It's that time in the ice fishing season when the sun is a little higher in the sky and, with the coming of Daylight Saving Time, you'll have a little longer day on the ice. Sure, you can take a cooler full of sandwiches and a bag of chips, but with all that fresh food swimming beneath you, why not enjoy it?
One of my earliest memories of ice fishing with Steve involved a bright, March day on Lake Champlain. We were sitting outside the shelter on Bulwagga Bay, pulling perch after perch up through the hole. Most went into the cooler, destined for the freezer, but some, thankfully, found the frying pan we had pulled out on the sled. On this day, we fired up the two-burner Coleman stove and threw dietary caution to the wind, frying the fillets in oil until they sizzled. We were, you know, burning a lot of calories out on that cold lake, so it was a win-win.
The lunch could have just as easily been a shore lunch, complete with a roaring fire. Either way, the fish is fresh, the company good and the afternoon complete.
You don't need much for a shore lunch – a legal spot to build the fire and some grates. I've seen flames roaring in the middle of the lake, but only on years with ice so thick you could land a 747 on Champlain. It's not something I recommend; just move off shore for your safety and the safety of the next guy fishing your spot.
Make sure you have the following with you – heavy-duty aluminum foil, flame-retardant gloves, a long-handled spatula and tongs, a grill basket and a cast-iron or heavy aluminum skillet. Especially if you're not hauling it out onto the ice, you can't beat a cast-iron pan for a shore lunch.
If you're using a skillet, remember that you don't need a bonfire to cook your fish. A small fire is important to keep the heating even. Too large a fire will burn the fish on the outside and leave it raw on the inside. Make sure you have a good supply of small twigs nearby and consistently feed the fire to provide even heat.
If you're using a grate, hot coals are your best bet. In this case, you can start with a larger fire, but let it burn down until you've got some nice, even coals. Don't rush it; relax! Wait to start cooking after the flames have gone out. Wrap your fish in greased aluminum foil and set it down on the coals. Turn it once or twice and check for doneness often.
You can also go back to your childhood simply by impaling a whole fish on the sharpened end of a green, hardwood stick and roasting it over an open flame. Cook it until the skin flakes and eat it like you would corn on the cob.
Frying fish in oil in a pan is not something I usually do. Steve will tell you about all the broiled, healthy, good-for-you pieces of fish he's eaten over the years. But he'll also remember the shore lunches. Food does taste better outside and you can't beat a 10-minute fresh perch on a bright sunny Lake Champlain day.