written by Thor Erickson
photography by Tambi Lane
“I’ve got one!” my friend Thomas yelled from his fishing float tube. “Stop paddling!” he yelled, while frantically reeling in the rainbow trout that he had been waiting for all weekend.
Thomas’ flippers had fallen off and were now most likely at the bottom of Paulina Lake. I had hooked up a rope to his float and was paddling furiously, towing him back to shore with my kayak in the sudden rain and ferocious headwind. On cue, my eight-year-old son, also paddling against the wind, threw up his paddle. “I can’t do it anymore,” he said, joining the increasingly impossible tow rope. As I paddled on, feeling as if I was training for “The World’s Strongest Man” competition, I reflected on my friendship with Thomas.
Despite the day’s mishaps, Thomas is one of the best fishermen I know. In fact, he’s exceptional at many things. I met Thomas while acting in a local community theater production, and we hit it off instantly. He is a well-known blues musician, having played bass and singing for many blues acts. He is a skilled chess player, mushroom forager, storyteller, cook and best of all, a quick wit. He was the best man at my wedding, and gave an unforgettable toast worthy of a Dean Martin roast.
My recollection was soon interrupted. “I’ve got two! There are two fish on the line!” Thomas shouted. Somehow his line with a rainbow trout on it had snagged another line with a second, larger rainbow attached. I put my head down and paddled harder.
That night at our campfire, my arms too tired to hold a cast iron skillet, I watched Thomas adeptly prepare the day’s catch, and tell stories of how he would prepare his next. Here’s one of his recipes.
Thomas’s Smoked Trout
SERVES 4 TO 6
- 2 pounds trout filets (any type of trout)
- 6 cups water
- ½ cup kosher salt
- ½ cup light brown sugar
- Wood chips (Thomas recommends alder)
Note: This recipe requires a smoker, such as a Little Chief electric smoker.
- Combine water, salt and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Stir until salt and sugar are dissolved. Let the brine cool to room temperature.
- Place fileted fish in a 9-inch by 13-inch pan, pour in the brine and place in the refrigerator for at least six hours or overnight.
- Drain the brine from the fish.
- Do not rinse the fish, but dab the excess brine from the fish with a clean kitchen towel or paper towel.
- Place the fish in the fridge uncovered for 12 hours or overnight to dry. This drying process helps to form what is called pellicle, a matrix of proteins that allows smoke to penetrate the flesh of the fish.
- Heat smoker to 130 degrees.
- Place fish in the smoker and smoke for 6 hours. Remove the trout and refrigerate to cool completely. Serve with good bread, crackers or atop a salad.
Smoked Trout Pâte
- 1 pound flaked, smoked trout (using Thomas’s Smoked Trout recipe, above)
- 3 ounces cream cheese
- ½ cup half-and-half
- 1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- ⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons minced fresh parsley
- ¼ teaspoon minced fresh thyme
- Place all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until blended.
- Scrape sides with a plastic spatula and pulse one more time.
- Refrigerate, covered, until serving.
- Serve on good bread or crackers with some pickles or tart jam.