Coffee and Secrets

by | Dec 4, 2019 | 48 comments

The clerk at the convenience store seemed frustrated. No doubt, he’d had a long shift, punctuated by the challenges of a demanding late-night crowd after the bars let out. He’d probably built a dozen gas station subs and dunked cheeses, meats and sliced potatoes into stale fryer grease all night long and was entirely sick of customer service. His late-shift duties surely had him cleaning everything from the cooler glass to the toilet seats, and he knew exactly how many minutes he had left before clocking out — probably at 6:00 am. I knew this was the end of his shift and not the beginning, because it’s easy to notice these things if you’ve ever done similar work in your life.

He looked at me for the first time and asked if all I wanted was the coffee. I nodded while I saw him spot the fishing logo on my coat, along with the lenses hanging around my neck and my windburned face.

“Are you fishing in this?” the kid asked with some excitement. (I’m old enough to call someone in their twenties a kid now.) He motioned toward the double doors and past the ice-melting salt pellets that he’d surely spent time spreading over the sidewalk. It was early December, and the first mix of thick, wet snow had come a little earlier than usual. Because weather forecasts are now entertainment and not real news, a short but weak cold front had been manufactured into a mini-drama that had all the locals stocking up on milk, bread and Slim Jims the day before.

I stared at the clerk for a moment and sized him up. Was he grumpy because of the job, mad at the world or just needing something more out of life? I decided on the latter.

“Yeah, man.” I answered. “It’s gorgeous out there, right now. Do you fish?” I asked. I peeled back the plastic tab on the coffee lid and burned my finger enough to know that I should let the steam escape before daring my first drink.

“Yeah,” the kid nodded. “But I didn’t know trout would eat in the winter. Are you fishing over on the big river?” he asked. We both looked east, through the double doors and over the rolling mountains of stacked spruce trees. The peaks were tall enough to block the sunrise for another hour or two, but the morning was already turning from the black of night to the mixed blues of pre-dawn.

I stared back and sized him up again. No longer grumpy, the kid’s eyes were lit up at the thought of trout fishing. And I liked that.

I consider myself to be friendly enough, sometimes — kind of. But if I’m asked a question like, “How’s the fishin’, mister?” by a stranger, I’m more likely to answer with something that discourages further investigation and changes the subject. My friend, Smith, chuckles, because I give the same reply every time: “It was slow, man. Caught a couple of rock bass though.” (This, in the heart of cold water trout country.)

I wasn’t quite sure why I’d asked the kid if he fished in the first place. But there was something about him that compelled me to share. And here I was, about to give up a guarded secret.

“Do you have a piece of paper back there?” I asked. “I’ll show you something.”

“Sure!” he said.

The kid reached behind the counter. Then he slid a lime-green menu across to me and turned it upside down. He looked eager.

I raised my eyebrows.

“Pencil?” I asked.

“Oh, yeah,” he stammered. “Sure.”

The kid fumbled through his company-vest pockets before producing something I could write with. Then I began to draw a map while I asked him a question.

“Ever been down Cole Road?” I said.

“Yeah, we partied back there in high school,” the kid admitted sheepishly.

“Ah, so those are your beer cans,” I said with a smile. And he loosened up a bit.

“Well, that gate is never actually locked, and it’s not a dead end.” I said while I kept drawing. “It’s state land beyond where you guys had your keg parties.”

“Really?” he asked. “Are you sure.”

“Sure, I’m sure.” I nodded as I formed the outside bend of a riverbank with the pencil.

“So there are three big rocks on the north side of the ridge off the tram road. Park there.” I tapped on the edge of the green menu and looked up at the kid. Then I drew a line down to the river bend. “It’s a hell of a walk down a steep mountain. And I wouldn’t say there’s anything like a path, really. But you’ll find your way down to the river with a little ambition. Know what I mean?” I asked him.

“Yeah, I do,” he said. “My Dad and I hunted in that area a couple times when I was a kid — up on the ridge though.”

“Right . . .” I interjected. I tapped the menu at the riverbank again. “You can hear the fast water on this river bend from all the way up on the mountaintop, especially when the leaves are off.”

The kid nodded and studied my pencil lines on the menu.

I made a dark X on the downstream side of the bend. “The whole thing is good, but that bottom end is something you don’t want to miss.”

Then I laid the pencil on the menu and slid the lime-green paper back across the counter before picking up my coffee.

I stared at the kid for another moment, still sizing him up. He smiled a lot and said thank you a few times, like I’d just given him an early Christmas gift.

“Sure thing.” I nodded and turned to leave.

At the double doors and by the bucket of ice-melt, I paused for a moment and looked at the kid’s reflection in the glass. He was still behind the counter, waiting for his shift to end and now possibly making fishing plans.

I looked back at him again.

“Hey, don’t tell anybody else about that spot, alright?” I asked. “But enjoy it. It’s a great little out-of-the-way slot in the valley that no one else really gets down into.”

“Yeah, for sure.” Thanks again!” he said.

“Yup. And if you see my truck there, come find me and we’ll fish together.”

