Respect the spots, man! | A fisherman’s thoughts on friendship and spot burning

by | Sep 26, 2017 | 42 comments

There are two ways to tell the experience of an angler: how he holds a fish and how he keeps his secrets. The latter is probably more important.

My secrets aren’t your secrets. The places and dreams that I find sacred and worthy of protection are likely much different than your own. Among good friends, though, the respect for another’s treasure is given. It’s hard to find a good fishing partner who yields to this tenet — to find a friend who will protect your secrets like his own — because secrets are a burden to carry, and most choose to shed that weight and give up a prize that isn’t theirs.

So we come to accept that holding secrets is a lonely affair, and that’s okay for me and the other introverts — of which I think the majority of the fishermen’s gene pool is comprised. It’s the damned extroverts that you have to be wary of. It’s the gregarious guy whose off-hand remarks about a river can sink the best of spots.

As most of us quickly realize, good fishing friends are hard to come by.

Photo by Austin Dando


Some fishermen claim not to see the point in all this secrecy, but inevitably, they are anglers with less experience. Their willingness to dump information across the bar after a few drinks or post it to their Instagram account betrays their greenness, because any veteran angler understands that what you might not think is a secret today may evolve into your most cherished spot tomorrow.

Loathsome is the angler who guards his own secrets like a vault but will spill the beans about anything he’s told, having no respect for another’s cherished spot. Worse yet is the guy who relentlessly barrages his friend for information. He wants specifics and has no intention of letting up. He packs you full of guilt for not sharing, expecting that you’ll eventually surrender. Of course, when you hold your ground he takes offense — and he still keeps pushing.

I once watched a good friend dodge and counter question after prodding question from one of these guys. Until he finally leaned in and barked at the interrogator: “You gotta respects the spots, man!”

A seasoned angler intuitively understands the vulnerability of a river. Spot burning is a real thing with real consequences. And even some gregarious extroverts understand the fisher’s code about secrets once it’s explained: respect the spots — for others, if not for yourself. The best of them empathize with this concept.

So, most of us are looking for a friend who will respect the spots that we keep close and who won’t harass us for more information when we show a guarded door.

Photo by Chris Kehres

The naive retort of those young at this game is also predictable:

“It’s not a secret,” they say. “It’s public water. Everyone knows about that river.”

Ahhh, but everyone doesn’t really know, do they?

Some river secrets are tucked far away, deep inside a steep valley, shaded with mystery. They’re protected by long distances from easy access and by the average angler’s propensity for convenience. Other secrets lie in plain site, on wildly popular waters with names that every fisherman knows from the guide books. But local knowledge flushes out select spots on popular waters — with specific techniques to match — that the passing tourist will never discover. And you can’t pay a good guide enough money to ever reveal them (unless he’s the gregarious extroverted type.)

Because an angler’s trust grows slowly, it’s taken me years to share some of my best fishing secrets with friends. And some of those secrets, I’ll never surrender.

Read: Troutbitten | The Secret

Photo by Chris Kehres


Here’s a pro-tip about secrets, from a secretive non-pro.

The best way to protect a secret is to pretend there isn’t one.

When someone mentions your favorite honey hole, your heart may start to race, but you should show no fear. Don’t get all dodgy and jittery. Instead, look him straight in the eye and immediately deflect and discourage. Act like it’s no big deal. Remember, deflect and discourage. Say something like this …

“Yeah, I’ve fished Laurel Run a good bit. I really like Rough Creek the next valley over. It just seems to fish better.”

There’s the deflection. And now, discourage …

“Laurel Run just doesn’t seem worth the time it takes to get back in there.”

Mission accomplished. Is that a damned lie? Is it dishonest to lead someone up a river that you know fishes poorly? Sure it is. But it takes a little forethought and calculated deception to preserve some secrecy in this wide open world.

Fish hard, friends.


Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky


Photo by Chris Kehres


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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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  1. The corollary for beginners: find your own secrets. The true honey holes and sweet spots will never come from your smart phone, just thoughtful time on the water.

