Given the fisherman’s long and celebrated history of lying, it stands to reason that most of us fish better when we’re alone. And that’s fine … to a degree.
A few weeks ago, after a day of fishing, my friend Paulie and I stood outside the bar next to our motel, debating whether or not we should go in. (I should tell you that Paulie and I are cheap.) We stay at this particular motel because it’s the least expensive in the area, even if it is a little remote and a tad shady. The other downside is that the adjoining bar is the only convenient place to get a beer after a long day of fishing — and it’s more than a tad shady.
“Okay, we’ll just get one beer, play a couple games of pool, and go back to the room,” Paulie said.
“I don’t know.” I was hesitant. “You remember what happened last year.”
Paulie peeked through the open door. “It’s a different bartender this time.”
“Well, that’s a good sign.”
The bartender we were afraid of was a brunette, 6 feet 2 inches tall, with tattoos covering carved muscles on top of even more carved muscles. Last year when an out-of-town guy about my size gave her some lip, she threw him through a closed window.
“And look at that,” Paulie said. “They haven’t fixed the window. If it gets rowdy and they want to toss a couple of out-of-towners out tonight, at least we’ll have clear sailing.”
“Well, that decides it,” I said. “Let’s go.”
Every head at the bar turned when we entered except for that of the woman seated in the corner, who was too intoxicated to lift hers out of a puddle of beer on the counter. Her companion, an enormous man wearing a T-shirt that read GUNS DON’T KILL PEOPLE. I KILL PEOPLE asked us where we were from. After we told him, he glanced at the broken window.
So we ordered two beers as fast as we could and double-timed it to the poolroom, which thankfully was empty. We made it just in time, too, because before we’d finished our first game the bartender and the guy who apparently “kills people” started to trade pointed expletives. Then a clean-cut man, wearing a Princeton sweatshirt, scurried from the bar into the room.
“Getting a little rowdy in there for my taste,” he said. “Say, you guys fishermen?”
“Yup,” we said.
“Great, I was hoping I’d find some fishermen. How’d you do today?”
“Not bad,” Paulie said. “We caught a few.”
The man chuckled. “Yeah,” he said, “I used to be satisfied with just a few fish myself. Of course, you guys are young. You probably haven’t been coming here very long.”
“Actually, we’ve been fishing here for about 10 years.”
“Is that right?” he said. “Well, I’m a pretty serious fisherman. I’ve fished all the top rivers. I guess I set my standard a little higher than most.”
“Well you must lower them a little here,” Paulie suggested. “I mean, these fish are notoriously tough to catch, right?”
“Oh, sure, they’re tougher here than on most rivers, but I never have any trouble catching 20 or 30 fish. If I don’t catch 20, I’m not happy. But you have to remember, I’m a pretty serious fisherman.”
“Well, we must not be serious enough,” I said. “We’re pretty happy if we just catch a few.”
“I’ll tell you what I’ll do for you guys: I’ll tell you my secret. The key is, you have to fish alone. You just can’t catch that many fish when there’s a bunch of other guys around flailing away at the water.”
* * * * *
The next morning, Paulie and I waded into a long pool where the trout were rising steadily. A little ways below us was another fisherman, casting sloppily and muttering to himself. He looked upriver and appeared shocked to see us. Sure enough, we could read the top half of the letters on his Princeton sweatshirt above his waders. Suddenly he wasn’t so talkative. He looked back out toward the rising fish and started casting frantically.
After about a half hour with no fish caught between the three of us, he retreated to the bank and approached us upriver. As he passed, I asked how he’d made out.
“Good, real good,” he said. “You guys missed the boat. I caught a bunch just before you got here.”
“Oh yeah. I’m heading for one of my secret spots now, though. No offense, but like I said last night, if you want to catch a lot of fish, you’ve got to fish alone.”
“No problem,” I said. “That, I’m sure, is true.”