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

September 26, 2017


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 OK 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 keep 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.

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky

Photo by Chris Kehres


What do you think?

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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.

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.

Alex Argyros

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.


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

Bryan Allison

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….

Bob Garman

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!

Mike M

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.

“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.


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

Domenick Swentosky

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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