It was hard to ignore his expeditious, purposeful gait as he made his way along the shore. Toting a large arbor saltwater reel married to a nine-foot fly rod, donned head to toe in Orvis, Patagonia and Filson, the contrast between him and his fellow fishermen was blinding.
Four blue-jeaned, flannel-clad locals stood between me and the bridge, all of whom respected the fact I’d beaten them to the preferred eddy, and provided a healthy berth of about 50 yards. They offered a wave to the man as he passed without so much as a head nod in return.
With an abrupt right-face, the newcomer trudged his way into the water and stopped less than 20 feet to my right. My bewildered stare was met with a dismissive, blank look as he began to ready his gear.
This particular striped bass spot is known locally to fish well during the second half of an incoming tide and provides easy public access to those who know about it. I’d arrived hours earlier in order to secure a position, passing the time waiting for prime fishing to arrive by listening to music, enjoying a sandwich and soaking up the fading rays of a late-June sun.
As soon as the current shifted and began to form the eddy, I started tossing a popper at a 45-degree angle to my right and up current, allowing it to float along the seam before stripping it back across the calmer water. It was well before the current would be perfect, and usher in what is often a fast and furious bite, but there was no harm in warming up a bit. Besides, you can’t catch fish if your lure isn’t in the water.
After an hour or so, the current picked up, as did my anticipation and excitement. Prime time was finally here, and with it my not-so-considerate new fishing partner. He watched me make several casts then made a couple of his own — nearly directly over my line. Less than five minutes later, he was within 15 feet of me, sending a large pink streamer fly on top of my popper over and over.
Finally, I’d had enough. Arms stretched wide open, I turned toward him and barked out, “Hey! A little courtesy, pal? I’ve been here for hours. There’s plenty of shore to find your own spot.” The man looked at me, smirked and, without saying a word, continued on with his casts. My blood boiled, my jaw clenched and my right eyebrow raised. Who the heck did this guy think he was?
The way I figured things, as most fishermen do, was that until my departure, the spot including all water reachable by my casts belonged to me. But was I correct in that belief? Whether a pond, lake, stream or, in this case, a tidal falls, is it reasonable or acceptable to exercise angling dominion over any specific chosen spot?
We fishermen are a possessive lot. We tend to stake claim to a stretch of water, a cove, a shoreline or an otherwise favored area. Most often, the sense of exclusivity lasts only during our time there, but other situations such as regular use or discovery of a “secret” spot allow us a selfish belief in perpetual sole rights.
But what if someone else discovers your “secret” spot and you find them there? What if another savvy fisherman reads the current correctly as you do and casts accordingly? Is their lure or fly a trespass into “your” water?
And what of guides? Do fishing guides engaging in commerce hold license to prevent recreational fishermen from enjoying productive fishing areas? What if you paid a fishing guide a fair rate, plus tip, to float a stretch of river and hook a few trophy-class trout, then the following day you return with a buddy to the same spot on your own to enjoy some excellent fishing?
In general, the well-intentioned, respectful, conscientious fisherman will defer to what is objectively courteous and reasonable. Given the opportunity, and despite their likely vexation, most will offer up a “Good luck!” with a wave as they pass by. As for my new fly-fishing friend, he got what was coming to him.
The knee-high water splashed with both steps I took toward him and the arrogant smirk he wore moments earlier was replaced with a timid look of concern. In a moment of clarity, I took a breath and smiled. The man had just as much right to be there as I did, regardless of dedication, sportsmanship or courtesy.
“Good luck to you,” I told him as I turned and walked away.
The spot was no more mine than his, or anyone else’s for that matter. Any confrontation or argument was uncalled for and would only ruin a beautiful evening of fishing.
I had gone there to hear the rush of the water, to feel the pebbles beneath my feet, to strip a popper across the surface of the Atlantic and to experience the exhilaration of a 30-inch striper exploding from the depths like a stick of dynamite. All of which I was able to do — 50 yards up the shore.