By Mike Carey
“The darn (internet, Facebook groups, fishing reports web site, insert your nemesis here) has ruined another good fishing spot. These guys have done more to ruin fishing than anything!”
Ever since the advent of books and magazines there has taken place a battle between two factions in the angling community. Those who want to share information and techniques with others, and those who curse the release of such information. Indeed, even before the mass publication of books, magazines, and maps, giving away a personal spot could be seen as treason. After over twenty years of negotiating the fine line between these two groups I have come to some observations of my own on this topic. I have pondered the issue often and have some thoughts about the subject I’d like to share. Along the way it may just change the way you look at fishing as well.
First, I’ll offer my own disclaimer. As an editor, writer, and video producer of a fishing web site, YouTube page, Facebook Group, and TV show, I’m firmly in the camp of sharing information being a good thing. This position over the years has caused a lot of grief to come my way, including threats to my person and damage of property. It’s even led to me going in front of a judge and obtaining a restraining order for one, shall we say, “Unstable” individual. When these occurrences happen my wife shakes her head and asks “Seriously? It’s just a fish. These people are nuts.” Yes, it is just a fish, but it shows just how high passions can run when someone thinks their recreational activity is being ruined. And with the seemingly never-ending closures of hatcheries, reduced seasons, and lost fishing opportunities there certainly is reason enough to look for and lash out at any reason that one’s fishing hole has been
Let’s start with a basic truth. It’s natural to want to show off when you do something well or have great success. That goes for any sport or endeavor, not just fishing. But with the advent of the internet and most recently the explosion of Social Media, it seems you can’t avoid seeing someone somewhere holding up a big fish, or a lot of fish, proudly proclaiming “Look at me! Look what I did! I must be hot stuff!” The success of Facebook is testimony to this part of human nature.
Twenty years ago when I started WashingtonLakes.com my vision was a simple one – anglers sharing information with other anglers to improve their success on the water. The information could take the form of a location, a technique, or just a report to motivate and inspire someone to get off the couch, go fishing, and leave the TV off. Over the years the growth and success of the website proved that there are many who agree with this philosophy. With the advent of Social Media this idea further spread out to the latest realm, the Facebook Fishing Group. New Facebook fishing groups are popping up on a daily basis, further confirming the fact that humans love to share information and show off their fish catches.
These Groups are now dealing with issues we have faced for years – infighting. The Anti-Information crowd’s argument is basically “I worked hard to find these spots, or learn these techniques. You should put in your own effort and learn them yourself” And “every time some yahoo shares a spot, the next week it’s over-run by anglers. I’ll never reveal a spot on the internet!” Oddly self-serving, these sentiments are usually voiced by those who spend their time reading fishing groups and websites to glean information about where to go and what to use.
I’m going to examine those statements and argue the proposition that they are misguided and blaming the wrong cause for what they perceive as ruined fishing opportunities. Indeed, I would argue the Anti-Information position is missing a big point about information sharing.
Before I delve into my arguments, I will concede a point to the Anti-Information Crowd. Revealing a spot found off the beaten path, obtained by means of researching maps, historic fish returns, and personal hard work is crazy. If you find that Shangri-La of fishing holes hold on to it for as long as you can! Because the cold hard fact is that eventually if nothing else, word of mouth and other angler’s observations will sniff out the hole and your “Private Spot” won’t be so private anymore.
To be clear, when I talk about sharing locations with others it’s not “stand on this rock for best results” or “fish this tiny tributary”. I’m talking about “fish lake XYZ” because did you know it has a good population of (kokanee, trout, bass, insert fish type here…)? It may be a beautiful place to visit and fish and it’s practically devoid of anglers. That’s just nuts in this day of decreasing opportunities.
So here’s my counter-argument to the Anti-Information crowd:
Sharing locations actually decreases fishing pressure for all of us.
