As noted in previous articles JC and I go back a long way,
back to the early 60's on Michigan's old Au Sable. Like all
classic friendships we accumulated certain traditions over
time, and one of our traditions was our annual lake trout
By Neil M. Travis, Montana
JC's father had a cabin near Traverse City, Michigan, and he
also had a boat that he used to troll for lake trout on Grand
Traverse Bay. Since we were always camped along the Au Sable
every weekend from April until September, and it was just a
short trip from Grayling over to Traverse City, in early June
we would make the trip and spend a morning trolling for lake
trout. Normally we would end up bringing home a laker that JC's
dad had caught before we arrived since our luck at catching them
seemed to be quite poor. If fishing had been especially poor we
could always buy one from the local commercial fishermen. However
we procured one we would take it back to our campsite to prepare
a repast fit for a king.
As I indicated, in those days we were all hardy campers, and each
weekend we would gather together for a time of fishing and
camaraderie. Along with JC and myself there was an assortment of
other fellow anglers including my older brother Bob. Growing up
during the Depression Era on a dairy farm in upstate New York my
older brother was quite accomplished with a double-bitted ax.
Camping was never camping unless we had a campfire, and my brother
Bob kept us well supplied with wood. He would disappear into the
woods as soon as we arrived at the campsite and within a few
minutes would have a dead tree reduced to a pile of split wood
ready for burning. In those days we always had a campfire going
from the time we arrived on Friday night until we left on Sunday
afternoon. It was tradition.
My brother Bob's prowess with an ax and saw were vital to the
success of our lake trout planking tradition. While JC and I
were attempting to secure the lake trout, my brother Bob would
be securing the necessary wood. While Jack Pine is suitable for
a fire to roast hot dogs it will not do for the type of cooking
we were planning. Along the Au Sable there are oak trees, mostly
small, gnarled specimens, but having all the necessary
characteristics for making just the right type of fire for
planking. Oak wood is hard, and it produces a wonderful bed of hot,
long burning coals; just what we needed for planking our lake trout.
Brother Bob would scour the woods looking for just the right tree.
A dead, standing oak was needed, and the longer it had been dead
the better. Brother Bob never failed to produce just the right
tree for the purpose.
Know if you are not familiar with planked trout the process is
both simple and complex. If you are planning to plank a trout
this is what you need. First, a seasoned hardwood plank at
least 20 inches wide and 2 inches thick, preferably Oak or
Maple. Along the sides of this plank you need to drive some
nails every few inches leaving about 2 inches of the nail
head sticking out of the plank. Then you take your fish and
split it right down the middle leaving the two fillets attached.
Place the fish, skin side down, on the plank and secure it to
the board by using wire attached to the nails and crisscrossed
over the fish from top to bottom.
While we were preparing the fish my brother Bob would be preparing
the fire. He would build a substantial fire using the oak that he
had cut. When he had created a large pile of coals we would bring
over our planked trout and place it next to the fire. By adjusting
the angle of the plank and its distance from the hot coals we could
cook the fish by the reflected heat. Lake trout are an oily type of
fish, much like members of the salmon family, and this helps to keep
the flesh from drying out while it is cooking. To aid that process
we would occasionally drizzle melted butter over the cooking trout.
When the trout was cooked it would be taken, board and all to the
table, the wires would be removed and the plank would serve as a
serving platter. It was a feast fit for a king.
We had many adventures together JC and I; fishing, tying flies,
camping, conducting fly-fishing schools, and even hunting bobcats
with a bow on snowshoes, but that's another story. Somehow life
got in the way of all that, and now they are all just pleasant
memories of times long ago. ~ Neil M. Travis, Montana/Arizona
From A Journal Archives