Memories of a Classic Fish Camp
Inns, Lodges, Resorts
By Polly Dean
Photos by Jimmy Jacobs
This month’s destination for our Inns/Lodges/Resorts section is a bit different. It is a tribute to one of the best fish camps that a number of anglers were extremely fortunate to have experienced, including myself. It is even more fitting for those that knew Steve Claxton, the “proprietor” of the “Hazel Creek Hilton,” to note that the publishing of the September edition of On The Fly South marks three years to the day since Steve left this earth. And if you knew Steve, you would suspect that he likely had a hand in that fact. Maybe he was whispering in our ear.
Robert Stephen (Steve) Claxton, also known as the Mayor of Hazel Creek, grew up near and spent many days fishing and nights camping on that stream in the North Carolina portion of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Later in life he started an outfitting service introducing other anglers to this legendary destination. He was even shuttling anglers and hikers across Fontana Lake to Hazel Creek just days before his passing.
If you met Steve, you soon learned that he was always doing something for other folks. At age 60 he walked the entire Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine to raise awareness and funds for the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program, of which he was a big supporter.
I met Steve and his wife Becky at their Hazel Creek Hilton. It was a camp for fishermen, but it was as close to “glamping” as you could get, before anyone ever knew what that word meant. Steve would have the camp already set up before he’d run across Fontana Lake on his pontoon boat to pick up anglers. While they were eager to get away and catch a few trout, Steve would be heating up the stove for the next meal.
Carts were supplied and waiting for us to load our gear that Steve and volunteers would pull as we walked to camp. Tents, with cots, were ready and waiting on us. The kitchen was set up. First-timers to the Hazel Creek Hilton never anticipated what mouth-watering meals were in store for our group of hungry anglers to start the day or at the end of the fishing.
Steve and Becky were the ultimate hosts. A shower was even rigged in a tent for those that wanted to clean up. The experienced campers would even joke about how Steve would point out what type leaves to use, or most importantly which leaves to not use, when answering the call of nature. That would be before he would begin laughing and displaying the rolls of toilet paper that he provided.
Steve was a prankster and those lucky souls that got to experience his camps quickly learned that about him. Camping trips to Hazel Creek often began with a practical joke that Steve played on one of his chosen campers. He had a remote-controlled fart machine and would choose a victim for the first evening around the campfire. After a time of folks politely ignoring the noises that seemed to come from the unlucky victim’s direction, Steve would break out laughing and disclose the prank. I realize now, and feel honored, that he chose me as his victim during my first visit.
Each evening, fish stories and jokes were told around the campfire. Steve would offer fishing tips and suggestions for the following day for those that desired any.
Anyone who met Steve, even just for a weekend, came away and remained a friend. He and his amazing Hazel Creek Hilton are missed.