Feeling (fish) fried–and loving it

There are some basic rules to follow when it comes to attending the annual fish fry hosted by the Rainy River First Nation.
Rule one: don’t worry about coming too early or too late because there really is no such thing. People start filtering about the roundhouse just a few hundred yards from the historical centre at the Manitou Mounds around 2 p.m., or earlier, even though the fish fry was advertised to start at 4 p.m.
And the only way you can come to the fish fry too late is if you show up the next day or they run out of fish–whatever comes first.
People who come early often have the luxury of lounging in the mostly empty tent, not to mention getting the chance to pick their favourite soda from a large tub of ice before the selection gets picked over by the horde of children who show up later.
Early-comers also can chat with the chefs as they drop countless pounds of freshly-battered walleye fillets into boiling oil, then dream of the dinner to come as the smell wafts from one corner of the tent to the other.
The more adventurous trek down the trail to the main mound site, which, according to one of the volunteer cooks, is “just about a mile” from the tent.
But more than one of these more adventurous souls discovered the mounds were, in fact, more than “just about a mile” from the tent. One woman, a co-worker at the office here, said it felt a lot closer to two miles.
Of course, this didn’t bother me any as I sat in the shade sipping an iced tea and chatting with Tony Bombay, the Rainy River First Nation volunteer fire chief.
He reminisced about the first few fish fries, which were held at Manitou Rapids just down from the band office. Bombay said it used to only attract a few dozen people as opposed to a few hundred now.
He added you could always tell who the cooks were back then–they were the ones who always had burn marks on their hands the next day.
It isn’t until around 4 p.m. when a large mass of people started to arrive. The cooks know this so they don’t normally start serving the fish until around 4:45 p.m. to make sure everyone is good and hungry.
Rule two is simple: move fast when the time comes to head to the buffet table. A two-second delay could make all the difference between being at the start of the line or standing behind a good portion of Rainy River District.
Rule three: no pushing in line–even when the person in front of you lets in a dozen of their family members, along with their spouses and children. After all, there’s more than enough fish to go around.
Rule four: there’s no such thing as putting too much bannock on your plate.
Rule five: gluttony is allowed. Although this rule may make my dietitian shiver, self-restraint is not heavily endorsed when it comes to the fish fry.
If you’re like me, it’s the only time during the year you’ll have fresh walleye during the year because a) you don’t have time to go fishing and b) even if you had the time, you couldn’t catch a fish anyway.
Rule six: there is no shame in taking the band’s medical van to shuttle you back to the parking lot on the top of the hill by the historical centre after you finish eating.
Rule seven: relax and have a good time. After all, the fish fry only comes once a year.