The perfect fish camp at night.
The perfect fish camp at night. Field & Stream Online Editors

There’s no better time than June to escape for a weekend of fishing camp. But first, you need to find the absolute best site.

The perfect fish camp at night.
The perfect fish camp at night. Field & Stream Online Editors

This time of year I love nothing more than a trip that involves both tent poles and fishing sticks, because this time of year is the perfect time for fish camp.

Up in the hills, the nights are still cool enough for a campfire. Down in the low river country, the mosquitoes have yet to multiply like fruit flies on fast forward. And in June, the fish are willing just about everywhere. Right now–as in, right this very second–you and I are missing out on some of the year’s best fishing. Trout are sucking down mayflies at dawn and dusk and hopper-and-ant sandwiches for lunch. Rivers are warm enough for steady panfish action. Postspawn bass might be a bit closemouthed, but for now, at least, there’s nothing on their minds but solitude and food. And the best way to catch the bite is to lay your head as close to the water as possible.

Maybe it’s because this is such a perfect time for fishing and camping that I have this stupid compulsion to go all Better Homes & Gardens. I know there are bumps in the road before I can sleep under the stars. To wit: I am the world’s worst when it comes to choosing a campsite. No matter who I’m with, I get sucked into a downward spiral of nitpicking and critical analysis over the merits of a patch of ground. My buddies are practically pounding in the tent stakes while I’m fretting over the potential pea under the air mattress. Are we close enough to the stream? Far enough from the road? Is that tent site really level? Will the morning sun wake me up? Will we catch the day’s last golden light? Can we fish that pool? Could cooler-marauding raccoons use that trail? Will fish guts attract bears? Are we too close to those other people? Do they have a yippy dog? When I’m backlit by the fire, does this campsite make me look fat?

A Site Better
It’s hard to find the perfect campsite these days. The Leave No Trace ethic has turned all but the most backward backwoodsmen into folks who break out in hives over one snippet of foil left in the fire pit. That’s a good thing, but it presents the modern camper with challenges. Back in the day (the canvas-tent-and-waffle-weave-long-johns day), if you couldn’t find a great campsite, you just made one: Bust out your three-in-one camp shovel-bush ax-Pulaski tool and dig a rain moat around your tent deep enough to trap wolves, construct a two-hole camp latrine from native vegetation, and hack off every root that dared snake under your tent floor. That wasn’t Leave No Trace camping. It was Leave No Question the Party Was Here camping. Those days are gone.

What takes a campsite to the epic level is hard to pin down. Some campsites are so perfect that even I have a hard time finding fault. You recognize this instantly. Paddling around a bend in a river you see a little flat spot in the trees with a little sandbar for the boat and a little blowdown where your dinner fish are holding and you know it’s the one like you know which dog to pick from a litter. And it doesn’t have to be wild country. I’ve had world-class campsites in parks packed with Fourth of July crowds, and losers sited in grand landscapes. But here’s what I look for, beyond the flat-spot-and-no-widow-makers basics.

I want to open the tent door and not see a car or a road. I want a tree with a branch that will hold a lantern over a table–be it a picnic table or an overturned canoe. I want a place to rig up a tarp. A great campsite doesn’t have to be within a stonefly’s throw of the water, but I want a view of river or creek or lake because I want to be tempted to fish every time I turn around. If it’s bear country, I’ll need access to a separate cooking area–a gravel bar downwind of my tent is perfect–because I am going to eat fish, for lunch, dinner, and most likely breakfast.

I want a hole in the tree canopy so I can see the stars. I want the morning sun to blast the tent because I need all the help I can get to force me out of a warm sleeping bag and into cold waders. I cannot abide generators or radios or satellite anything. Infant children yowling in the night, however, bring back great memories.

Those are just my needs, of course. Camp next to me, and you are entitled to yours. I’m hoping they don’t include internal combustion engines, appliances with an AC plug, or a yippy dog. And if you can’t abide fish, beer, or batter, we’d better leave things with a friendly wave over the clothesline. In my camp, there will be fried fish. When it comes to perfection, some things are nonnegotiable.

An ideal meal during a peaceful night at fishing camp.
An ideal meal during a peaceful night at fishing camp. Field & Stream Online Editors

From the June, 2013 Issue of Field & Stream