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Searching The Wild Within with Steven Rinella [Radio Interview]

Posted on 14 March 2011 by Cork Graham

I thought I had accidentally landed on one of the ever-increasing number of hook and bullet channels when I came across an ad for The Wild Within, hosted by Steven Rinella; not the Travel Channel. With the way Travel Channel programming has followed the New Yorker nepotism of the New York publishing world, it seemed as though you had to be either a New York whinning, potty-mouthed ex-junkie chef-turned writer, carrying a child-like fascination with Apocalypse Now; or a New York glutton with a penchant for traveling the country in search of restaurant-promoting food competitions, to get your own series. To see a Michigan-born-and-raised hunter and trapper hosting a show on that channel floored me.

With great anticipation I waited for the first airing: finally a hunting show that went further than an inundation of boring kill-a-minute, 30-minute sponsor advertisements, pushed on the new overabundance of outdoor channels—how I miss the educational hunting shows broadcast during the 1980s and early 1990s. More importantly, here was a show that would, hopefully at least, reveal to its viewers how to dismantle a deer.

Can you believe that the major outdoor channels actually don’t want any close ups of the processing of game? Many would think it’s because of the advertisers, but not the programming directors who pushed for this—because they’re afraid it’s too politically incorrect: Now you know why Cork’s Outdoors TV isn’t broadcast on satellite, though many requests from the different outdoor channels have come down the pike this year—they won’t allow me to show you how to even gut and skin a feral pig!

Rinella learning to make fish arrows in Guyana

 

THE WILD WITHIN

The first episode of The Wild Within was set in a place I know well, and remains as my hunting and fishing heaven: Alaska! There are very few states left where you can truly live off the land as a hunter/gatherer, and Alaska is at the top the list. On Prince of Wales (POW) Island, where Rinella and his brother own a hunting cabin, there’s a plethora of sustenance.

I must admit that I was hoping Rinella would’ve hunted near his home, in New York or New Jersey, for the first episode. Everyone flies to Alaska for an outdoors show, and yet there are so many poorly-represented, great hunting places right next to such a major center of anti-hunting: Ingrid Newkirk and Wayne Pacelles’ cash cows, PETA and Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) campaign from NYC. But, you can’t go wrong with Alaska, especially Southeast Alaska: bush planes, remote cabins, full crab and shrimp pots, and Sitka blacktails in good number…having lived and worked around the world, there’s a reason Alaska is the only place I ever truly get homesick for…

From Alaska, The Wild Within continued to Montana the next week, and that’s where I think the shake-down cruise for the show hadn’t yet found its legs. As Rinella mentioned to me over the phone, this is their first season, and they were just getting their steam and there was a question as to what to focus on: historical, environment and conservation, or the adventure of hunting, fishing and gathering.

This happens with all types of programming, whether scriptwriters on shows like Hawaii 5-0, or producers on TopShot. For most, it’s the first time the production team has met and are just learning each other’s quirks, along with not only clearly filling out the premise through field experience, but also editing and trying to coordinate programming with the broadcast company.

It especially gets interesting when parts, or all of the production team have never even participated in the main activity of the show…As is often the case, producers take the job no matter their own lack of knowledge or experience—perhaps you’ve heard of actors in Hollywood getting hired for a film, saying they’ve been riding horses since they were knee-high to a grasshopper, or that they hearken from a long line of motorcycle riders, yet the most they’ve straddled was a bar or diner stool while searching the jobs section of a newspaper? Same thing.

If you noticed that some episodes seemed to be off, like San Francisco (as one based in the City by the Bay, I know well the amazing opportunities for hunting, fishing, and gathering—I was aghast to see Rinella collect roadkill, totally illegal in California) which slapped me in the head with a big “Huh?”, or the Montana episode, that made me wonder whether this was a show best suited for the History Channel. When Rinella told me that The Wild Within was originally formulated for sale to the History Channel, it all made sense: the Molokai and Scotland definitely fit within the parameters of Travel Channel, while the Montana show appeared shot for either the History or Travel Channel.

So, like any crew on a new boat, a new production has a variety of learning curves related to the first shake-down cruise, of which this new season definitely has its highs and lows. Part of the problem can be that programming doesn’t actually coordinate to shooting and editing. What may have been shot first, ends up as an episode broadcast much later in sequnce. I can’t tell you how annoyed I was with the POW Island episode, when I heard Rinella repeat that oft repeated saying given non-hunters: You’d be paying $30 or $50 a plate for this in a restaurant!

Again, YOU CAN’T LEGALLY BUY TRUE WILD GAME IN THE US!

