What's the best meal you've ever had on the river? Do you recall? Is there a clear choice or do you have lots of favorite memories? One particular memory stands out very fondly in my mind for the best meal I've ever had on the river. Or maybe even ever. Over the last decade I've had some good food while on the side of the river. Taco Tequila Tuesday's, steak and potatoes, fancy pasta dishes and a few times I've even just drank a few too many beverages for dinner! None of them compare to the dinner Jodi and I shared on her 33rd birthday down in the middle of the stunning Gunnison Gorge.
It was mid June in 2022. I had been planning this little getaway trip for Jodi's B-Day for a while. The Gunnison Gorge is a logistical nightmare, so as the trip neared, I had to let her in on the secret. We did a mid-week trip on a week that didn't have the greatest weather forecast. So as you can guess, we had the whole canyon pretty much to ourselves. We decided to get ourselves and all of our gear down to the river the old fashioned way. Hiking. We opted out on renting horses, because we wanted to have a “real” adventure. So, we carried a 9' raft, all of our gear, paddles, pump, fishing pole, small food cooler that contained 4 sausages, small camp stove, tarp, dry bags, mesh bags, throw bags and camera gear in only 2 trips. 2 trips down a mile long, steep, rocky trail to the put-in. Down, up and down again for a total of 3 miles and well over a 1000ft of elevation changes. Down at the put in we had the pleasure of meeting Rooster, an old school park ranger that has patrolled that area for decades. I could easily write a whole blog post on Rooster alone, but we are here for food, so I won't go down that rabbit hole. I will say that Rooster is the last of a dying breed and a hell of a good man though. Alright, so now we are down at the put-in rigging our little boat as fast as we can, chatting with Rooster and a few fishing guides who were leading a commercial trip. The weather was great and we were eager to get on the river. We rigged quickly, waved everyone farewell and disappeared into the staggering canyon. Those are the last people we'd see for the rest of the trip.
It was now just 10 miles of green, glistening, trout filled river that separated us from our first camp. I will say that we are not much into fishing anymore but as they say, “when in Rome”... I mean, this place is famous for the trout fishing, so of course we had to bring a fishing rod. Cast, fish. Cast, fish. Cast, fish. Rapids. Towering rock walls. No people. It was like dirt bag heaven. We went as slow as we possibly could to soak it all in. This was our first vacation from our new business venture and very well deserved. Up to this point, we had been working night and day for almost six months designing throw bags, gear bags, and all sorts of products, and a websites for our business which wasn't even open yet. We went as slow as possible and filled the miles with fishing, swimming, gazing, snacking and conversation. Of course the miles still went by too fast, and before we knew it, we were at our camp. With storm clouds lingering in the distance, we pull up to a long sliver of sandy beach right at the mouth of a narrow canyon.
It was an unbelievably perfect campsite. Fish still jumping everywhere. We de-rigged, set up shelter (a tarp with raft paddles) and spent more time fishing and swimming on our newly acquired private beach. The rain predicted in the weather forecast was closing in. Up until this point we had tossed back any fish that we caught, because we had brought food for the night. But an unfortunate lure placement at our new fishing hole had landed us a fish, that sadly, wouldn't live to see another day. We of course decided to at least honor the fish's life by eating it and not letting it go to waste. The only knife I have is my blunt tip whitewater knife that attaches to my PFD but it gets the job done. I finished gutting the fish down on the river bank as the rain starts. Jodi was up under the tarp, on the Paco pads, firing up a hot pan of Italian sausages.
The day was busy and we were starving. The sausages left a perfect little bit of grease to pan fry this beautiful brown trout. We cooked it on both sides until its scales and skin was golden brown and crispy and the thick, white, fatty meat just flaked off of the bone. Since we didn't plan this, we had no salt, seasoning or butter. It was just a natural fish, cooked in its own oily skin. Together we sat under our tarp, in the pouring rain, picking meat out of a trout with our bare hands. Shoving it into our mouths as if this was the first time we'd ever eaten food. The sausages sat off to the side for later. An after-thought. This is what the first humans must have felt like the first time they learned to cook over fire. Primitive is an understatement for how we felt. A hot meal, fresh from the river, eaten with bare hands in the pouring rain. Occasional distant flashes of light followed by thunder echoing down the canyon walls. Followed by euphoria. Followed by the day melting into night. Our brains synced with the fading light. Sleep. A different kind of sleep. The Sun burst over the canyon wall. We woke, bursting with energy. Our meal was more than just fish. It was a time machine back to a more sacred place. It was experience. It was life. It was a reminder that money can't buy the best meals and the best meals are paired with life, nature and the company of loved ones. The story ends here, but the rest of our trip was more of the same. More green water. More whitewater. Fish swimming and jumping. Us, jumping and swimming. Going as slow as we could, taking in as much as we can.... until next time.
By: Jason Caligaris Jr.