I had just threaded my line through the guides, attached a fly to my 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 The 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 for our semiformal exchange.
“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.”
“I hear ya. But that’s why they call it fishing and not catching.”
Satisfied that I had scored a two-to-one victory in our brief battle of streamside clichés, I wished the man luck and continued my deceptive downstream dance.
I glanced over my shoulder and watched as the man paused to make a few unremarkable casts and then continued his careless wade through what was doubtless the best water he’d ever fished. Though 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 was standing and fish where he was fishing. Used to, that is, before I learned the secret.
I learned—better yet, earned—the secret by virtue of a piscatorial skill that sets me apart from all my fellow fishermen: I am the best chub fisherman in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I don’t generally 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 excessive care and undue skill—offer them my fly. Provided, of course, that 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 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 erupt from the river and exchange my fly for his secret.
The 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. The Spot’s splendor is matched only by its subtlety: its insect hatches are sparse; its current seam is nearly indiscernible; its temperature gradient is faint and confined; and its large trout leave inconspicuous rise forms when they feed from its surface. I am the only person who knows this, and I knowingly lie, mislead, and evade to keep it that way.
I waited until the dilettante fisherman was out of sight for nearly ten minutes before I cautiously returned to The Spot. My unwelcome guest was wading upstream, but, if he returned through this section just as I was onto a nice fish, my secret would be lost. Unwilling to wager such high stakes, I decided to vacate The Spot and return the next day. The fish would still be there, but the unwanted visitor would not.
As I always do, though, I walked downstream—just out of sight of The Spot—then entered the woods and circled back toward my car. Treachery is, after all, one of my finest fishing skills. I was on a small game trail about one 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 I watched him work his way back toward The Spot. With the stealth of a coyote and the caution of a whitetail, he warily picked a winding path through the bushes and branches, and then stood beside the river and carefully scanned the water’s surface, staring precisely at the place where—only 30 minutes before—he had waded carelessly and cast unremarkably.
A fish rose in The Spot. The man pulled several yards of line from his reel, and, void of his earlier ineptitude, he 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 somewhere on a game trail about one hundred yards away, The Greenhorn watched in doleful disbelief.
Author - Tim Schulz lives in Houghton, Mich., where he teaches electrical engineering at Michigan Tech. In his spare time he explores the ponds and streams of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in search of the madness and magic that exists only where wild trout are found. Most of his adventures are inspired by a small-town attorney whose writings taught him that “so many of the other concerns of men are equally unimportant — and not nearly so much fun.” You can see some of Tim’s photography on his blog: Madness and Magic.