I had just threaded my line through the guides, attached a size 16 Adams to the tippet, and was ready to cast when the uninvited fisherman emerged from the curtain of alders near the river’s bend. In a rushed act of desperate deceit, I hooked the fly to one of the rod’s guides, tightened the line around the reel, and walked casually downstream, toward the man and away from My Spot. Fortunately, I hadn’t begun to fish in what I—and only I—know is the best spot on the river.
“Any luck?” the man asked as we paused beside the tannin-stained water.
“A typical slow evening. But what the heck, it’s great to be out, isn’t it?”
“Sure is. But I wouldn’t mind getting onto a good fish now and then,” the man said.
“I hear ya. But that’s why they call it fishing and not catching.”
Satisfied with my two-to-one victory in our brief battle of streamside clichés, I wished the man luck and continued my deceptive dance.
Forty yards downstream, I glanced over my shoulder and watched the man make a few unremarkable casts, then continue his careless wade through what was doubtless the best water he’d ever fished. But more casts wouldn’t have helped. He was standing where he should be fishing and fishing where he should be standing. I know this because I used to stand where he stood and fish where he fished. Used to, that is, before I learned the secret.
I learned—better yet, earned—the secret because of a piscatorial skill that sets me apart from all my fellow anglers: I am the best chub fisherman in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I rarely target the chub like I do the brown, brook, and rainbow trout, but when one of those thick-bodied, round-mouthed fish feeds from the surface on an otherwise slow day, I will—with extreme care and undue skill—offer them my fly. Provided, of course, no one is watching.
And so it was on a hot summer day several years ago that I cast to the barely perceptible rise of Semotilus atromaculatus—otherwise known as the common creek chub—in the exact spot where the flailing fisherman stood to cast today. And just as a creek chub is wont to do, the fish sucked my fly from the stream's surface, leaving a tiny halo as the sole sign of its gluttonous assault. Responding with a leisurely snap of my wrist, I prepared to skate the stubby minnow across the river when, with great surprise and much greater delight, I saw Salmo trutta—the mighty brown trout—erupt from the river and exchange my chub and my fly for his secret.
My Spot—the place where the unknowing fisherman stood to cast—is a magical Shangri-La in an otherwise unexceptional river. Large trout love the place. A current seam funnels nearly every passing bug through a four-foot-wide channel, and cool water from a spring seep moderates the temperature throughout the hot summer months. My Spot's splendor is matched only by its subtlety: its insect hatches are as sparse as desert rain; its current seam as indiscernible as a whisper in a crowded room; its temperature gradient as faint and confined as the scent of a rose; and its large trout leave inconspicuous rise forms when they feed from its surface, like ghosts passing through a wall. I am the only person who knows this, and I knowingly lie, mislead, and evade to keep it that way.
I waited for nearly ten minutes until the slipshod fisherman was out of sight before cautiously returning to My Spot. My unwelcome guest was wading upstream, but my secret would be lost if he returned through this section just as I was onto a nice fish. Unwilling to wager with such high stakes, I decided to vacate My Spot and return the next day. The fish would still be there, but the unknowing invader would not.
As I always do, though, I first walked downstream—just out of sight of My Spot—then entered the woods and circled back toward the place I’d parked my truck. Treachery is, after all, one of my finest fishing skills. I was on a small game trail about a hundred yards from the river when I heard a branch break near the water. I froze, hunkered, and scanned the woods for the source of the sound.
It was the man. The Amateur. The Bumbler. But something seemed different as he worked his way back toward My Spot. With the stealth of a coyote and the caution of a whitetail, he warily picked a winding path through the bushes and branches. Then he stood beside the river, carefully scanned the water's surface and stared precisely at the place where—only thirty minutes before—he had waded carelessly and cast unremarkably.
Then a fish rose in My Spot. The man pulled several yards of line from his reel and, void of his earlier ineptitude, waded carefully and cast remarkably. His tiny fly drifted flawlessly downstream, then disappeared through the ring of a barely perceptible rise. He lifted his rod to set the hook, and a large trout responded with an aerial dance to the screeching song of the whirling reel. And there, on a game trail about a hundred yards away, The Greenhorn watched in doleful disbelief.