Not until the Scotland episode did Rinella clarify that in Europe, where the laird of the land owns the land, game, livestock and those who work it (one of the main reasons my ancestor, David Graham, said to hell with Scottish and Irish landlords, and took his family of Calvinists to South Carolina in 1772—hitting home the final point to King George with a round ball at the Battle of Kings Mountain), true wild game is shipped to market in Paris and London, and sold much fresher in the butcher shops of little villages that neighbor these hunting estates.

I was impressed that the introduction scene of the Scotland episode had Steven Gow, the Scots ghillie (hunting guide), working on meat that was to be shipped out that week. They really captured the hunting in Europe, and how much of a commodity it is. It also made me cringe, remembering how in the US we’re quickly following in their footsteps: $800 to $1,500 to shoot a wild boar in California?

We already have enough problems with a majority of the population growing up in urban areas, having lost their hunting, fishing and gathering traditions by generations—traditions that would have helped keep a clear public eye on such fabricated science pushed by PETA and HSUS. Charging horrendous fees on game that legally belongs the citizens of a state, does nothing but create an elitist attitude about something that was so free and drew many from their nations of origin.

In the Scotland episode, the hunter, angler, gatherer, theme of the show really came across, from field to table. And, this last weekend, the Guyana show carried it well again. This theme of field to table, and local bonds built, is the strength of the show, and even its honesty works, though it did make me recoil a few times, starting with the crippled blacktail that they finished off in the first episode in Alaska, and then a wounding arrow shot on a tapir.

During the Central America War, tapir found a fond spot in my heart. I was at a secret Contra base along the Honduran border, and because of the ridiculously low rations afforded our Cold War allies by US Congress budget cuts, we had to augment beans and rice with whatever animal protein got from the jungle.

Contra with three Sandinista rounds in his gut, leaving on my medevac in.

 

For the same reasons of the bigger bang for the buck Rinella mentioned on Sunday’s Guyana episode, the Miskito tribal members fighting in the Nicaraguan Defense Force (FDN) guerrilla unit I accompanied, targeted the tapir with dogs—much more meat than a hapless cuzuco (armadillo) or iguana. Imagine mountains, sides steep as cliffs, and during the rainy season, knee-deep mud, and thick brush and tall canopy—a shiver runs up my spine remembering firefights conducted under those conditions. We carried AK-47s to make the shot on the hungrily sought tapir table fare, but also to defend against surprise attacks by Cuban and Russian Spetsnaz-trained Sandinista Special Forces units.

Those harried days of the 1980s came rushing back as Rinella narrated on the tapir, and Jim Jones (I worked the Loma Prieta Earthquake in San Francisco for NBC, along with longtime NBC cameraman and Jonestown survivor, Steve Sung—see enough bullet and fragment wounds and you recognize them easily, especially along the arms), but also the creepy crawlies and slithers that leave you not only very uncomfortable with a bite or sting, but even perhaps in the end, dead.

The Guyana episode also struck home the difference between sport and subsistence. In Alaska, those of us who actually survived on our caught or shot food, had no problem shooting a caribou in the water—in contrast, those who flew in from out of state for a hunt, or lived in Anchorage, would never think of doing so for the flak they’d get from their hunting party.

And this is where I’ve started enjoying the show, when in the beginning I had my misgivings with its clarity of purpose. The Wild Within really gets its legs when it focuses not on the historical qualities of hunting, or an area, something that can easily be touched on at the beginning, in short review, as with reference to Reverend Jim Jones in Guyana; but instead focuses on the present-day locals, the conditions, and work a subsistence lifestyle requires: shooting, trapping, catching and gathering everything you need from the environment, doing it day in and day out, no chance of calling in a sick day, especially when you have to provide for your family.

That’s Entertainment!

As Rinella mentions on the adjoining Cork’s Outdoors Radio episode, TV is definitely focused on entertainment (whether a travel show, or sadly of late, the news) first, and secondly, if you’re lucky, you educate as much as you can between those emotion-stirring moments, in the hopes that the viewer will pick up a book and go further in-depth. That’s where I laud the Travel Channel in even airing such a program—showing hunting and gathering for what it is: not necessarily pretty, sometimes amazingly gorgeous.  The upcoming Texas episode promises to be quite the saddle-burning ride…

The Wild Within comes into its own as it remembers that premise by focusing on the local peoples, and their quest to keep sustained on what the wilds offer them. Most importantly, not as one of the other proliferations of survive in the wilds and get out alive shows, but instead looking forward to the trip outdoors, the resulting fine meals of game and fish, to that reconnection with oft-lost skills that kept us alive where we all originally came from—the wilds!

