The Greenhorn

I had just threaded my line through the guides, tied on a fly, and was ready to cast when the intruder emerged from the curtain of alders below the downstream bend. In a rushed act of 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.

”Any luck?” the man asked.

“Another slow evening. But it’s great just to be out.”

“You bet, though I wouldn’t mind getting onto a good fish now and then.”

“Well, that’s why they call it fishing and not catching.”

Satisfied that I had scored a two-to-one victory in our feeble exchange of streamside clichŽés, I wished the man well and continued walking downstream.

I glanced over my shoulder and watched the man make a few unremarkable casts as he waded carelessly through what was doubtless the best water he had ever fished. More casts wouldn’t have helped, though, because 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.

color-sketch-4155I learned—better yet, earned—the secret by virtue of a piscatorial skill that sets me apart from all my fellow anglers. Simply put, 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 unnecessary 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 indistinct rise of a creek chub in the very spot where the flailing fisherman stood today. And exactly as a creek chub is wont to do, the fish sucked my fly from the stream’s surface, leaving just a tiny halo as the lone 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, a large brown trout erupted from the river and exchanged my fly for its secret.

You see, My Spot—the place where the unknowing fisherman stood—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 splendor of My Spot 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 about this place, and I knowingly lie, mislead and evade to keep it that way.

My unwelcome guest continued to wade upstream, but if he walked back 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 return the next day. As I always do, though, I walked downstream and out of sight of My Spot, then entered the woods and circled back toward my car. Treachery is, after all, one of my finest fishing skills. While walking along a small game trail about one hundred yards from the river, I heard a branch snap near the water.

It was the man. The Amateur. The Bumbler. But something was different now. He didn’t bumble. Instead, he slowly picked his way along a winding path through the bushes and branches, then emerged beside the river and stared precisely at the place where—only 30 minutes before—he had waded carelessly and cast unremarkably.

A fish rose. 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 downstream, then disappeared through the ring of a barely perceptible rise. He lifted his rod to set the hook, and a large trout took to the air twice before boring hard for the undercut bank. And there on a game trail about one hundred yards away, The Greenhorn watched in disbelief.

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