooler and, as they melt your water supply increases. Coolers keep food cool and away from bugs. They also help tote extra fish home.

Odds and ends include bar soap, which pollutes less than liquid towels, and other personal gear. A mini roll-up H20 Sunshower® that heats a little water in the sun for an instant shower after the heat of the day is welcome in warm weather too.

Don't forget toilet paper, individual flashlights and the insect repellent. A birder's field guide or reading material is nice on lazy days.

You can tote this gear in duffel bags or boxes. We use plastic garbage bag liners in duffel bags. This keeps sleeping bags, clothing, tents and such dry. Then tote camp cooking gear in a box. These containers make it hard, but not impossible, to forget and leave odds and ends home too. Don't forget to tote out what you tote in. Garbage belongs in cans at home or at the marina, not buried in shore camps or, worse, burned and left in campfires!

Do try to keep track of the gear you use, the gear you would have liked, and the gear that's never touched. Then adjust your outfit accordingly.

Angler's Shore Camping Food

Pack twice as much as you would eat at home, but keep it simple! We favor cold food on overnights during hot weather so roast pheasant, cold sliced beef with tomato slices or potato salad do nicely. In cooler weather, assume you can't eat from the stream. Be sure to take backup food so you don't really have to catch anything. Depend on fish and that's the one time all season they won't bite!

If you like plain provender, hamburgers and hot dogs work reasonably well -- fancy sausages in hard rolls taste better to us. If you want hot entrees such as stews, you might cook them at home, freeze and then reheat them in the field.

Snacks such as crackers or hard breads with cheese, sliced meats, fruit and the like handle lunch most days. We often fish early, enjoy a late lunch, float or boat the middle of the day, and have an early dinner so we can fish at dusk when the action peaks.

Breakfast doesn't need to be ham and eggs every day! Cold or hot cereal, fruit, French toast (the answer to stale bread) and easy-to-fix foods ease the cook's lot. Skip complicated dishes, candy bars and other items that melt or spoil and you won't go wrong.

Please try to avoid any cooking over open fires outside of fire rings. This makes a mess at best and starts wild fires at worst. If you insist on an open fire, it must be drowned and felt to make sure it is both wet and cool. In some states you may need to camp, or cook, more than a certain distance from shore and, of course, you need to take care not to ad to the detergents that clog our waters.

Do insist on the "camp spoon rule." That allows any chef who gets a complaint from a fellow camper to simply hand them the spoon and let them cook the rest of the trip! Fortunately, with this rule in place and a fair sharing of cooking chores sans age, sexual or other discrimination, the angler's camp food can be better than you might expect.