Fish Camp Friday returns with a tale from Lunker Lodge in Georgetown, plus some storm porn and a few random images from my adventures.
The area from Dunn’s Creek down to Lake George is prime fish-camp territory. Mr. B. and I headed there to investigate that and the Ft. Gates Ferry. We also wanted to visit the National Fish Hatchery aquarium in Welaka.
We drove right through Welaka, a postage-stamped size town, slowing down long enough to notice that the aquarium appeared to be closed. It, too, was small. We continued down the road to Georgetown, a place that seems to be all about the bass, and there we found Lunker Lodge.
A sign at the entrance states that the lodge is an original Florida fish camp, established in 1920. For reasons I cannot begin to fathom, someone has put quotation marks around “Est.” I will take a guess and say that either the owner or the signmaker felt that the abbreviation is subject to a special rule of grammar. Following this logic, we can then put quotes around “Ltd” and “Assn” and “Bros.” Or are we dealing with irony? Was the camp a strictly informal affair in 1920 and only later a real business? Who knows? We parked and got out to investigate. An acre or so of land contained a few cement bunker-type cabins and a new cement walkway leading down to a dock. No sooner had we set foot on the walkway than we were flagged down by a couple who had been standing a hundred yards away. “We’ve been spotted!” I said.
The couple turned out to be the new lessors of Lunker Lodge. As is his usual custom, Mr. B. gave the reason for our visit as a look-see in case we ever decided to stay there. This works in most instances, even if we never do return, and it lets me take a few pictures without feeling like a voyeur.
Larry Goodman, the lessor, explained that he was a retired railroad man who had taken out the lease on the lodge as a retirement business. So far, business has been mighty slow, something we noticed at the other camps in the area. Larry gave us a run down of his services: cabin and boat rentals, guided tours, great food in the restaurant that would open on weekend. This was almost my cue to start talking about my prize-winning seafood pie and incredible po’boys, but for once I kept my mouth shut. Otherwise, there would be a platoon of fisherman out there carping that I’d fattened them into walking beachballs.
We took a walk out to the Lunker Lodge docks, where we were greeted by a large black dog and Larry’s friend, who was enjoying an al fresco picnic of crackers and Crown Royal. Larry told us that for $150.00, he’d give us a 2 1/2 hour tour of the Ocklawaha River in exchange for our taking some pictures they could use in their advertising and then we could have the boat for the day. An in-kind agreement, but it made me wonder what our photographs were really worth. Larry’s wife, a petite woman whose skin was baked the color of a raisin, showed us an album of blurry photographs from the river, the highlight of which was a fat and blurry cottonmouth resting on a rock. “Don’t see those much anymore,” Larry offered. “It’s brown banded watersnakes instead.”
He asked if we’d taken a tour of the area. We’d just come from a place called Porky’s Landing, where we’d walked out onto a creaky dock and where the wind had tried to snatch away Mr. B.’s Panama hat and had gotten his sunglasses instead. Porky’s had a motel, a restaurant (closed during the week) and a bar. “That’s where the movie was filmed,” Larry said. He meant “Porky’s,” the low-budget, lose-your-cherry movie about a group of randy high school boys in 1954 Florida. I was fairly certain that Mr. B. had never seen the movie, but I had, and the claim to local fame rang false. Porky’s the place was a movie conceit, not an actual business, and its exterior was built in Miami.
After we toured the cabins (basic and clean) and promised to return for a hootenanny the Goodmans plan on having the third Saturday of each month (“Are you bikers? Bikers are welcome”), we left and drove to the Fort Gates Ferry. For ten dollars each way, this ancient little contraption (a barge with a tug) holds two vehicles that it shuttles over to the dirt roads of the Ocala National Forest. Mr. B. very much wanted to do this, but as we approached the landing, I noticed a low-lying black storm cloud hovering over the forest. I didn’t think that I wanted to drive the dirt roads (max. speed 10 MPH) for seven miles in one of those banging storms Florida gets in the summer, so we backtracked home the way we had come, through Palatka, stopping to admire an airpark where homes come with hangars and resident sandhill cranes attracted by the abundant fish at the nearby hatchery.
The first sign that we were in primo fish-camp territory:
And another, sadly closed.
A slightly less elaborate sign decorates the entrance to the still functioning Bass World.
Judging from a few of the structures and some faded advertising, Dunn’s Creek Fishing Resort has been around for a long time. An ad for Nehi made me think of Model-T Fords.
With the number of fish camps in the area, one wonders how the businesses differentiated other than by price. One way was through name. Another is through the size of the fish caught (bragging rights). Still more would be type of rental boats and reputation of the fishing guide if you availed yourself of one. Now, a Web site that is easily findable and has an attractive presentation may make a difference. Bass World, which doesn’t look like much from the outside, has a great site. If you visit any of the camps, keep in mind that the cabins are not high-end rentals. You may also want to stock some good quality hooch. I had the feeling that knocking back a few with the boys is the evening’s best entertainment.
The owner of Lunker Lodge has invested quite a bit in renovation. Don’t mistake this for luxury, though. The accommodations are Spartan, as they are at all of the camps.
Mr. B. chats with Larry Goodman, new lessor of Lunker Lodge.
Empty ponds at the fish hatchery. There is a small observation tower (and invisible nature trail) at the edge of the ponds. Nothing to see at this time of year, however, unless you are a crane.
Also not Photoshopped is this storm cloud that chased us away from the Ft. Gates Ferry.
Which had started out looking like this:
The ominous cloud did not prevent Mr. B. from getting some close-ups of the sandhill cranes. Note: This is a typical Florida storm. See the clear sky beyond. It was easy to drive away from this one.
I was prohibited by lack of zoom, so I took this inadequate picture of a bird on someone’s lawn. We saw many of the magnificent creatures strutting around the airpark.
Hardee-Har-Har! Mr. B. stopped at a gas station on the way home to grab a burger while I grabbed a snap of their frontline scripting. Corporate manipulation aside, it took the crew 15 minutes to serve up the burger. “There was a spill in the back,” they said, “so we forgot about you.” Top marks for following the “friendly greeting” dictum, with additional points awarded for honesty. Points off for using “can” instead of “may.” Of course they can. You may not want them to.
Astride the St. John’s River in Palatka, the USS Tang Memorial to those who lost their lives in wartime submarine sinkings. On display is a typical WW2-era torpedo, name of which I don’t recall. The Tang was built at Mare Island in California. The memorial is officially named the Basil C. Pearce, Jr./USS Tang Memorial, after a young submariner from East Palatka who was lost when the Tang was sunk by a circular run of one of its own torpedoes on October 24, 1944.