PAUL SMITH: How the perfect frying pan stacks up, 40 years after the wedding gift

It’s morning of the day my column for this week is due, so I have a deadline.

I arrived home in Spaniard’s Bay late last evening and left my aging, but still fit-for-the-long-haul Ford-F150 stuffed with fishing, outdoor tramping gear and cabin maintenance stuff.

So here I am all primed with coffee and writing before I get unloaded and reorganized for the next trip.

It’s salmon season and this is the way.

We opened the 2022 season with an eight-hour-behind-the-wheel drive to our place of abode on Crabbes River, Bay St. George, to dust the cobwebs off our salmon catching skills and casting arms.

My wedding gift from 40 years ago. I know, it’s not entirely typical. -Paul Smith

There’s not much in this life better than a cup of tea on a salmon river.

As I have spoken about many times our crew thrive to travel light and not be weighed down on the river.

This isn’t easy when you fancy a boil up and shore lunch.

To be specific we carry packs that we can wade and fish comfortably with on our backs. This isn’t logistically simple.

Years ago it was impossible.

The new space age gear available to us is super lightweight and compact.

Heavens, I have a titanium mug.

I’ll talk more on these details another day, but for now I want to share with you something I wrote about 20-years ago as a fledging outdoor author.

It’s from a very different time when I definitely did not fish on a wilderness river without laying my pack on the shoreline to fish a pool.

I had nothing titanium.

A beautiful frying pan that is still one of my most prized possessions went everywhere with me, and my notion to share these thoughts formed in my mind during a shore lunch on the Grand Codroy.

Good Lord how we have pared down what we consider essential to a day on the river.

I hope you enjoy this piece from so many years ago.

Much has changed and so have I, evolved I suppose is a better descriptor.

Maybe some of you have read this before.

“Although I had little experience I think it was one of the best writing I ever managed. I think it might even be funny. I titled the piece “The perfect frying pan”.

Ode to Big Steel

Just what makes an ideal open-fire frying-pan?

Cast iron pans are fantastic for heat distribution and look oh so woodsy, but they are just too heavy.

There’re perfect for a cabin or semi-permanent camp but useless for treks to that back-country fishing hole.

Non-stick department store pans look out of place in the woods and the coating quickly deteriorates over open fires.

You need a good frying pan for this occasion.  -Paul Smith
You need a good frying pan for this occasion. -Paul Smith

Steel pans with long pipe handles are the best solution.

I first encountered such a pan while fishing for trout on God’s River in Northern Manitoba.

It was time for a mug-up and Alex Mackay, a Cree Indigenous river-man friend of mine, pulled a whopper of a frying pan out his boat’s wooden grub box.

I was impressed! Upon questioning he refused to divulge the pan’s source.

All I got was something about his uncle’s friend’s brother sort of thing.

We set a roaring fire from driftwood that lay about and positioned some larger dead stumps to serve as chairs.

I sensed Alex’s pride for the pan.

He rendered out strips of lard, swishing them around with the long handle, his hands well clear of the intense blaze.

He never said a word but he was obviously bragging.

I sliced ​​fillets off four fat brook trout, salted and peppered them, and awaited further instruction.

“Drop them in” says Alex.

There was an instant and intense sizzle, plus an aroma that words can never do justice to.

Only those who have fried fresh trout on an open fire can fully appreciate its impact on the senses.

In about five minutes a golden brown crust formed on the deep pink flesh.

They were cooked to perfection; served with a slice of homemade bread and hot tea they were gourmet fare.

Someday I would own a pan like that.

If you’ve traveled in rural Ontario you likely know those roadside, sell everything stores; live bait, farmers produce, hardware, canned goods, etc.

These are really fresh fillets—a special experience.  -Paul Smith
These are really fresh fillets—a special experience. -Paul Smith

The gift

During our first week of marriage my wife and I dropped into just such a store on the outskirts of Sudbury.

I walked halfway down an aisle and stopped dead in my tracks.

Hanging from the ceiling was the grandest frying-pan my eyes ever beheld.

It was bigger than Alex’s — 20-inches in diameter, and sporting a two-foot long tubular steel handle.

Its hardened blue steel glistened under the fluorescent lights.

This baby was custom made!

I called Goldie over for a look.

“That’s nice” she says, with not nearly enough enthusiasm.

Remember we were married a week and I had much to learn.

“That’s what I want for my wedding present,” I said.

“You have got to be kidding,” she replied.

She also had much to learn.

We had waited until our honeymoon to buy each other wedding gifts and I had made my choice.

I was adamant and she bought me the frying pan.

Twenty four years later, we’re still married and my frying pan is among my most prized processions.

It’s been a loyal outdoor companion.

All it requires is a cleaning after each outing, followed by a liberal coating of vegetable oil.

It’s hung out in the garage with just a few dings and abrasions to show for its decades of rough and ready use.

Once I retrieved it from six foot of water after a canoe had overturned in a rapid.

We had waited until our honeymoon to buy each other wedding gifts and I had made my choice. I was adamant and she bought me the frying pan.

The Big Steel Pan has been on countless fishing trips, and served up just as many shore-lunches.

Many a camping day as dawned with a pound of bacon and a dozen eggs in the Big Steel Pan.

And while so capacious, it still carries nicely in a backpack with its handle pointed skyward.

It’s ideal for that fry of liver and onions after a successful moose or caribou hunt.

The big secret is where to get one.

Pans like mine are most commonly referred to as fish-fry pans.

You can find them in most outdoor mail order catalogs like Wholesale Sports, SIR, and Le Baron.

Also check the small roadside stores.

You never know what treasures you may find.


So that’s it. Now 40 years has past.

I still use the pan on ATV adventures but I never carry it on my back.

I guess I’m softer and wiser.

I don’t carry quarters of moose on my back either.

You know what?

I think I’m taking the perfect pan on our next salmon fishing trip and I’m bloody well lugging it on the river for old time’s sake.

I’m not that soft.

Stay tuned for the photos.

I might just tag a salmon and fry it up in a proper pan.

Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at [email protected] or follow him on twitter at @flyfishtherock

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