Related Links:

For your daily commute on your MP3 player – Download and Enjoy the interview of The Wild Within’s Steven Rinella on Cork’s Outdoors Radio:

TOPICS: Steven Rinella, author and host of THE WILD WITHIN, speaks about his writing and adventures for the Travel Channel.

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THE GAME COOKBOOK by Clarissa Dickson Wright & Johnny Scott [Book Review]

Posted on 22 December 2010 by Cork Graham

 

If you remember the British cooking series, Two Fat Ladies, of PBS and BBC fame, you’ll immediately recognize Clarissa Dickson Wright as the taller of the two, not the proud chainsmoker who passed away from lung cancer in 1999.  Dickson Wright is the co-author of The Game Cookbook with Scottish farmer and outdoorsman, Johnny Scott.

A gorgeously illustrated review copy sent to us by the publisher, The Game Cookbook takes standard table game and puts a variation on it that brings out the best qualities through innovative experimentation, with classic recipes and those that seem to have been magically created by neighbors on the other side of the authors’ hedge.

Included are recipes that are very traditional in the UK and Europe. Others reach to the Middle East and South Asia, modified from recipes based in preparing more traditional farm-raised meats. Well-read and always willing to tell a story, Dickson Wright colors the recipes with asides of family histories and remembrances of foreign travel and meals had with friends.

You’ll find that it’s very much a UK book with such references as “wapiti”, which those of us in the US and Canada recognize as elk: what they call elk in Europe and the UK, we call moose in North America.

The artwork gracing the pages is a mix of old paintings, of hunting and fishing in North America and Europe, even movie stills (James Mason looks quite dashing with a side-by-side), and then photos of completed dishes just as beautiful as the sketches and historical art. Together they bring to the reader the old and new of game and fish cuisine, along with anecdotes that can prepare the neophyte hunter or angler for their first hunting or fishing experience.

At the end of the book is a listing of hunting and fishing organizations in the UK and US, along with a collection of wildlife agencies in the United States. For those who might not be personally able to collect their own main component of a game or fish dish, a listing of game suppliers offering meat farm-raised animals (unlike in Europe, where wild game and fish are sold in many shops, the selling of true wild game in the US has been illegal for years) provides an option.


One of the topics that I keyed in on, because it puts so much fear in the new game chef, is aging. In the US of late, as the tradition of hunting has skipped one, two or even three generations, the result of more Americans moving into urban areas in pursuit of employment, the art of aging has been forgotten. If you read some of the forums on the Internet, there’s such an intimidation toward aging and meat contamination that it can sometimes be humorous, sometimes sad…. What would people do if suddenly our refrigerators no longer worked and we were suddenly dumped into a kitchen life experience most families had up until the end of the early part of the last century?

Aging was a heavily practiced technique for stretching the day’s take, improving flavor and tenderizing a tough old bird, or side of venison. It all has to do with air temperature and humidity: cool and moist tops the list, and extends the aging time. The author goes through the aging process for just about every meat type taken, from grouse, to pheasant to venison.

There are also recipes for those that might not be specifically sought in the US and Canada, but are looked forward to in Europe and the UK, such as carp. There are recipes for grouse, pheasant, elk, moose, antelope, caribou, wild boar, partridge (chukar), quail, dove, American woodcock, snipe, hare (jackrabbit), cottontail, salmon trout, sea trout, zander (yellow perch), pike and of course goose.

At the back just before the meat supplier’s list, is a collection of recipes for compotes, sauces and stocks bringing out the best flavors of the dish.

When it came to testing a recipe, I decided it was time to use one of the many pheasants that Ziggy had pointed out for me last year—the dish quick to prepare and a rich, creamy mix of flavors!

PHEASANT WITH NOODLES AND HORSERADISH CREAM

A bit sweet. A bit tangy. All delicious!

 

Ingredients: 

  • 1/3 cup (3/4 stick) butter
  • 4 pheasant breasts
  • 4 shallots, chopped (if unavailable, use 4 tablespoons of chopped mild onions)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 tbsp bottled horseradish, or 1 tbsp strong fresh horseradish, grated.
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 packet black or green Italian noodles or make your own chestnut noodles (enough for 4 people)
  • small bunch of parsley, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

Steps: 

  1. Heat the butter in a heavy frying pan for which you have lid
  2. Sauté the pheasant breasts until they are sealed
  3. Remove them and sauté the shallots and the garlic until the shallots are pale gold
  4. Remove and discard the garlic clove
  5. Stir the horseradish into the shallots
  6. Add a tbsp, or so, of water and the lemon juice
  7. Return the breasts to the pan, add the cream, and cover
  8. Cook gently for 15-20 minutes, until the breasts are cooked
  9. If the sauce is too wet, remove the breasts and zap up the heat to reduce
  10. If it’s too dry, add a little more cream or some dry white white wine
  11. Cook the noodles according the package instructions and drain
  12. Serve the noodles with the pheasant
  13. Sprinkle the chopped parsley on top.

