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December 09, 2016
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(Not so) secret spots; Finding a favorite spot

Fishing a riff of one's own
Photo by Jeff White

The idea and possession of a “secret spot” has been an integral part of the fisherman’s lore since the first hook was tossed in the water. All anglers have at one time found themselves in a special place, devoid of other humans but plentiful with their finned quarry.

The quality of the fishing may be the allure of this magical place, but sometimes just the journey is enough to make it special—the harder or more unusual, the better. What defines a secret spot varies among different types of fishermen, but overall many are truly unknown and well-guarded, while others may be hidden in very plain sight.

Trout fishermen across the country always claim to have a stretch of a creek or river that only they know the way into, and it invariably produces big fish eager to take any fly or lure placed in the water. These sacred places are usually found only by driving on a rutted-out, mostly disused logging road to a trailhead that takes you another three miles into the wilderness (uphill both ways, of course) until reaching that pristine piece of water.

While this type of spot is more typical in rural areas with large tracts of public land, there are still those found within the fences of a small farm in the outskirts of the suburbs, or in that creek behind the neighborhood shopping center. Getting there (or knowing the owner) is part of what makes it so secret and the harder (or more exclusive) the access, the greater the pride in the “secret” water, regardless of how well it fishes.

Different from these trekkers is a type of bass fisherman who tends to stick to the larger lakes, usually afloat in a high-powered boat with every electronic gadget currently available. Members of this species of fisherman are known to take great pride in their secret spots or “holes.” Unlike a remote stretch of stream that requires a long hike, this place is usually a section or area on the lake that they know to hold true lunkers.

These areas can be everything from underwater humps to back bays with an unseen channel running through their depths, attracting the larger fish with food and shelter. Anglers have been known to place these spots on their GPS devices, and guard them with the vigor of a Secret Service agent protecting the president. Spots are rarely even shared with close acquaintances, and if another fisherman is seen while heading to this spot, they will quickly pick up anchor in an attempt at a feint, fishing a different, less productive area until the threat of discovery has passed. This amuses me to this day, having witnessed it firsthand upon many occasions.

In my own fishing across this country, I’ve had my fair share of spots that I considered secret and special. Some of them are truly secret waters, miles into the mountains from the nearest road, while others see tons of anglers who just happen to walk right by where I like to fish.

The West Branch of the Delaware is what I consider to be my home waters, and I feel I know virtually every bump, boulder and run by name. This river is far from a secret, as it is one of the best trout streams in the country. There is plenty of public access, and it is fished frequently by a goodly number of anglers, meaning that the existence of a pure, true, secret spot is virtually impossible.

As this is the case, I feel I can safely reveal one without repercussion. On the Upper West Branch, there are two Pennsylvania State Game Land public access points on the Penn-York Road. Once you reach the water’s edge from the lower access, you will be greeted by a shallow run with an island about 40 yards across the river. On the other side of this island is my (not-so) secret spot: Elephant Rock—a huge boulder partially on shore and in the water that is so named because it appears wrinkled like an elephant’s hide.

Not only is it hard to see from the opposite shore, but plenty of anglers will pass by this run due to its depth, and the difficulty it poses in presenting a fly. This intimidates many, making it a fairly ignored stretch, as secret a spot as you can get on such pressured waters. The hatches can be tremendous, and there are plenty of big browns and rainbows lurking in the swirling depths below this rock, which are two other factors that make me hold it in such high esteem.

Of course I have many other spots I consider secret that are overlooked by the weekend warrior and career guide as well. These are hidden rocks, small channels buried in a large flat, or just a seam that looks completely unproductive. They are spots that I know hold fish, and places that make me turn into the above mentioned bass-man—casting in the opposite direction from the fish, moving the boat or walking away at the first glimpse of another angler.

Feel free to ask me about these, as I may give up their location. Okay, not really. We all need our secret spots, after all.

[Bart Larmouth is general manager of the Delaware River Club (DRC) located in Starlight, PA. He also authors DRC’s daily blog and river reports. He is certified as a casting instructor by the Federation of Fly Fishers.]