Denis Peirce: A fish camp lost
There are times and places where the stars align to make a “Fish Camp” possible. It takes a combination of an excellent fishery, a place for lodging but most of all the personality of the hosts to make a memorable fish camp.
These days, that quality of fishing still exists in Alaska, enabling many fish camps to operate there. Here in California really good fishing can be difficult to find. “The Steelhead Lodge” near the mouth of the Klamath River was one such place, back in the 1970s when the steelhead runs were still strong. Crosby’s Lodge at Pyramid Lake Nevada, when Fred and Judy Crosby owned it, was another renowned fish camp for a couple of decades.
Half a dozen years ago John Crotty and Deb Reynolds bought a motel in Canyon Dam at the south end of Lake Almanor. They had a dream and the drive to make something special. They took it from a diamond in the rough into a place nice enough to take a woman. Both the grounds and the building needed lots of TLC and the couple were no strangers to work. Every year when I came back, there were noticeable improvements to the rooms and the landscaping.
But a nice facility is not enough to qualify for fish camp status. The fishing has to be better than good, it has to be excellent, at least seasonally. John jumped into fishery politics with both feet. Ultimately he became the president of the Almanor Fishing Association (AFA). He was instrumental in increasing the DF&W fish plants on the lake. He took over the net pen project which raised trout in pens using marina slips during the winter and releasing the resulting larger fish in the spring. He was also involved in trout rearing projects at the local high school and Feather River College. The years John and Deb devoted to the AFA paid dividends for all anglers who fish on Lake Almanor.
Years ago I had a conversation with another fish camp owner, Joe Mercier who owned the Trinity River Lodge. It was his philosophy that he needed to teach anglers how to fish steelhead on the Trinity. In order for his guests to want to return, they had to be successful in their quest for steelhead. John understood this as well and became a guide on the lake. Many of his guests started with a day guided by John to learn the lake, then used the knowledge gained on the rest of their multi-day fishing vacation.
There were at least two other professional guides, Bryan Roccucci and Matt Goodrich, who were based at Quail Lodge. They and their clients spent afternoons and evenings around the barbecue and beverage coolers expounding on their fishing prowess and the obligatory big ones that got away. There were also a few “gems” on how the fish were responding that day. With John and Deb as hosts, the atmosphere was always welcoming. There were no strangers at Quail Lodge, everyone was included.
Back in mid July another fire began in the Feather River Canyon. This one was pushed north and east toward Lake Almanor by hot dry winds. There were many twists and turns to the battle with the Dixie Fire. When I heard that Quail Lodge was hosting firefighters I thought that would be the key to keeping the flames at bay and saving the lodge. Then on Aug. 5 the winds were driving the flames up the river canyon below the Almanor Dam. As the flames crested the dam they spread east toward the town of Canyon Dam. When wind driven flames are on the move, there is no stopping them. Quail Lodge was lost that day to the Dixie Fire.
John and Deb are safe. The facility they poured their lives into no longer stands. I do not know what the future holds for them. At a week on, I doubt they know the direction their lives will take. What I do know is that hundreds of anglers will always remember the Fish Camp at Quail Lodge. The great fishing trips and the friends made.
John and Deb, thanks for the memories.
Denis Peirce writes a fishing column for The Union’s Outdoors section and is host of “The KNCO Fishing & Outdoor Report,” which airs 6-7 p.m. Fridays and 5-6 a.m. Saturdays on 830-AM radio. Contact him via his website at http://www.trollingflies.com
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