Some fishing lodges are simply exquisite. Rooms are furnished with bona fide antiques and fabrics to match. All baths are “en suite” and done up in marble and granite. Each has a porch that is screened with pegs to hang your waders and a rack for your rods.
When sitting on the veranda with your favorite postprandial libation you see and hear no other guests. As the sun sinks below the horizon a golf cart collects you for the run to the main lodge, where the menu and wine list would not embarrass any maître d in New York or Paris.
Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee, on the cusp of the Great Smokies, is perhaps the most elegant of such lodges.
What of the fishing? The farm’s two ponds and a mile or more of Hesse Creek are chock full of trout measured in pounds, not inches. Little more than half an hour east are scores of the Smokies’ wild trout streams. Take your pick: Larger flows at lower elevations are rich with rainbows and browns; hike higher up, and you’ll meet Southern Appalachian-strain brookies, the only trout native to the region. Fish in April and May and enjoy a plethora of trillium, lady slippers, and wild orchids.
Well-appointed fishing lodges are abundant from Maine to Key West to Montana to Alaska and all stops in between. Don’t overlook Canada and South America. Like the man said: “You pays your money and takes your choice.”
For me, though, there’s more to a great fishing lodge than fancy accommodations or a chef who wears a toque. Sure, the cabin needs to be dry and relatively free of vermin and the chow hardy but not too much so. What makes a great lodge in my book are the friends and staff you’ve met there and with whom you hook up for a week or so once or twice a year.
As Horace Kephart wrote in Camping and Woodcraft, the best fellow campers are “fellows, who will take things as they come, do their fair share of camp chores, and agree to have no arguments before breakfast.” You’ll find such folks at Cobb’s Camp on Pierce Pond a little northwest of Farmington, Maine.
Neighbor Ben Gale twisted my mind a decade or so ago with stories of Carl, Mike, Gary, and Chet. They’ve been fishing there together for nearly a generation, and I was fortunate to be invited on one of their outings. Come ice-out they troll for land-locked salmon. A month later brookies, some in excess of three pounds, begin rising to their Hendricksons. Folks fish from square-stern lake canoes or aluminum boats kicked along by low-horse motors.
A farm bell signals breakfast of simple eggs done the way you want, ham or bacon, hash browns and biscuits. Diehards may be out on the pond by then, but not us. We come to Cobb’s to relax. Lunch comes in a paper sack. Nobody I know has ever been able to down all in one sitting the two thick sandwiches — meat and cheese or even peanut butter and jelly if you like — a bag of chips, a pair of homemade oatmeal cookies the size of saucers, and an apple.
As evening settles, canoes return to the dock. We lie to each other about the big brookies that tangled in our anchor lines and broke themselves off. Prevarication continues during cocktail hour and during dinner, simple affairs of steak or chicken cooked on the grill accompanied by baked potatoes, salad, and for those not stuffed to the gills, chocolate cake or pie a la mode. If you want, the kitchen will hand you a thermos of stout coffee that will stay hot ‘till morning.
Back at the cabin, someone opens a window, we take turns in the bath, snuggle beneath wool blankets, and sleep arrives within minutes. Now what could be better?