Look, we’re here for the fishing, right? Not the five star lodging and certainly not the fine dining. And that means sometimes we have to compromise. Not every fishing camp is the Hilton. So with that in mind, here are five places I can more or less recommend that you consider (maybe) staying on a destination fishing trip, if nothing else is available. Most of them are better than sleeping in your car.
#1 The Brass Door Motel, Gassville, Arkansas
What’s not to like? The Brass Door is cheap at less than fifty bucks a night. It offers plenty of free parking, including for your drift boat or White River Supreme. The mighty White River itself is less than five minutes from your motel door in at least two directions, not to mention the Norfork River just forty-five minutes to the east. Hey, 86% of people who stayed here kind of liked it, according to their own website. Sure, the rooms have all the charm of a trailer house, with linens bought on closeout circa 1995 and the occasional mold spot in the bathrooms, but they get HBO! You can watch Game of Thrones! Also, this place is TOTALLY NOT HAUNTED. Don’t worry about the homicide in the parking lot with the subsequent police shootout. That was a long time ago. Repeat: DEFINITELY NOT HAUNTED.
#2 Foothills Motel & Campground, Dayton, Wyoming
Perched on the tranquil banks of the eloquently-named Tongue River, this nostalgic stopover hearkens back to an earlier time, when wood-sided family wagons roamed the West on two-lane highways, and families of seven piled into the same bed and didn’t complain about things like the absence of air conditioning or the festering black mold in the original shower stalls. “Vintage” experiences include sleeping on original mattresses (from the Forties!) and dry-fly fishing to brown trout holding over silted-in car tires (whitewalls, naturally).
At less than $25 a night, don’t expect anything other than shelter from the bugs and some of the rain. I recommend shower sandals.
#3 Bakerton Bar Trailer Rental, Bakerton, Kentucky
Back in the mid-2000s, there was no hotter fishing destination in the East than the Cumberland River, which was experiencing some minor, potentially catastrophic dam failure issues, resulting in low water and ridiculous sight fishing to huge trout. If you really wanted to get right on the fish, you needed to rent a trailer by the put-in ramp. That’s where this sexy little number came in. With all the charm only hollowed-out poverty can bestow, it was both a place to sleep and a cultural experience.
Let’s be honest, this was WAAAAY before AirBnB, but I’m pretty sure if you just ask around the smoking section of the nearby Burkesville Pizza Hut, someone will still be able to hook you up. Prices range from $50 a night to a 1/2 gram baggie of crystal.
#4 Ninja Camp in the National Parks
Let’s face it, the National Parks system is getting more expensive all the time. That’s why I occasionally advocate what I call “ninja camping.” Ninja camping is when you wait until after 10:00PM to ghost into a crowded campsite with your headlights off. The trick is to assemble your tent, cook your meal, roll out your bedroll and catch four to five hours of sleep all without alerting the rangers that you’re totally Welshing on their ridiculous $15 campsite fee. The difficulty level goes up with the venue; no one cares if you’re cold-camping a third-tier Mormon Settlement-era national monument, but you’ll get some serious hobo credit for snaking a patch of grass and a free shower in Grant Village. Stick it to the Man with a can of cold wieners, just be sure to get out before sunrise or you’ll wake up on the wrong end of a pair of khaki trousers.
#5 The Sapphire Inn, Franklin, North Carolina
The clear gem of this list (no pun intended), the Sapphire Inn has everything you look for in a small-town North Carolina place to crash, including Wi-Fi, television, and a door that locks. A mere five minutes from four different greasy spoon breakfast options, its management is also apparently flexible about its no-pet policy, if the pit bulls being kept on a semi-permanent basis by the bikers next door were anything to go on. Don’t neglect to check out the pool, and feel free to take a swim if it contains water on the occasion of your visit. At $59 per night, “The Sapphire” is almost middle-class fancy, but for that little bit extra, they do provide free peppermints in the lobby. If you want one on your pillow, you can go ahead and put it there yourself.
Bonus Venue: The Super-8 Denver Midtown, Denver, Colorado
Back when fly-fishing was cool, the industry met on an annual basis at the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver for a trade show everyone just called “The Show.” Technically speaking no one did any fishing at The Show, but we all got to wear plaid shirts and sunglasses on Croakies anyway, so it was pretty much the same thing.
Back then I couldn’t afford luxurious hotels like the Ramada Inn, so I stayed at the nearest place with four walls and a price tag under $60 a night. That turned out to be what is now called the Super-8. In 2006, the hotel had no name, unless you count the Motel 6 sign turned inside out on the marquee. Nice try, Motel 6.
I can’t say whether they’ve gone downhill since 2006, but back then, this was the kind of venue where the amenities included free hazmat sharps disposal AND a laundry bag of complimentary hooker’s clothes in your closet. The hotel also must have been really safe, because the police cruised the parking lot every half hour.