3 Ways To Cook a Fish in the Backcountry

Photo: Belekekin

You don’t need to be a survival expert to feed yourself in the woods.

In a lot of remote lakes, fish are more willing to take a fly than you might realize and it’s pretty simple to get a full off-the-grid meal out of your catch. Not only will a fresh fish taste a whole lot better than dehydrated meals (especially after camping for a couple of days), but it can also save you a little weight and space in your pack by carrying only a few small ingredients to complement your hard-earned calories.

First, make sure you check the regulations for the water you’re fishing to confirm you’re allowed to keep your fish. After that, eating any backcountry catch will require you to clean the fish. Once scaled and cleaned, don’t get lost in all of the various cooking and recipe options; choose from one of these three favored methods and get to eating. 

Tin Foil 

Packing in just a little aluminum foil and some ingredients might be the easiest and most popular way to cook a backcountry fish. Cleanup is minimal, you easily cook the fish all the way through, and it’s incredibly simple to make a great tasting meal. In addition to the foil, bring some olive oil, salt, and lemon pepper.

You can either leave the head on (you’ll get to eat the flavor-intense cheeks) or remove it before cooking this way, but be sure to remove the gills. Leaving the cleaned fish intact, season the inside and outside with oil, salt, and lemon pepper (be generous inside the fish’s cavity). If you’re willing to pack in a little more, consider stuffing the cavity with real lemon slices, onions, or dried herbs.

Once you’re finished seasoning the fish, wrap it up tight in the foil. Place it over the coals of a campfire (wait for them to cool down slightly, and don’t place it in the flame) or in a pan over your camp stove, letting it cook for 5 to 10 minutes depending on the sizes of your fire and your fish. When the meat is opaque and flakey, dig in! 

Food being prepared on a camping trip with small camping sized equipment Photo: Jeremy Francis


With small fish, you can place them whole on a spit and watch them cook. Bigger ones will take longer this way, but it will produce crispier skin (if that’s something you’re interested in) and a slightly smokier flavor. Bonus: You’ll have an easier time judging when your dinner is ready.

Make sure to leave the head on when using a roasting spit. Find a green stick (if it’s too dried-up it will burn through) and cut a point on one end. Place the stick through the fish’s mouth, across its gut cavity, then through the flesh near the tail. Butter it up and add spices to taste, though there’s less room for adding other heavier ingredients like veggies or herbs. Stick the end of your skewer in the ground so that the fish is suspended upside-down (cavity up) over a bed of coals. Again, limit the amount of flame coming from your fire, looking for even, hot coals instead (which makes this a challenging cooking method with a camp stove). When the skin is dark and crispy and the meat is opaque, you’re done! Don’t eat the stick in excitement.


Boiling, or poaching, your fish gives you a little wiggle room with what you’re eating on the side. Cut off the parts of the fish you don’t want to eat, then place the whole thing (or chunks of it that fit) inside your pan or pot, alongside some rice or other veggies, and add just enough water to cover everything. Think about adding some wine, oils, or other liquids to up the flavor. Then turn on the heat and let your meal simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the size of your fish and other added ingredients. Cover it if possible to “steam” the veggies. You’ll know the fish is cooked when it looks opaque and flakey. Eat it with everything else you added to your pot for the full effect!

Get Creative

Once you know what you’re doing, don’t limit yourself to these three options. Pretty much any way you could cook a fish at home, you could replicate in some way in the backcountry. Like your fish fried? Bring oil, a frying pan, and some cracker crumbs to bread and fry your trout over your camp stove. Get creative with ingredients and styles and play around with techniques until you find your favorite—or keep experimenting to keep the cooking as fresh as your feast. 

Eat Up

Most of the time with trout, it’s not easy or worthwhile to remove the tiny bones, but if cooked correctly, the meat should slide right off of them easily (though it’s inevitable you’ll end up with some small ones in your bites, just spit them out). Go ahead and eat the skin, fins, eyes, and cheeks as your stomach permits—they’re all great!

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.