How to spend more time eating & relaxing, and less time struggling with kindling

I can't begin to imagine how many shorelunches I've prepared over the years, often 100 or more a season. The smell and taste of fresh walleye, pike, trout, crappie or perch fillets cooked over a campfire in a gigantic cast iron frying pan is one of the highlights of any day on the water. And in all that time, I can't remember a single campfire failure—thanks, of course, to some simple planning. If you want to spend more time swapping fish stories and enjoying fine grub than cussing away and trying to get a fire going, here's what you need to know to build the perfect campfire.

1. It begins with bone-dry wood. Every year, I cut, split and season a cord of Jack pine, enough to always have a box full of kindling and larger sticks in my fishing boat (along with a newspaper or two).

2. Next comes the site for the fire. I usually scout a clearing on high ground on an island with a scenic vista, always on bare rock or in a rock-rimmed pit built over mineral soil scraped down to sand.

3. Once I've selected the site, I fill a large pail with water and place it within easy reach. I've never had to douse an escaping blaze, but if I need to, I'm ready.

4. To build the actual campfire, I lay down crumpled newspaper first, followed by kindling. Some folks like to place the kindling in the shape of a teepee, but I prefer to lay it flat. I place five or six sticks parallel to one another with three or four inches between them. Then I lay a second layer of kindling in the opposite direction, again keeping plenty of space between the sticks for air to circulate.

5. After three or four layers of kindling have been added, I follow the same procedure using progressively larger pieces of wood. I save the biggest chucks for after the fire has been lit and is well established. There's an old Indian saying that goes, “White men build big fires and stand back. Indians build little fires and stand close.” I'm a firm believe in the latter approach.

6. Like most guides, I don't light the fire until all the work has been completed—the table set, potatoes cut, fish battered and bean and corn cans opened. Only then do I ignite the newspaper.

7. When you're using dry wood, it burns down much more quickly than you'd imagine; that's the time to throw on big sticks. I wait until they're half covered in glowing embers, then lay down the grill, heat up the frying pans and add the fish, potatoes, beans and corn. And wonder if life gets any better.

Bonus tip:

I always bring along a couple of railway flares in case the fire is too tough to start. It doesn't matter how much snow is on the ground, how hard it's raining or how wet your wood is, a railway flare will burn long and hot enough to start a campfire just about anywhere.