“When I was a kid, my life’s goal was to be a Maine guide,” says Jeff McEvoy, and he’s been at it now for 32 years. In further fulfillment of that dream, McEvoy has owned the 100-plus-year-old Weatherby’s Maine Hunting and Fishing Lodge, a sporting camp in Grand Lake Stream Plantation, for the past 12 years.

“I am the lodge owner, a guide and jack-of-all-trades,” he says, adding, “If there’s plumbing that needs to be done or breakfast that needs to be cooked, I can do it.”

Maine Guide Lani LaCasce’s father is a master Maine guide. “I grew up with it,” she says, although she truly became interested in guiding when representatives from a local outfitter came to her high school environmental studies class to do a three-day program that included fly fishing, insect identification and fly tying. The program culminated in a fly-fishing trip. After learning the basics, LaCasce began fishing with her father and got hooked. “He’s my favorite fishing partner,” she says.

LaCasce is a graduate of the New England Culinary Institute, but she admits it was her dad and stepmom who taught her how to cook freshwater fish.

McEvoy learned to cook his catch from “mentor guides” back in college. He even spent a short period of time working at Weatherby’s prior to purchasing it, where he learned to cook the “Grand Lake Stream guiding way, which includes the fish fry shore dinner,” he says, as well as “guide coffee,” which is made with an egg mixed into the coffee grounds, shell and all.

“Shore dinners are a tradition at Grand Lake Stream,” says McEvoy, and every sporting camp has its own tradition. Typically, a Weatherby’s shore dinner will include traditional fare, such as chicken and beef, but McEvoy and his fellow guides are always happy to cook up the fish that guests catch during their outing. The guide will clean and cook it on the shore — fried or even grilled over an open fire if preferred.

The shore dinner fish fry is always cooked in lard, “because it’s stable and travels well,” explains McEvoy. “You throw (the lard) into the skillet and it turns into liquid gold.” He serves the fish fry with boiled potatoes and onions, and a cup of guide coffee.

“The smoke from the fire ads so much flavor” to the fish, McEvoy says, adding, “You can’t replicate (that flavor) in a kitchen.” McEvoy’s personal favorite is fried white perch in a “secret flour-based or cornmeal” batter.

One of the other secrets to the great taste, he says, is the frying. “When you’re frying fish, you want the oil to be hot and you need to keep it hot while you’re cooking.”

When it comes to shore dinners, LaCasce’s culinary training shines. “I have a cool little BioLite stove that burns wood. . . . We’ll catch some brook trout and cook them up,” she says, noting that her recipes are also well suited for smallmouth bass, landlocked salmon and other freshwater fish.

“I also like to forage for things, like wood sorrel,” she says. “It looks like clover, but it’s not, and it grows in wet areas.” LaCasce wraps the fish and wood sorrel, along with some onion, parsley, garlic, salt, pepper and “a splash of white wine” in tinfoil, and then “I grill it for about four minutes on each side and voila!”

She also likes to bring a saute pan with her on fishing trips, and sometimes will dredge the fish in seasoned flour before frying it with a little olive oil, onion and garlic.

McEvoy’s favorite part of being a guide is the variation. “You never know. Sometimes the fishing is good and sometimes it’s not. And the people, the weather, wildlife and the water levels are always variables.” All of this, he says, “keeps it interesting.”

Perhaps the most unique experience that McEvoy has had in his 30 years of guiding — pardon us as we deviate from Eats for a minute —  happened one day when he was fishing with two guests of the lodge for smallmouth bass in a canoe with a small outboard. Approaching an island, they heard a loud ruckus and saw a cow moose run into the woods. Rounding the corner of another island they came upon a baby moose whose mother, apparently startled, had run off. According to McEvoy, the baby, who was no more than a day or two old, was in the water, panicking and struggling mightily. McEvoy managed to get the baby moose out of the water a couple of times, but it kept running back in the water, apparently trying to find its mother.

McEvoy could tell that the baby was not going to make it, so he brought the boat up along side it, “I muckled onto him and pulled him into the canoe,” he says. With the baby moose sitting in the bottom of the canoe trapped between his legs — one arm around its neck and the other driving the boat — McEvoy and the couple gave the baby a ride to the beach where they had last seen the cow. They dropped the baby moose off and it ran into the woods in the direction the cow had gone. According to McEvoy “the baby would not have made it . . . he was drowning.” It was an experience that McEvoy, and most likely his guests, will never forget.

