The shore lunch is the culmination of a Thousand Island fishing trip, after an invigorating morning drifing minnows and fighting great northern pike.
Sturdy wooden boats ease up to the dock along a heavily wooded island -- one of 1,800 dotting the St. Lawrence River.
As anglers busy themselves casting from shore and catching still more bass, pike, perch and rockbass, the guides set to filleting the heavy catch of northerns and perch. Two more build a roaring fire and ready a huge pan of bubbling hot oil. Yet another sets the table and fixes fresh salad.
Several parties of charterboat anglers have gathered on the scenic island for the traditional shore lunch. For appetizers, there's New York State cheese, and sandwiches of deep-fried fatback, red onions and bread.
Then to the tables for salad, corn on the cob and baked potatoes, and deep-fried pike and perch taken from the cool St. Lawrence just minutes before. Just when you think you can eat no more, comes the sweet aroma of steaks sizzling above the open wood fire: hefty slices of beef plunk onto your plate.
Scalding coffee pours from a huge, smoke blackened pot as the guides prepare the final touch -- Candian-style French toast. Deep-fried in bubbling fat, the toast turns a delectable golden brown. Then you pour real maple syrup onto it, and along comes the guide with a dose of thick cream and a shot of Canadian Mist Brandy.
Like the shore lunch, a tradition handed down for generations among St. Lawrence River guides, the fishing here in Clayton on the Thousand Islands is done the old way. Our charterboat on a recent day's fishing with guide Joe Garnsey was a wooden model built in 1949 for his father, who guided anglers on the St. Lawrence for over 60 years.
Joe guided his first party when he was seven. "There were some fellows who wanted to hire a guide or rent a boat to go fishing, but they couldn't find one. Eventually they came across my mother and found out I had a boat. Could they rent mine, they wanted to know.
"No way I was going to let them take my boat out fishing without me along. So I took them out, and I bet to this day those fellows have never seen fishing the likes as we saw that day."
It's been many years since that precocious expedition, but Joe still is guiding anglers to catches on the fecund, 557-mile-long river.
Mist still clung to the river and a sharp nip was in the air as we set out on our trip. After a brief ride past pine-dotted islands, we eased up to a hidden shoal and tossed lip-hooked minnows over the transom. Minutes later one rod bent double, and a fat northern pike came thrashing to the net. Seconds later, another fish struck. Before ten minutes were out, we had three corpulent great northerns in the fish box.
Action continued intermittently throughout the morning. By the time we headed in for the shore lunch, 16 pike and assorted perch and rockbass had taken our minnows, spoons, spinners and bucktail jigs.
The pike were obviously well-fed. New York fishery biologist Lei Blake said later that a northern pike four years old will measure 18 inches in most waters. But a four-year-old Thousand Island pike will be 22 inches long and fatter paunched.
Any time from now through October is prime for fishing the Thousand Islands. Between the bass, pike, perch and muskies, something will be biting. And even if nothing should hit, the scenery and shore lunch are worth a vacation trip by themselves.