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Trout Fishing With a Rock and Roll Guitar Legend

Posted on 17 September 2010 by Cork Graham

When I head out of a metropolitan area for a long trip, I like to leave early in the morning, an hour or so before sun up. This is when you get to see a part of the city that most people, except for police, garbage collectors and EMTs, don’t.

It’s quiet, the streets are empty, and the sun is just hinting on the horizon. Most important, for a city like San Francisco, where all the best trout fishing is on the other side of a large bridge, stop and go traffic that quickly sets in after 6 a.m. is void. At this hour, the freeway is truly a freeway.

In tribute to my birthday brother I’d be meeting in couple hours, I hit the play button on my mp3 player. The Edgar Winter Group’s “Freeride” filled the speakers of my Dodge Ram, and my two-year-old fishing and hunting buddy, Ziggy, perked his ears up and looked around as Ronnie Montrose gave his best with that magic guitar open and roll that has been part of video game and movie soundtracks for years, not the least of which, for an addict of anything that flies: Air America.  Dan Hartman wrote it, but that’s all Brother Montrose on the guitar…it’s also one of my favorite songs from the ’70s, because it became a hit the year my family left Vietnam War, 1972.

Ziggy and I arrived at our secret trout stream and Montrose and his wife, Leighsa, a phenomenal florist, whose work has graced the grand events of many celebrities and influential people, were waiting for what would be a definite good day.

I went through my plan of what I thought was best. This was Leighsa’s first time, but Ronnie, a definite San Francisco-born and Colorado-raised Colorado boy, was well-versed when the topic comes to trout: rainbow, browns, cutthroats, you name it, he’s caught it.

As I’ve become more and more drawn into the music world, I find that many musicians love the outdoors (like for writers, it’s pretty much the only place you can truly get away)…and these rockers don’t just do it like sterile surgeons.

No, these folks really get in there and get intimate with Nature—there’s my buddy who introduced me to Ronnie, 80’s rocker and pig hunting maniac T. Michael Riddle, whose new album is being produced by Montrose. And there’s Dokken drummer Jeff Martin, who I hunted with during a celebrity hunt at the Riddle’s Native Hunt dove opener…and you’d be surprised how many music and film celebrities not only love flyfishing but also pick up a gun and put organic meat on the table—It’s refreshing…and more importantly, it’s honest!

All squared away with how we’d be using light 2-4lb line, a split shot and a small, size-10 to 12 (not too small or the barb it won’t have time to hook into the trout’s jaw in the fast water) salmon egg hook, on a light spinning rig, we made our way through the thorn-laced blackberry bushes that line most of the great trout streams in the Sierras from Kings Canyon on north—I made a note to myself to pick some when we were done.

 

When we got to the stream edge, I saw a rainbow trout, belly up on the bottom. It had been a warm week. It’s one of the reasons when I’m fishing hatchery raised trout, I just fish my limit, and keep my limit. When I’m done, I leave—I don’t catch-and-release another 50-100 as many are proud to tell me they’ve done.

Would they be so proud to know how many of those ended up dying, out of sight, recorded only by biologists next down the waterway, collecting the actual number of fish that die as the result of catch-and-release practices? If asked most catch-n-release anglers couldn’t tell you how to properly release a fish if their lives depended on it: each fish type has different requirements. A simple search on Google will give you a hefty number of how many fish die as the result of catch-and-release.

Leighsa Montrose gingerly, buries that small egg hook without crushing the salmon egg.

 

I prefer to make sure that the fish I kill go into my cooler and into my frying pan, and not floating down the river belly up…and then I’m sure that the kill on those hatchery fish is appropriate to what the department of fish and game assesses as not detrimental to the ecosystem and a wild trout population.

Isn’t it so much nicer to just catch just enough for your meal, reel in your lines and settle down by the stream for a lunch of salami and French bread, perhaps a bottle of wine, as Hemingway might have done on the Big Wood River in Idaho, or on Spain’s Irati, during a break from the bulls of Pamplona?

