Tuesday, June 28, 2016


I hate calling fly shops. It takes a remarkable quantity of suppression to overcome my do-it-yourselfing nature and query a local expert for directions to success on foreign water that they’ve come about the hard way. And yes I know that’s what they’re there for.

Photo by Matt Reilly.
    The bulk of it is that my transient identity as a writer makes the dilemma all that much worse. I regularly set people straight on my life’s priorities—I’m an outdoor writer, which means I’m an outdoorsman first, a writer second. I’ve expended a substantial number of days--relative to my age--putting boots on the ground; finding the out-of-the-way, hidden spots that fish all the better for it; putting people on fish; and going out of my way to make sure those special places remain little more than carefully-crafted vignettes reserved for close conversation. What this more or less boils down to is that I have a darn-near medical aversion to shedding light on secrets, on pieces of this beautiful Earth somehow not already run over by human meddling, and to stepping on the feet of those locals who appreciate those spots on a regular basis or make their living revealing them to others in confidence.

    But, until I make the professional leap into the pool of the latter type of individual, who I have profound respect for, I resort to making money off of words and photographs of waters. A little ironic, isn’t it?

    I have a formula.

    This summer, the destinations I’ve chosen to write about are the furthest things from secrets I could find without writing the article another writer wrote for last month’s edition. The prime locations require a good deal of footwork to access, with the hopes that those willing to invest sweat are the kind to respect and protect the resource. However, though there may be plenty of existing information, I’m almost as allergic to writing about places I haven’t experienced thoroughly as I am giving away secrets. So, I spend my working days on the water taking photographs, flipping over rocks, fishing, and taking notes on said water, and my after/off hours fishing the places nearby that don’t have established fishing pressure and that I won’t tell you about.

    So yesterday I called the fly shop. With more than ten miles of water, not including tributaries, to check out in four days, I needed a logical place I could start with some kind of confidence. I talked to the young guy on the other end of the line like I knew him, because, at least as a fly shop worker, I did.

    “Don’t tell me any secrets, but do you have any suggestions as to good water on the…?”

    The question’s prefix is a formality. Having worked in a fly shop, I can say with confidence that you don’t give away any kind of true secret to a customer unless you’re on a first-name basis with their entire living family and attended some of their late relatives’ funerals. But you have your good information that a customer can tank to the bank and finish the day with fish-slimy hands. The young guy responded in such a way.

    The positive thing about out-of-town and first-time-on-this-piece fishing pressurers is that they live the tourist effect. You know the kind. Like how Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello may be the most popular spot in all of Charlottesville, but as locals, we have our own favorite haunts. What’s more, tourists sometimes randomly happen upon local gems that even some locals didn’t know about. It’s a real grab-bag, and there’s notable room for varying first impressions that either will, or won’t draw them back.

    And so it is with rivers and fishing them for the first time, and reporting on them, as I do. One day spent on a piece of water hardly serves as an accurate representation of a fishery. In the absence of streamflow gauges, you can’t precisely discern normal flow, water clarity, or temperature, and you surely don’t know where the best fish are, but you’ll go to Monticello until you realize you can get more Charlottesville elsewhere.

    So I invest as many days as I can to get a picture of the fishery for myself (however accurate it may be), and use that picture to qualify the opinions of local experts, guides, fly shop workers. There is no room for dishonesty in journalism.

    Thus, in fishing, I resort to cherry-picking, running-and-gunning, and pausing to put my time in where I think I should. That is, for now, and you may read about those rivers. But this time tomorrow I’ll be getting off an unnamed creek I spied on my way back to camp yesterday, with a head full of stories from rivers I won’t write.

*Originally published in the Rural Virginian

1 comment :

Mike p said...

Mat you hit the nail on the head as a local you never give up your true secret places, even if it's just that favorite place to eat because you will tell the one wrong person that secret and it get retold 100 times over. I feel blessed knowing I know someone that's close to me in your age category that I can trust a secret to. That's a true trait of a honorable man. Wonderful story I enjoyed reading it .