I can hear you saying “that’s crazy and makes no sense. If I report that Lake Stevens is on fire I’m going to find twice as many boats on it as last week. I’m going to ruin my fishing hole.” I won’t disagree with the point that, yes, odds are there will be more anglers on the lake and you’ll have more competition. My counter argument is we need to see the Bigger Picture. There are not an infinite number of anglers (although it may seem that way at Blue Creek or Hoodsport or Reiters Pond!). What I mean is, when anglers see a report in whatever media and flock to fish that location, they can’t be at another location. Take the Lake Stevens example. Say you have 300 kokanee anglers in the area deciding where they are going to fish for the weekend. Said “hot report” gets posted on Thursday. Of those 300, let’s say 50 were going to fish the lake regardless. Now after reading the report it goes up to a 100. Yikes! Fishing is ruined. That darn internet did it again. Except, the part that never gets considered is those extra 50 anglers that went to Lake Stevens means there are 50 less kokanee anglers fishing other locations. So if instead of fishing Lake Stevens you decided to fish say, Lake Cavanaugh, or Lake Cle Elum, you’d likely find those lakes to have less angling pressure. The internet report doesn’t magically make more anglers. It just redirects those anglers that like to chase reports to different spots. “Ah” you say, but you’re not taking into account anglers that would have stayed home and not fished at all but rather were motivated to go fishing instead of staying home and watching TV. Yes, that is true, there may be more anglers going fishing, but there will also be anglers that see the report and say “you know, this lake is going to be blown up, let’s go somewhere else”. My point, the flow of anglers tends to even out.
Now expand the above example to 20-30 reports posted on various locations and fishing opportunities. Our angler now has a list of 20-30 spots to consider, along with his/her own favorite go to spots. Perhaps some of the 20-30 locations are places he’s never been to before. Maybe he makes a mental note and puts that lake on his bucket list. Maybe he decides some of them are too far, or for whatever reason just not his thing. There are as many reasons as there are anglers why a person would or would not decide to go to a location mentioned on a fishing report.
What a posted fishing report for a location does do that is of benefit to all of us is this: It gives us all more choices and options. It opens us all up to new possibilities and adventures. In the short term, it certainly does direct anglers to a spot. There’s no denying that. But it also opens up anglers to new places to go, meaning, over time, sharing information such as locations has the opposite effect of concentrating us, rather, it can help spread us all out. Having followed member reports on Northwest Fishing Reports I now have dozens of new lakes to check out, lakes I never would have known about if they hadn’t been posted on. So instead of joining 50 other boats on Lake Stevens, I’ll run over to Lake Cle Elum and share the whole lake with just 2-3 other boats. If I had never read a report on Lake Cle Elum kokanee, I would never have known to check it out.
Just as it is in our nature to share our successes, it’s also in our nature to explore and learn about new places. And here’s a thought - the fish resource is everyone’s and the more people that are involved the more resources we can direct to responsible stewardship of the resource. We are stronger together!
I believe that I’m an average person, surrounded by thousands of fellow average anglers. I enjoy exploring new fishing locations and I believe we all enjoy finding and fishing new locations. We anglers tend to be an exploring lot. We like following heavy brush trails and driving down lonely backroads in search of that next adventure and new spot. That next “hidden gem” that we can add to our list of go to places. Most of us get tired of hitting the Blue Creeks and Reiter Pond spots week after week after week.
I also happen to believe that most people are good. And along with that I believe we all want to share experiences with others. To do otherwise is to bow to the baser instincts in us, those of selfishness and greed. One of the Facebook groups I belong to is “The Fishermen's Guild A brethren of fishermen”. I think the name perfectly reflects my thoughts on what it means to be an angler. It’s sharing, motivating and helping us all to be the best anglers we can be. It’s not about bowing to our dark side, seeing each other as competition, being negative with the gifts we were given or earned. I’m happy to share all the wonderful places I’ve found with my fellow anglers, because I know I am just giving back what others have given to me. We are all in this together.