Then, when you’ve had a nice nap, collected your equipment back to your vehicle, you can drive home and remember the peace and beauty you had enjoyed the week earlier, with a perfectly prepared trout at home. Yes, I actually talk about, and do, these things when I’m out on the stream with friends—I often pine for a peaceful time, even if that time was just before WWII in Spain…not a peaceful time at all…

It peppered my conversation as Ronnie took a break from fishing the other side of an inlet and Leighsa came over to my side for a quick lesson in trout fishing. A quick study, she learned how to slip a hook into a single Pautzke’s salmon egg (bright red is my favorite) without crushing it. Then, we went through the cast and lead, something that fly anglers will recognize as a bait angler’s adaption of the “high sticking” method.

As this stream was so small, there wasn’t really any casting, per se. The cast was more of a swing out and drop into the head of the current, with a static length of line. Skipping along the bottom the single splitshot led the way for the salmon egg, about six inches to a foot above the bottom, prime  feeding zone of the trout in a stream, especially as they try to keep out of the sun and heat, and under the cool and oxygen-rich froth.

It’s important to keep the tip of your rod high, and slightly downriver of the splitshot and bait, so that you can feel the hit when it comes. Doing so, also keeps the splitshot going at the proper speed down the stream and free from snagging.

In one cast, Leighsa had a nice 11-inch rainbow in the net. Then, she got a lesson in how to quickly dispatch a trout for better eating. If your fish aren’t as tasty as you thought they’d be, it’s probably because you kept it struggling for air, with a piece of plastic or metal running up through its gills and out its mouth.

Better to just pick it up while it’s still in the net and bring the top of its head down hard on a large rock or boulder by the water. You’ll save the fish from a bunch of needless distress and have the best tasting trout you can find!

When you’re done putting the trout out of its misery, place it on the stringer to keep it fresh in the cool running water. Remove the innards by sticking your index finger through both gills, ripping through the chin, freeing gills from the jaw.

Then, sticking your index finger down into the gullet and holding onto the gills and pectoral fins, pulling down and out removes all the gills and most of the entrails. A quick run up the body from the vent to the head with a pocket knife lets you draw the back of your thumbnail along the inside of the spine to remove that blood line that also leads to poor taste if left in…

This day, we were averaging a fish on every first or second cast, but it’s the first one that’s the most exciting, shown on the Leighsa’s face and the pride in Ronnie watching his wife catch her first high-stick caught trout—what I consider the most effective form of trout fishing in a stream, next to a spear: but unlike spearing and gigging, high-sticking is legal.

By 10:30 a.m. we were done catching our trout limits, and Ronnie and Leighsa had to return to their hotel to prepare for the gig to be performed at a cancer charity concert in Oakdale. Ziggy and I went off to fill up on two pounds of fresh blackberries…

Ronnie, Leighsa, and Ziggy can attest: Trout fishing’s supposed to be FUN!

 

 

To Get Started Salmon Egg High Sticking

You’ll need a sensitive tip spinning rod of between six and seven feet long, and a light fishing line. I prefer to load my trout stream spinning reels with between two and six-pound monofilament.

Then, snell a laser-sharp salmon egg hook with two-foot leader of four to six-pound fluorocarbon leader material, using a surgeon’s not to attached it to the end of the rod’s line.

Depending on the speed of the current, and clarity of the water, I clamp a piece of splitshot on the leader a foot to a foot-and-a-half from the hook. With the hook buried in a single salmon egg, you’re ready to go.

The key about this type of fishing, like any type of fishing, especially with stream or river fishing, is that you need to go where the fish are. It’s probably why I like this style of trout fishing most. You never get bored, like perhaps in lake fishing, where you cast out your bait and just wait.

It’s like elk or pig hunting. You need to keep moving until you get into the fish. And when you do, you can expect to catch a few more, especially with hatchery trout that act more like lake trout, or sea-run steelhead and salmon, that have been in a school most of their lives, much unlike wild stream trout.

Remember also, that the reason you caught trout in a specific area was that it was a comfort zone—cover/safety, fresh oxygen (especially with rainbows) and food. In the cool of the evening and morning, the trout spread out into the pools and slow runs. As the sun rises high, the water warms and loses more its oxygen, so that the best place to fish for trout is right there in the cold, oxygen-saturated water.

NOTE: I’ve used this same single-egg hook rig to catch steelhead to 13 pounds in the fall and spring!

Catch Ronnie Montrose Tonight in Livermore!

Ronnie Montrose will be on stage with his band tonight at 8 p.m. in the Bankhead Theater of Livermore, CA. If you’ve enjoyed those great songs by Montrose and Sammy Haggar (Rock Candy, Bad Motor Scooter, Rock the Nation, and Space Station #5), they’ll be available for listening—LIVE, tonight! See ya there!

Blackberries and trout–the perfect bounty in California during August and September!

 

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