05/27/2014 12:00AM ● Published by Kerri Regan
Photos: Courtesy of Clearwater Lodge
Two dozen sun-kissed anglers relax around the candlelit dining table after a day of fishing on some of the world’s finest fly streams. “My fish was bigger, right?” one man asked the fishing guide across from him.
“No, mine was the biggest one!” declares the woman next to him, pulling out her cell phone to offer photographic proof.
At the other end of the table, a tired fisherman sighs contentedly and declares, “If I had to be stranded on a desert island with one dish, it would have to be that zucchini au gratin.”
This is a typical evening at Clearwater Lodge at the Pit River. Seasoned guide staff, gourmet cuisine and a renowned fly fishing school have helped secure its reputation as one of the nation’s premier fly fishing resorts.
The Arts and Crafts-style lodge in Fall River Mills was built in 1921 to house PG&E employees who were building hydroelectric power-generating plants in the midst of the forested country between Mt. Shasta and Lassen Peak. “In the early 1900s, this was identified as a wonderland of water,” says lodge owner Michelle Titus.
The main building includes seven guest rooms, the dining room, kitchen, an upstairs conference room (formerly dormitory-style housing) and a living room with a stone, floor-
to-ceiling fireplace. The lodge’s original pool table from 1923 still entertains guests. A nearby annex includes six bedrooms, two bathrooms and an entry room with fireplace and poker table. Two- and three-bedroom cabins feature family rooms and kitchenettes.
Together, the facilities can accommodate about 23 guests, along with the team of fishing guides and Titus, who all live there. During opening weekend in late April, the lodge entertained guests from all over the country, including one who flew his plane from Texas to the Fall River Airport for his fifth stay at the lodge.
The lure, of course, is the area’s pristine water. Fish are abundant everywhere: Pit River, Hat Creek, McCloud River, Fall River, Burney Creek and the Lower Sacramento River. Spring creeks, freestone rivers and still waters each offer unique experiences. “You experience water here that doesn’t exist anywhere else,” Titus says. “And when you’re here, there’s nothing going on. You really get to unplug and enjoy.”
An on-site fly shop offers premium gear, seasonally selected flies and tackle. “You can come here with nothing more than a toothbrush,” Titus says. “We get you out on the water and teach you how to enjoy this sport."
Guides build unforgettable experiences for anglers. People can’t reserve rooms online, and that’s by design — Titus likes to have personal conversations with each guest so she can find the ideal guide for them.
Jeremy Baker of Redding has been a guide for six years. “I have people who have never held a rod and people who have fished all over the world and go out 100 days a year,” he says. “I also enjoy the entomology side — the knots, the ties. You’re not just buying a lure at the store. So much has to come together to land a fish. Nobody ever lands their first fish on a fly.”
Each morning, guests and staff have breakfast family-style at 7:30 am, then set off on their adventures (the chef sends them with lunch). By late afternoon, they gather back at the lodge to clean up and perhaps enjoy a cocktail or two before Titus steps onto the porch and rings the dinner bell. They’re then treated to a feast by Noelle Wright of Burney, Clearwater’s chef for 15 years, renowned as a magician in the kitchen. She also bakes several varieties of cookies every day, which sit in glass jars next to two taps of Fall River Brewing Company beer, wine, coffee, tea and water service in a common area.
It’s these special touches and intense attentiveness to detail that make this place unforgettable. Staff even helped orchestrate an engagement, and when the couple returned to the lodge, they were greeted with champagne, flowers and a room full of guests offering their congratulations. “You can order a bottle of champagne at any hotel, but when something happens here, it’s special to everyone,” Titus says.
How did a former political operative and business consultant end up running a fishing lodge in a town of 500 people? “I had a dog and a really suburban life,” she says. “But I wanted a dude ranch — I always loved that concept.” She bought the business on March 30, 2013, and moved in a week later. It opened April 26, 2013.
Titus’ two daughters, Allie and Raquel Ferrari, spent opening weekend of this year’s trout season at the lodge. Allie lived in South America after college, and now works for a startup company in the Bay Area. Raquel is studying business administration at Shasta College, and heads up to Fall River on the weekends to help her mom out.
The trio — none of whom had fly fished before last year — are hooked on the sport. “You have to be completely connected to your environment,” Titus says. “There’s something really magical about being part of that water. You can’t push it, you can’t force it. Life is that way.”
Because she believes in community, Titus has hosted groups like Casting for Hope and Reel Recovery, which offer unique fly fishing experiences for people battling cancer. And the lodge makes a significant impact on the local economy. “Ninety percent of the revenue we generate is from out of Shasta County, but about 80 percent of it is spent here,” Titus says. “Local food sources deliver to us. I’ve bought animals from the fair from 4-H kids. Almost everything we need, we can find locally.”
As she sits before a crackling fire with her daughters, she reflects upon the place that has fully captured her heart in just one short year. “I’ve been entrusted with this jewel,” Titus says. “I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard, and I’ve never had so much fun.” •