In Newfoundland and Labrador a cookout is regular occurrence. From long weekend gatherings to evening dinners with family and friends, the people here have been fishing, gathering and feasting together around fires for centuries.
Exploring the waters, wildlife and landscape of Canada’s most easterly coast is what the Secluded Island Cookout experience with Saltwater Society has mastered. This cod fishing tour followed by a traditional island cookout, will not only give you a real taste of our culture but also the bounty that our island has to offer.
As you make the 30-minute drive from St. John’s to the harbour of Portugal Cove St. Phillips you will immediately be surrounded by wilderness. Evergreen forests and reservoirs flank the winding roadway to the dock where the fishing vessel awaits.
It is from this working harbour that the ferry to Bell Island also departs. Bell Island, also called “the ledge” serves as a backdrop throughout your fishing adventure. Home to the Bell Island Heritage Museum including previous tours of the Underground Iron Ore Mine it was also once one of the most prolific fishing grounds in the 1700’s.
The boat will troll past hidden coves, waterfalls and the dense forest perched on the rock. It is here that you may even be able to spot the fishermen of the sky, Bald Eagles. A pair of binoculars and the trained eye of the captain will help you spy on the large nest nestled along the tree tops, where you may even see mom and dad coming in with the catch of the day. During this time you will hear all about the history of cod fishing in Newfoundland & Labrador and listen to the captain share a few yarns, just like any fisherman can.
Something you should know is that in Newfoundland & Labrador when we say fish, we always mean cod. For centuries cod has been a vital part of the island’s economy and the seasonal fishery shaped its culture.
As Captain Nick would tell you, the love of fishing usually begins at an early age. “Some of my favourite memories of fishing are being out in the dory with my grandfather. He used to make dories in his shed, so it was always amazing to me when we used to be able to go out in the ocean in them after the fact. I’ll always remember going trouting with bamboo rods with him while mom picked bakeapples (also known as cloud berries) in the bog near the pond.”
These cherished moments where tradition and family join together is how the art of fishing has been passed down from generations.
Fishing for cod is a unique experience, you simply plunk your line in the water, reel in the line about two to three times and then gently tug up (also known as jigging). If you are lucky, just as quick as you begin to tug you feel the weight of a fish hooking onto the lure. Here’s where the fun begins. Now you have to bring that fish to the surface. To do so Captain Nick will show you the path of least resistance, which inadvertently is a bit of a workout. As the saying goes “the fruit of your hard work is the sweetest.”
Though Saltwater Society is searching for cod sometimes they find their predators as well. Captain Nick remembers their largest “catch”, a Porbeagle Shark, last year, that was almost 400 lbs. Of course, it was returned to the depths from which it came.
After two hours on the bay, salt sprayed and hopefully giddy from your plentiful catch, you will swoop past Bell Island and make your way to your secluded island for a fireside feast. After beaching the boat and climbing ashore you will be able to take in this secret gem only known to people in the community.
Upon your arrival you will be met by a member of the Salt Water team, who will greet you and show you to the rustic beach side fire where your appetizer will be waiting.
You can also add on to this already incredible experience by having Salt Water Society hire a local chef to curate a specific menu for you and your crew, at the rate of only an extra $30 per person.
While the main course is being prepared, you and your group will snack on a colourful charcuterie board that features riches from the land. Crafted by a local restaurant who is known for their hearty portions and in-house cured meats this charcuterie will leave you feeling chinched. Which is a Newfoundland saying, meaning to stow, stuff or pack tightly; to be full.
Your background music throughout the meal is a symphony of waves crashing, whales spouting and a fire crackling – as the catch of the day sizzles in a pan over the fire in preparation for the main course. Bask in the heat of the flames as you partake in a few cheers with your friends. The joy of being a part of the Newfoundland cookout culture never skips a beat.
Pan seared cod is the crowning jewel to your feast. The freshest fish tacos that you will likely ever taste help you see why cod was, and still is considered king of our island. Chef Nick Jewcyzk says “I want people to experience the taste of place. By using our island’s unique bounty of the ocean, we offer the best of what we have.”
Finish the day on a sweet note with a dessert showcasing our colourful hillsides. Freshly foraged wild partridgeberries and blueberries sourced by professional gatherer, Shawn Dawson of the Barking Kettle, are whipped together for a bubbling crumble or a decadent cheesecake – allowing the bright berries to burst onto your palate. For your last few minutes on the beach gather around the fire and sit on traditional salt-beef buckets while you share a few fishermen tales and take in the best and most nostalgic saltwater views that Newfoundland has to offer.
To learn how you can book this tour for yourself, visit saltwatersociety.ca
Published: July 29, 2020