After a lifetime of what he calls "furtive fishing," Keith Walters was astonished to find late in life a place where fishermen don't lie or dissemble.
Walters took early retirement from NASA, where he was a photographer, and moved to the Eastern Shore of Maryland a few years ago. A dedicated saltwater fisherman, he hoped that by spending long hours on the water he'd find a few good spots for perch, rockfish and blues.
But he wasn't expecting any help.
Walters was used to the Western Shore philosophy of Chesapeake Bay fishing, which, he said, includes an outright ban on divulging either successful places or techniques, lest the masses move in and gobble up all the fish.
Walters admits that he, himself, was a master at faking failure. He could look bored even in the process of boating a big fish, so as not to attract attention from nearby boats. "We would keep our rod tips in the water and sip coffee while we fought a fish, then sneak it in over the side so nobody could see what was going on," he said.
With that kind of background, Walters was startled when soon after moving to Bozman, which is on Broad Creek near St. Michaels, a neighbor began regaling him with descriptions of great fishing spots nearby.
Even the folks chewing the fat at the country store at the end of Walters' lane would spill their guts about crabbing and fishing hot spots, he said.
It wasn't long before Walters realized he hadn't died and gone to heaven -- he'd just finally found a place where fish still outnumbered people. He quickly became a guru of nonfurtive fishing.
He began writing a fishing column for a local advertising handout called "The Attraction," in which he shares the knowledge gained from his free-speaking friends. In the May issue, he also shared his furtive-fishing credo: "Fishing furtivity is directly proportional to the formidability of the fishing fleet and the fewness of the fish."
But the little local audience that came with The Attraction was just a warmup crowd. Now, Walters has gone national. The May issue of Saltwater Sportsman includes a feature article, illustrated with color photographs, in which he describes in glowing detail the white perch holes of LaTrappe Creek, the next creek off the Choptank River above Broad Creek.
The article caught my attention, since I'm always on the lookout for a good perch hole. Now that rockfish have been banned in a statewide moratorium, white perch are about the top delicacy available from Maryland portions of the bay, even though they generally are small.
I called Walters and asked the obvious.
"Are you mad?" I said. "Now, you won't be able to pry your way into LaTrappe Creek on a weekend with a sledgehammer and an ice pick."
But he said he'd been there just that day and seen not another boat. "People aren't going to drive all this way for perch," he said.
Walters said the fishing hadn't been so hot in LaTrappe that day, but he'd gone across the river to another creek and caught more than 100 perch in a couple of hours, and kept about 40 jumbos in the 10- to 12-inch range.
"Want to come over and try it?" he asked. "I'll show you my good spots. Just name the day."
So on Tuesday I drove over to Bozman and, true to his word and without the slightest regard for the timeless principles of fishing secretiveness and guile, Walters took me directly to the best white perch spot I have ever seen.
On my third cast, using a tiny Mister Twister-type spinnerbait, I hooked a little rockfish, which turned out to be about the only fish we returned all morning. Thereafter, on just about every other cast, we caught perch so consistently large that when we got them home we decided to filet them, rather than gutting and scaling and cooking them whole.
Interestingly, we were fishing again in a creek other than LaTrappe, although Walters insisted we probably could have done just as well there.
I thanked him for the wonderful day and silently thanked him again that night when the family feasted on white perch filets dipped in egg and milk, dusted with pancake mix and sauteed to snow-white perfection.
I did ask Walters if there was anything I could do in return for him.
"Just one thing," he said. "Don't mention in your story exactly where we were. You can just say, 'a creek off the Choptank,' " which is the truth.
And which also proves that while a reformed furtive fisherman Walters is, crazy he ain't.