An event that brings a smile to LaCasce’s face — and is a bit more related to food — occurred last fall when she and a co-worker attended a fly-fishing program with the Appalachian Mountain Club on Little Lyford Ponds near Greenville. “One evening, before dinner, we went for a walk to the second pond,” she says, “and the trout were boiling there!”

The women ran back to the lodge to get their fly rods. “The guys on the porch saw us come back for our rods and asked us what was up, and we said ‘Oh, nothing.’ . . . We put the canoe in and caught one fish after the other,” she says. “My father likes to fish with two flies,” so she gave it a try. “I caught two fish at a time, and by that time the guys who had seen us come back for our fly rods had come along and were watching. . . . We showed the boys how to fish that day,” she says with a laugh.

Clearly, the skill of the catch, the cleaning and the preparing of freshwater fish only minutes after it is caught are all integral parts of the dining experience for these Maine guides and their guests.

Recently, LaCasce created LaCasce Adventures, a guide service based in Greenville “I enjoy taking people out and giving them a good experience in the outdoors,” she says, and she often works closely with Greenville’s Blair Hill Inn, taking their guests on half- and full-day adventures.

Downeast fried perch

From Maine Guide Jeff McEvoy of Weatherby’s Maine Fishing & Hunting Lodge in Grand Lake Stream plantation.

8 fresh white perch fillets, skinless, boneless

Two cups unadulterated lard

Batter of choice (most over-the-counter pancake mixes will work fine)

1 lemon

Salt and pepper

1 cold handle steel skillet

Method:

1. Build Fire

2. Heat lard over open flames, preferably on a lake shore. Lard must be HOT before adding fish (a good test is to place a “strike anywhere” match into the lard. When it catches fire, the lard is hot enough)

3. Roll the perch fillets in the batter just prior to adding to skillet. Do not batter them ahead of time.

4. Add perch fillets to skillet. Roll them when they are golden brown.

5. Remove from skillet and drain. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add lemon to taste. Eat while hot.

Total cooking time is 2-3 minutes. Fire might take a little while to get going.

Serves 2-3 people.

Guide coffee

(Also from Jeff McEvoy.)

1.5 cups of inexpensive ground coffee

1 egg in shell

1 enamel coffee pot (6 to 8 cups), well blackened by years of use over open fire

Method:

1. Build fire

2. Fill pot with lake or river water of choice, preferably clean with no rocks, mud or insects

3. Bring water to boil

4. Break egg with shell into coffee grounds and mix well so that all the grounds are wet with egg. Do not mix coffee and egg before the water boils

5. Add mixture of coffee and egg to boiling water and move pot to the edge of the fire. You want to maintain a rolling, light boil, but do not want to over boil the pot. Boil 10 minutes.

6. Remove from direct heat and let rest for 10 minutes. The egg-covered grounds will sink to the bottom of the pot and leave you with clear coffee.

Best served with fresh cookies or pie after eating fried perch on a lake shore. Total cooking time: about 20 minutes. Fire building will add time. Caution HOT.

Grilled brook trout en papillote

(From Lani LaCasce, a Maine guide out of Greenville and New England Culinary Institute grad.)

1 freshly caught brook trout

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon white wine

1 medium-sized red potato cut into 1/4-inch rounds

1/4 of an onion, sliced

1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

Fresh foraged wood sorrel to taste

Salt and pepper for seasoning

You will need a sheet of tin foil for this recipe. En papillote is a cooking method where you cook ingredients wrapped up like a package, which essentially steam themselves.

Clean the fish, removing bones, etc. You can cut the head off, but it’s not necessary. Place butter on tinfoil then spread potatoes. Half of the garlic and onions can be spread evenly on the potato; stuff the fish with the rest. Don’t forget the wood sorrel, a low-lying wild plant that likes to grow in damp areas. It has a lemon flavor. The fish can go right on top, seasoned with salt and pepper. Add the wine. Fold it all together in the foil. When folding the tin foil, make sure that all seams are folded tightly.

Place the packet in the fire against some hot coals or on top with a grate. Flip after about 4 minutes, give or take. Heat for another 4 minutes or so.


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