The foothills of the Tennessee Smokies glide by as we drift down the gentle Clinch River, its smooth surface freckled by the ripples of rising fish. Our guide rows us over hidden shoals and shows us where to sail each cast. He knows where the fish are hiding. My father's rod bends in the morning light, and his reel sings the song of a running fish. At last we're on the father-daughter fishing trip we always said we'd take. "All my life I've wanted to do a float trip," Dad says with a dreamy smile. He is 72. "And this is my first one."
A Perfect Float Trip
We lose track of our catch somewhere past two dozen trout. Lovely rainbows and browns, they sparkle in our hands for a fleeting moment before we slip them back into the cool river. "The state record has come out of here twice," says our guide, Mike Bone. "The current one is 28 pounds, 9 ounces." After a long morning drifting past trees in first bud, Mike rows us to shore and delivers us to the doorstep where he picked us up. Our float trip may be over, but the best part is yet to come.
We climb the bank, past canoes and drying waders, to a river house perched on a hill. This is the Clinch River House, the personal fish camp of the McLean family who founded The Lodge at Buckberry Creek, a swanky new resort in Gatlinburg. Like Buckberry, the river house, located in Clinton, about 30 minutes from Knoxville, radiates warmth and rustic luxury. Its antique creels and Adirondack artifacts make us feel as if we're staying at the home of a family friend--not in a rental.
The scent of warming chili greets us as we peel off our fishing clothes. Mom has spent a relaxing morning watching A River Runs Through It. Dad always cooks his favorite chili (secret ingredient: beer) on family trips like this. We ladle big bowls and head outside to our favorite spot: the outdoor pavilion.
Cozy Outdoor Living Room
It's a cool spring day, and Mom and I settle into the wooden rocking chairs as Dad builds a fire. We unlock a cabinet above the mantel, turn on the hidden TV, and sit back to watch a movie. Dog on lap, bowl of chili in hand, river sliding by--life is good.
After lunch, I snuggle into a double-wide chaise longue overlooking the river. In no time the sound of the water lures me to sleep. I awake at dusk to the glow of a table lamp and Dad snoring in front of the flickering TV.
Luxurious Fish Camp
Like most fishermen, my dad is serious about his tackle, but even he is impressed by what we find at the river house. Simms waders hang in the pavilion above wading boots in several sizes. Several good fly rods and reels await in the bedroom. We try them out. When Mom and I return from an errand, we find the kitchen sink full of trout. "You caught dinner!" we say. Dad looks sheepish. "I found a spinning reel in the closet," he admits. We fry them up and enjoy the feast.
At the end of the weekend, we all crave another fire, one more cast, one last bowl of chili. We know we'll be back, and next time we'll bring friends to fill the cabin next door. Dad drapes his arm around my shoulder as we leave. "This was the neatest thing I've done in…" he stops to think. "Ever."
Plan Your Trip
- Clinch River House: The house is located in Clinton, Tennessee, about 30 minutes from Knoxville. Rent the river house (two bedrooms, sleeps four) or the cabin (two bedrooms plus loft, sleeps eight) for $300 each or $500 for both (two-night minimum). Includes use of the pavilion, canoes, waders, wading boots, and fly rods. www.clinchriverhouse.com or (865) 426-2715
- Clinch River Outfitters: Ask for our guide, Mike Bone. A half-day guided float trip for two, with door-to-door service, costs $250. (865) 494-0972.
- The Creel: Stop by this Knoxville fly shop for local flies, tackle, and advice. Or buy a fishing license over the phone. (865) 588-6159.
"Secret River Hideaway" is from the April 2007 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.