by Tim Martin

If you're looking for a fishing story about purer-than-pure fly-rod aficionados or the politically correct world of catch-and-release, forget it. This article contains no such beauty. It has no angling philosophy by Izaak Walton, no enchantments of nature by Norman McClean, no Orvis-bedecked men standing in a wild river and joined to nature by a thread of silk.

This is a cheap and tawdry tale of exploitation. I apologize and understand completely should you choose to abandon the story right here.

The first character in our story is Bob Anderson of Orinda, Calif. Bob is a quiet and cold-blooded fisherman, organized, very serious and extremely cautious.

Our second character is John Rehermann of Marysville, California. John is a sometimes rancher with nothing in his personal life to distract him from a daily life of leisure, nothing in his emotional makeup to undermine his pursuit of sport fishing -- in short, there is nothing controllable that he will fail to control.

Our third character (who wishes to remain anonymous) is a guy who drives tent pegs with his pole and puts wind knots in his line each time he casts. He is a once-a-year fisherman who is way, way out of his league with the above-mentioned anglers.

The fishing trip, it should be noted, takes place on the Smith River. The Smith is a river with purling ripples, winking depths and one heck of a lot of trout. The fishermen are out to show their wives who among them can bring home the most impressive catch of the day. If life simply proceeds according to logic, to pattern, to form, both Bob and John will out-fish the nameless fisherman, swiftly and without fail.

It starts before they have placed the boat in the water. Bob and John are busy preparing their gear, attaching hooks and sinkers, testing leaders and running fingers along the monofilament, checking for nicks and abrasions. A small but necessary ritual for two men who consider themselves professionals of the sport.

They have come well prepared. Their tackle boxes are loaded to the gills with Jitterbugs and Hula-Hoppers, Rebels and Daredevils, Bottom Bumpers and Flatfish. There are beadhead nymphs, Wolly Buggers and plastic worms in every color of the rainbow. There are teensy hooks covered in chinchilla down, flies covered in lemur lint and a thousand other fishing do-dads and what-nots.

The unnamed fisherman has brought along a $5.98 Kmart rod and reel combination, and little else.

The engine sings, small waves slap at the hull. There is not another fisherman in sight. One is as likely to bump into a Sasquatch as another human being along the gravel-strewn banks of the Smith.

The motor sputters to a stop. They have arrived.

There is the sound of splashing, the sweet elision of breaking water. Big, hungry trout are feeding all around the boat, their tails winking impertinently in the sun. Lines go over the side and within seconds Bob and John are pulling in fish. With sweaty palms the unidentified fisherman flips a hard-to-resist appetizer toward the shore. It will be pleasantly cool in the shady places where the roots of the willows become mossy near the bank, he reasons, and therefore littered with trout.

He catches nothing.

The boat drifts slowly along, eddying with the water. John is straight-line casting, slack-line casting, reach casting and roll casting. Each time his spinner hits the water, he lands a trout the size of a toaster oven.

Bob makes enormous casts with his graphite rod -- 75, 80 feet of line spill from the rod's tip, uncoil lazily over the water and lands gently on the surface. Each cast yields another fish.

The not-identified-by-name fisherman's straight line casts go straight up in the air. He hooks five "tree trout" in four minutes. A record of sorts.

But he's not about to give up. Any cringing wonk or taut sphincter can give up. The unknown fisherman has a secret plan. He puts it into action and immediately his rod is a pulsing bow, the taut line cutting zigzags through the still water.

He has actually hooked a trout!

When he has pumped the fish into landing range, he kneels on one knee and snatches it from the water. The fish is a beauty, fully 18 inches in length.

Rehermann makes a "mmh-mmh-mmh" sound that says the wonders never cease.

Was the catch only a stroke of luck? A malicious trick played by a strange god with a warped sense of humor? Before there is time to consider, it happens again -- a strike so wild and powerful and savage it scares everyone in the boat. The Kmart rod takes an alarmingly deep bend and the fish jumps out of the water with a wonderful kind of energy and hangs in the air like Michael Jordan, momentarily exempt from the laws of gravity.

The innominate fisherman's luck is unbelievable. Within the next hour he catches his limit. In his excitement, a paper cup falls from the pocket of his coat. He stands exposed.

"Worms!" says Bob, holding up the container. "He's bait fishing! The guys in Trout Unlimited would stone him for a heretic."

The no-name fisherman has been caught flagrante delicto, a Latin phrase that translates to "while the crime is blazing," but he remains unruffled. He knows that the Smith River, like all local rivers, has no restrictions on bait fishing. He also knows that he has outfished his companions.

Of course, the anonymous fisherman is still no expert. He would be the first to admit that. But during the long ride home with his friends, he will be working on the most important part of his angling technique: bragging.

Timothy Martin is a heating and ventilation specialist at Humboldt State University when he's not out running or -- ah-- fishing.