ALMANOR, Calif. — We stood on the porch of our rented holiday home at sunset here in the high Sierra looking out on one of the most magnificent lakes on the North American continent, an expanse of more than 72 square miles of crystal-clear water, framed on every side by thousands of soaring pines.
A glorious sunset bled into the horizon and a silvery trout broke the surface less than 60 feet from shore. A baby deer wandered close to our porch, timidly at first, then, turning bold, it nuzzled food out of our hands. Later we discovered signs urging us not to feed the fawns lest they become too dependent upon human benefactors. Then they tend to get separated from their herds and never learn how to forage for themselves.
This is California's awesome Lake Almanor, a two-hour drive north of Reno. This is Feather River country, home of the Plumas National Forest that extends over a million acres, where the air is scented with the fragrance of huge pines, evergreens and firs. Feather River country embraces more than 1,000 miles of rivers and streams and 100 lakes.
Beauty Being Discovered
Lake Almanor is almost totally unspoiled by the inroads of tourism, although an increasing number of vacationers are discovering the beauty of the area. On any given summer weekday, it is hard to find more than 20 or 30 boats on its vast surface. At an altitude of 4,500 feet, the lake offers an unmatched kind of serenity.
Rainbow and brown trout, smallmouth bass and king salmon weighing from two to 12 pounds abound in the lake, although in summer they lurk at 20 feet or deeper. Leaded fishing line is recommended. For all except skilled fishermen, the services of a guide may be necessary. The best fishing is in the fall, starting in mid-September.
Within minutes of the lake there are numerous glorious, tumbling streams where anglers try their luck in early morning or late afternoon.
A highlight of our first day and, in fact, the whole trip, was that with the aid of Doug d'Angelo, best of the guides, we caught a 4 1/2-pound salmon. That same night we cooked it.
We cleaned the fish and salted and peppered it after rubbing its interior with a clove of garlic and generous dollops of sweet butter. We added a healthy sprinkling of lemon juice. We stuffed the fish with store-bought sage dressing moistened with dry sherry.
We wrapped the fish in double foil and broiled it for 35-45 minutes on our outdoor barbecue over mesquite coals. We served it with fresh country corn, a simple salad of vegetables with Italian dressing and heated sourdough bread that was properly garlicked and buttered.
Before we sat down to dinner we inhaled deeply of the early evening breeze. It was winey and cool as a mountain stream at nightfall. We laid the gleaming salmon (almost too handsome to eat) out on a platter and sampled it.
Shall we say it was ambrosia? The word is inadequate. We will not even try to describe it. But in those few moments we realized we'd been living our whole life harboring two major delusions: We thought what we breathed as we walked the streets of Studio City was air and that seafood restaurants in the San Fernando Valley served fish.
For the fisherman or water lover, more than a dozen marinas border Lake Almanor where all types of boats and jet skis are available for rent. If you are a true fisherman you will be on the lake at first light, 5:30 a.m. or 6 when the fish are hungriest.
Hunters also will find much to attract them in season at Almanor. It is the natural home of one of the largest migrating herds of blacktailed does in the state. Archery hunting is especially popular here.
Evidences of waterfowl, including ducks and Canadian geese, are everywhere. In mid-October the waterfowl and quail season opens.
(Spanish explorer Luis Arguillo, the first European to explore this territory, found feathers floating in one of the streams. This, so the story goes, gave origin to the name Feather River.)
Horseback riding offers a superb means of enjoying the handsome and wild high country. Horses may be rented from Plumas Pines Riding Stables where instructors are available for both Western and English-style lessons. Special rides, including breakfast or evening steak fries, can also be arranged.
Recreational vehicle parks are all along the shores of the lake, with full facilities. Many of the visitors to this paradise country drive such vehicles. A U.S. Forest Service campground enclosed in 60 acres contains 250 campsites for hunters and other visitors.
Chester is Almanor's nearest community. It is small but able to provide amenities of every sort for the tourist, including several restaurants offering first-rate if simple fare. But big city touches are avoided and Chester has no traffic lights, no elevators, few buildings with more than one story. By comparison, Lake Arrowhead in season looks like midtown Manhattan.