  2. Yes! Tell them to go fish the stream or section. “Go fish it, I fished it once but didn’t do very well so I don’t fool with it anymore.” Most likely they will go to their familiar grounds and not risk the chance of a bad day. Accurate article as always.

  3. So where, exactly, on Laurel Run is your honey hole? Seriously, you make an excellent point. I share my “secrets” with very few people, ones who I know will not feel the need to spread the word. And, occasionally, I engage in “soft” lies (or “soft” truth”), as in, “I got all my fish upstream of here” when “upstream” means a mile away.

  4. Where is this Laurel Run you often mention? Is it in PA? Just curious.

  5. I have no eloquent response – you said it all. And yes! Sometimes those best spots on famous rivers are the ones everyone drives right passed.
    The place a careless introvert CAN betray you is in the public photo. Posted in silence, but way too much background….

  6. Good article, I totally agree. Learned my lesson many years ago when I took a buddy to one of my “secret spots”. I thought I stressed how special this place was to me. Months later this buddy came to me sheepishly to tell me that he had taken one of his buddies to the same spot, who in turn took one of his buddies, a real yahoo, to “my spot”. Among other things, this Yahoo would practice catch and release by throwing fish sky high to watch them splat on the water. Lesson learned!

  7. Nicely written and well said.

    Spots are nice, no doubt; I have a couple. But the older I get the more I find it’s less about the spots and more about fishing with the same couple of good friends. We’ve been fishing alongside one another all these years now, keeping each others secrets and having a great time showing each other the new ones. We’re getting older, slower, and wading more shallow now. There will always be a ‘spot’, but there won’t always be the friends to share the secret with; even the fishless days now seem special to me.

  8. “Some river secrets are tucked far away, deep inside a steep valley, shaded with mystery. They’re protected by long distances from easy access and by the average angler’s PROPENSITY for CONVENIENCE.” Great line. I had a guy one time ask me for GPS coordinates of where I caught a fish.

  9. You do realize you display traits of a psychopath? And I’m not joking.

  10. I disagree completely. Some fishermen may not to see the point in SHARING spots, but inevitably, they are anglers with less experience. I have taken great pleasure in putting people (friends and message board posters) on to my hot spots, then hearing back about how well they’ve done. Experienced, confident anglers have no fear they won’t catch fish due to “spot-burning”.

    • Hi Jake.

      I like your thoughts there. And I respect what you’re saying.

      Two things:

      First, it’s not a fear that we won’t be able to catch fish when others are now fishing the spot. It’s a fear that the wonderful loneliness of a spot will be gone. That’s what it’s about — not how many fish we can catch, but rather how much we can escape from what we want to get away from. Nothing to do with the confidence or skill of the angler.

      Second, you may not care about spot burning. I get that. I know plenty of guys aren’t worried about it. But I made this point at the beginning of the article: It isn’t really about you as much as your friend who also loves the spot. My point is that if you know a spot that your friend wishes to keep a secret, then it’s cool to keep that secret for him.

      Again, I get where your’re coming from. I share a lot. I love putting friends on fish, and sharing info. BUT, there will always be spots that I don’t tell anyone else about. Not so I can catch all the fish there, but so I have a place that I really feel like is my own. It’s just something about the way I like to be out there.

      This story explains it:

      Thanks for the thoughts, Jake. I like hearing how differently we all see the river.


  11. Hahaha, Domenick. Your story reminds me of my last two summers looking for trout in the Pyrenees of Catalonia. In total, I spent a little more than two weeks looking for places to fish over a broad swath of territory. Because it was DIY, I had no guides taking me to sweet spots. Info was almost impossible to obtain, and I’m a fluent Spanish speaker. I had a few days of OK fishing, nothing special. On the last day, on the 4th of July, I found a piece of water about 3/4 of a mile in length, made up of runs and pools and pocket water, and absolutely stuffed with trout. In the heat of the day, I fished hoppers and PMX’s and stimulators and probably landed more than 20 gorgeous fish. But I couldn’t hook the big one I saw – a heart-stopping behemoth who might’ve gone 25 inches, the freaking Charlemagne of the river. Naturally, I photographed the spot with my iPhone, and used all the Google map and Google Earth tools to record this location, and jotted down notes just in case!!!! It’s my most super-secret fishing spot on earth, hard-won and dearly paid-for.

