January 31, 2009
The first time we fished Toledo Bend, my friend and I called longtime pro David Wharton to find out where to stay. David was an east Texas native who had also spent some time living in Louisiana, so we figured he’d be able to recommend the best place in terms of access, affordability and lack of scary critters in the rooms.
We read David the list of the accommodations BASS had recommended in the registration packet – a list that included fish camps, cabins and other places that sounded like the anti-Four Seasons. He hadn’t heard of any of them -- not a good sign. My goal was to leave the state of Louisiana when the tournament was over, not end up as part of a Natchitoches meat pie. David’s last words of advice were – “Be careful where you stay. Around that lake, some of the places can be a bit rustic.”
Somehow I have a feeling that rustic near Many, Louisiana and Hemphill, Texas means something stronger than it does around my neck of the woods. For the record, we ended up staying at the Super 8 on the Texas side by the Pendleton Bridge, which was great, but like anyone who has fished tournaments in multiple states for well over a decade, I’ve experienced my share of filth, squalor and – to use a euphemism – rustic conditions.
There was the hotel in Ahoskie, NC, where some of the local females were kind enough to knock on our doors to see if we wanted dates – at a price. There have been more than a few buggy encounters, none yet with bedbugs, knock wood, but I assume that day is coming. There was the place near Lake Gaston where I couldn’t enter the lobby because of the overpowering smell of curry. At the James River, friends and I went to gas up at 4am on tournament day at the station next to our hotel and broke up a hold-up in progress.
Those are all bad, but the worst accommodation I may have ever paid hard-earned money for was in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in Alaska. After we took the bar exam in the summer of 1995, two friends and I spent a month traveling around the big state, camping out in a tent in campgrounds, on the side of the road or in people’s back yards all but a handful of nights. Those nights included: the final night in Anchorage, when we decided to get a hotel room so they wouldn’t have to evacuate our flights due to stank; a night in Fairbanks when an Athabascan dude allowed us to crash on his living room floor; a night in Chicken, Alaska (the sign greeting you into town says “Welcome to Chicken: Home of 37 people and one old grump”) when it was pouring when we left the bar so rather than set up a tent in a mud puddle we elected to stay in our rented Chrysler Concorde; and the night in Wrangell.
According to Wikipedia, Wrangell is the largest designated wilderness area in the United States (and the largest national park by area), but there ain’t much to it in terms of civilization. By the time we got there, we’d been to Anchorage, Denali, Fairbanks, Tok, Chicken and Dawson City (in the Yukon) – more towns than showers, so we were pretty ripe, and my friend Matt had developed some sort of nasty cold. About 30 miles into the park, our rental car met up with a railroad spike and got a flat. We put on the donut spare and limped forward, hoping to find a place to set up camp and get our lives in order. Fortunately, we found a small hunting lodge run by an elderly couple. We bought some hamburgers and tried to assess our next steps. As we chatted with them, we learned that: (1) the woman had not been out of the park in over 20 years; (2) the man had a tire repair kit (he helped us repair it and we rode it another 1,000-plus miles, through Homer, Seward and various other stops, until we returned the rental); and (3) they’d rent us a portion of a trailer for $25 a night. So we ponied up $8.33 apiece and rented a third of their trailer for the evening – shelter and heat that probably saved Matt’s life, or at least our vacation – a week later he was content living in a tent, drinking cheap beer and eating silver salmon cooked on the open fire (we’d run out of money, but not Pixy spooks) like the rest of us.
The point of this all is that I think that I, like most traveling fishermen, don’t take my hotel accommodations for granted. I don’t need something particularly fancy, just a clean and safe place to rest my head, with good boat parking and electrical hookups – barely over the prison standard of “three hots and a cot.” I’m there for the activity, not room service. The Weather Channel is more important than the availability of a fitness center. But I do take great pleasure when I go on a non-fishing vacation in staying somewhere that’s a cut above that lowly standard. That’s why I was so pleased on the recent Mexico vacation I took with the redheaded wife that we stayed someplace really nice – a hotel room with an in-room Jacuzzi, 42” flat-screen TV, shower for two, fully-stocked (and included in the price) mini-bar.
The TV had 54 channels, about half of them in Spanish, a few devoted to soccer (non-American futbol), one to golf, and a couple for CNN, Fox News, etc. Being an adults-only hotel, two of the uppermost channels were 24/7 “adult-entertainment.” I swear honey, I just passed through them on the way to National Geographic, didn’t stop for a second.
The room had an open structure – and by that I mean that there was a ledge behind the bed’s headboard that passed through to the sinks and vanities. Behind that was the toilet, in a small room of it’s own, behind a frosted glass door, ringed in clear glass. Some people might not like that so much – it exposed your partner to the sounds and smells of your daily rituals (fortunately, we did not suffer from Montezuma’s revenge, so they didn’t become unnecessarily frequent), but I liked it, because it meant that if you craned your head just right, you could watch TV through the clear border glass while taking care of business. How’s that for decadence? You could also watch the tube from the Jacuzzi. So whether you wanted to watch “My Dog Skip” in Spanish or something by Jenna Jameson (in English, although to be honest it wouldn’t really matter), the room gave you full 360 degree access.
I’m headed to Falcon Lake next Friday for five days of fishing right before the Bassmaster Classic, staying at a clean place with decent boat parking that we discovered last year. Fortunately, there’s no Jacuzzi and the toilet is behind a solid door. That’s a good thing – if you transported our Cancun room out there, I might never make it out on the lake.