“Alright, you got it!” he said. The kid looked happy.

A couple of months later, the opposite happened. I drove down Cole Road and was surprised to find fresh tracks in the new snow beyond the gate. I followed the tire tracks to the three rocks and recognized the white Jeep Wrangler as the only other car that had been in the lot that snowy morning at the gas station.

After making my way down the icy ravine, I found the kid fishing by himself in the valley, just downstream of where I’d made the X on the lime-green menu.

From fifty yards away, we easily recognized each other, and we both waved. The kid waded to shore as I approached, thanking me again.

“Forget that,” I said. “I’m glad you found it. So tell me how you like winter fishing.”

The kid took off his fishing pack and pulled out a thermos. He poured steaming coffee into the lid and handed it to me as he drank from the thermos.

Then we sat on a snowy log and told fishing stories.

 

 

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

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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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48 Comments

  1. Excellent reading material Domenick!

    Reply
    • Thanks, Gary.

      Reply
  2. Now that’s a good story! You seem to have hooked the largest catch in your life.

    From the perspective of the clerk, having an experienced person take the time to lead you to a positive experience has two positive outcomes. First, they are hooked on the sport. Second, there is a strong likelihood in the years to come that they will emulate it.

    Reply
    • True

      Reply
  3. I greatly enjoyed this story. I get as much or more enjoyment out of helping other “kids” catch fish – ethically – as I do myself.
    Thanks

    Reply
    • ALMOST as much, for me. Ha.

      Dom

      Reply
  4. Great read Domenick. Not all heroes wear capes.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Bart.

      Reply
  5. I am thoroughly enjoying your stories! Thank you for sharing them.

    Reply
    • Cheers. Thanks for reading.

      Reply
  6. What a great story , and as always , so well told! Thank you!

    Reply
    • Thank you, Danny.

      Reply
  7. Dom , Your tales allow me
    to visualize the events which makes them especially enjoyable. Did you ever contact your old English professor?

    Reply
    • I have not. But your idea was a good one.

      Reply
  8. Thanks for the good read.

    Reply
    • Thanks for reading, Nick.

      Reply
  9. Thanks for the story and Awareness.
    Early thoughts this morning was how nice to do fishing research and using that trip as a business expense.
    Maybe I will see some of your friends at the Denver Fly fishing show. The Pennsylvania guys.
    Merry Christmas, Dom.

    Reply
    • Merry Christmas, Bob.

      Reply
  10. Nice Story. This is a big part of the experience of fly fishing. No need to mention how many fish caught or what flies used. Sometimes its just about being out there on the water

    Reply
    • True

      Reply
  11. Dom, this was a truly wonderful read while enjoying my coffee in front of the fireplace this morning. Glad to hear helping out a kid find a fishing spot and then to actually run in to him. Sounds like you made a new friend. All the best this Holiday season.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Ty. Same to you.

      Dom

      Reply
  12. Great story. I like how you managed to share the good fishing spot with the kid in the article, but still keep it a secret from your readers….HAHA. Jk man. Keep it up. Your blog is awesome. I consider Troutbitten the example of what a fly fishing blog should be. Thanks.

    Reply
    • I appreciate that.

      Dom

      Reply
  13. Very nice read, provided a wonderful break from work!

    Reply
    • Ha! Good.

      Reply
  14. Sweet! Extra special to see a nice result of your good deed. And hot coffee to top it off. You will both remember this warmly for the rest of your lives.

    Reply
    • Definitely

      Reply
  15. Great story Dom. Hope to see you soon after we’ve settled into our recent move to MA.

    Reply
    • Great!

      Reply
  16. Great story. Sharing what you like to do is usually rewarding to both parties.

    Reply
    • That’s true.

      Reply
  17. That kid will remember that day long after. I know because I was that kid many years ago too and the kindness others have shown me was crucial in my early days.

    Reply
    • Same here.

      Reply
  18. Nothing more rewarding than sharing a secret spot and not getting burnt. That’s a good kid in my book.

    Reply
    • Well, he hasn’t spot burned it yet. And that’s nice.

      Reply
  19. What an awesome story Domenick, especially at this time of the year. Your gift to that kid will keep on giving. What a nice way to brighten someone’s day.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Gary.

      Reply
  20. I enjoy reading your column and this one in particular is very good. Keep it up.. Have a great holiday

    Reply
    • Thanks, Terry. Same to you.

      Reply
  21. What a nice story! And the next time the local entertainment, I mean weather-people, predict one of their “Impact Days” – don’t forget the toilet paper!:)

    Reply
    • Okay, sir.

      Reply
  22. Thanks Dom, needed something nice like that, to many gray rainy/snowy days here.

    Reply
    • Oh man. I love gray, rainy, snowy days.

      Reply
  23. And that’s what it’s all about.

    Reply
    • Sometimes it is.

      Cheers.

      Dom

      Reply
  24. Great stuff Dominic.

    Reply
  25. This is great! I feel the same way about divulging spots…….jonesers can sense fellow jonsers pretty easily.

    Reply

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