  12. My favorite dateline on my occasional fishing stories is SOMEWHERE IN NORTHWEST CONNECTICUT.

    Half the fun is exploring on your own.

  13. Dom, man you spot burned me in this! Here I thought Laurel Run was all mine. Good article. I tell no one where I go. Except the LeTort. I always tell folks when I fish there.

  14. Excellent point. When i was a beginner my buddies friend took us to the local honey hole which he learned from a guide buddy. Its a technical water so it took me years to learn what flies to use what part of the water column to fish. From day to month. I have a journal so when i take someone close to me there I can always make sure they have a good adventure. When they have gone back themselves the luck hasn’t been the same and since its a trek most seem to leave it alone. If not for the years learning how to fish this water it would be just a local legend where big trout hangout on the way to bigger waters. I am grateful for the chance that a local took to show my buddy and I a true gem for years to come. The big boys are there if you know how and where on the water column they hangout.

  15. Domenick,
    I feel exactly the same way. So much so, that I made a video about it last year…Secrets and Why I keep them. Gotta respect the spots. The effort to find them and the fact that they are likely to be someone else’s secret too. I you get a chance to check it out, here is the link! Tight Lines and thanks so much for the thoughtful blog, I love reading your articles!

    • Hi Kirby,

      Good stuff. I like your videos. I’ve seen many.

      I’ll mention this, only as a caution — other anglers will find your locations if you have them in videos. Experienced fishermen around here can tell where I fish just from some of the pics I include in articles. I’m okay with that. But I’m very careful about what I share, just knowing that it’s extremely easy for others to pick out locations from pics and videos.


      • Very true. Well said. I figure if someone is willing to go through what I go through to find those spots, they deserve to fish there. It’s the fisherman who just want the GPS coordinates that I have a hard time with. That said I appreciate your thoughts and enjoy the blog!

  16. Beginners like myself only have secrets from the one who gets home from work and gleefully asks “what did you do today?”How do you answer that when you fish 8 days a week?

  17. I went to Laurel yesterday actually,that’s all I have to say (oh yeah and confluence )Tight lines ladddies

  18. Sure i’m of your party: think twice (or more…) before pass a spot to a friend. Local infos are hard
    earned and with the shrinking opportunity we have to fish in quality places better be really cautios,
    choosing withattention the man who can share your gems with you.
    Looking at the photos of this site seems we like same things: peaceful and clean places, good fishes
    (but not necessarily monsters) and … possibly just one friend of us on the river, no other people and…
    the friend not so close to us !!!
    I got it Domenick?

    • Yeah, man. That’s just about right. Except — more monster trout is never a bad thing. Ha!

  19. I enjoy all your writings. This one , I’m not really sure what to make of it.. touchy subjects are sometimes best left alone , or maybe just kept out of print. Of coarse when you live in area like I do where there are few streams there are no secrets.

  20. Didn’t someone a long time ago recruit fishermen to tell THE secret.Some of you have to get over yourselves.It’s. fishing,it’s a blast share it.

  21. An excellent post, and especially topical if you fish in the crowded region of the Mid-Atlantic. Curious to see where some folks draw the line in determining a “spot.” Do guys frown on sharing creek names or just specific areas? My own rule of thumb is I try not to give up creeks that are small enough to skip a rock across. I’ll mention bigger waters, but I draw the line at specific locations. “Upstream of the bridge” is way more acceptable than “3/4 mile below the dam on river right.” What are others’ rules? Still figuring my own out sometimes…

  22. My deflection when someone mentions my favorite spot is to mention the copperhead that swam straight towards me both times I was fishing there.

  23. Where I live there are some very well known streams and I am more than happy to share tips and sections to put people on fish, especially those new to the game. The future of fly fishing and public water access depends on continual recruitment of a new generation of fly fishers.

    I keep the less well known streams with easy access a secret.

    There are some places that aren’t well known but the access requires such a brutal hike that I readily share them with people – if they can tough it out to make it to the stream my hat is off to them.

  24. I always enjoy your posts. Insightful and so true.


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