By Mike Carey
"I like to post fake reports on Facebook, then everyone goes to that river and leaves me alone on my river".
So read a recent post I saw on a Facebook fishing group. Morality aside, the poster expressed something I see very often on various fishing forums and chat sites. Everyone laments the internet and it's far-reaching effect on how we decide where and when to fish, but in the next post they'll ask what locations are fishing good, what to use, and various other questions to try to land that next lunker fish. Welcome to the evolution of a digital angler.
Although not there when Al Gore "discovered" the internet, I do recall that day many years ago that my wife said that we should buy a computer. And I clearly remember saying "what do we need a computer for"? Little did I know the impact computers would have on my life, and those around me. It was the dawn of the internet, and researching fishing information would never be the same again.
Before we dive into the many changes the internet has created for anglers, it's helpful to recall how angling information used to be traded and shared.
It was the Age of Print, and anglers gathered all their information (besides person to person) by books, magazines, and newspapers. My own book shelf is full of great works on steelheading, bass and trout fishing, including books of maps and locations. They are well worn and were an essential part of my development as an angler. These reference works provided the foundation I needed to become a better angler. And as I found new species of fish to pursue, my library grew ever bigger with "how to" books. I searched these books for those gems of information that would aid in increasing my skills and knowledge. But times change, and with them, and that computer my wife insisted we buy, my gathering of angling information changed. The Digital Age was here and it drew me ever deeper into its web of zeros and ones.
January 1993, our new computer arrived. OK, now what do I do with this thing? One day, as I fired up my internet browser, listening to the squeal of the telephone modem, I stumbled on my first fishing website and forum. It was a basic affair but I remember thinking how cool it was to be able to communicate with others and get information about fishing from a new source, fellow anglers on the net. It never occurred to me back then that people could be lying about what they posted. Here was an amazing tool for anglers to use, sharing information in order to make us all better fishermen. I was hooked, and all in, it wasn't long after finding this first fishing forum that I decided I would like to have my own web site. I had ideas that I thought could make a better web site, with more content and useful information for anglers. Out of that vision was born my seventeen year labor of love, WashingtonLakes.com.
Fast forward nine years and an e-mail from a fan of the site, Aaron Borg, a computer programmer from Spokane. He contacted me to say how much he liked the site, and that he had some ideas to make it better. By now, the site had grown and I had seen our best year ever, posting over 700 fishing reports. It was, frankly, starting to get a bit overwhelming. Who was this Aaron Borg, I why should I trust him with what had become my favorite addiction, outside of fishing. As providence would have it, Aaron Borg turned out to be the person that helped propel WashingtonLakes to the next level, a level that was beyond my programming skills to reach. Within a year he revamped the site and coded a whole new set of tools that would make WashingtonLakes the most innovative site on the net for fishing reports. Anglers responded to the new format.as reports started flooding in, to the tune of 700 in a month. We were on our way to becoming the most active fishing reports website in the Pacific Northwest.
Fast forward to today. The internet has advanced in so many ways from those early phone modem days. Now high speed connections allow anglers to share high definition videos. Instant mapping allow anglers to find spots and mark them for future access by GPS. Smart phones allow us the ability to lookup and post information from the riverside. Everywhere people are calling out for attention. "Check out my fish!". "What river is hot"? "What are the regs on this fishery"? The volume of noise is almost overwhelming, compared to even five years ago when a few fishing web site forums dominated the fish talk. Change is inevitable, and with it comes challenges.
There are still many fishing web sites out there, and of course, the Social Media Giant, Facebook. With everyone and their cousin connected to Facebook, and all of us suddenly having hundreds of “friends”, what can Facebook offer the Digital Angler? I’ve watched the sudden explosion of Fishing Groups and what they have to offer. It’s an entirely different approach to the traditional fishing web sites that offer organized reports, maps, articles, and videos. Facebook offers none of those things. No organization, just a never ending random stream of posts from people sharing their latest catch pictures, to beginners asking questions about current fishing regs (those are online too, you know). Lots of noise and hard to pull out much truly useful information, but, it is there, if you have the patience to watch for it coming by. That said it does satisfy the need for people to feel connected to a group, and gives instant answers, albeit off the cuff. (How detailed can you really get typing a thoughtful response on a cell phone?)
Troll. Not the fishing method, the other Troll. The word strikes annoyance in the hearts of administrators and forum moderators trying to keep their forums civil and friendly. Troll is the term used for someone who makes a post with the intention of making a forum blow up with negativity and name calling. The troll then sits back and laughs as he enjoys his handiwork. This is an example of the dark side of internet fishing sites, and a personality type that I am unable to identify with yet alone understand. The statement that started this article – misdirection, is alive and well on the internet. It's been around since the first person picked up a bamboo cane and twine and caught a mess of bullheads. People become very possessive of their spots. They don't want to give them away, and become upset at others that share the information on the web. So who can you believe? And how do you respond when you pose a question on a site and get blasted to "find your own spot like I did"?
As a web master I live by a few standards that have helped me deal with the many years I’ve seen these behaviors. First, forums are places for anglers to gather and share information and experiences. Those that can't behave in a civil manner are warned, and shown the exit if they don't clean up their act. My advice, if you find yourself on a forum or fishing group that doesn't have a degree of moderation, move on. Unless, that is, you like this kind of low class drama.
Fake fishing reports and misdirection. As I've mentioned, anglers have dealt with this since the beginning of time. My advice is to not be a chaser of hot reports. Instead, watch for trends. Our site allows anglers to rate their fishing reports from 1-5 based on actual fishing conditions and success. Fish, especially salmon and steelhead, return in generally predicable time frames. On our site, you can easily research past year's reports and discern those trends. It's a great tool for determining the best times to go fishing from a historical point of view.
Be your own "Hot Report". How do I do this, you ask? It’s actually very easy. Anglers have been keeping fishing diaries long before the internet came along. Now with computers and the internet you can keep track of all your trips. This gives you the ability to track your various trips going back years and years. I have all my fishing reports online, on my site, from 1997 to the present. That's 481 fishing reports for lakes, rivers, and saltwater. Normally, if all these reports were on paper they would make for a good book, but not so much a good research tool. However, because all my reports are in a database, I can search them by species, location, date, and level of success. I find that the older I get, the more I come to rely on this unique tool to refresh my memory of past fishing trips. Our web site is the only site on the net that has this feature. It’s all part of the vision back I had in 1997 of having an "online fishing diary". An added bonus is the many pictures of family and friends that I’ve attached to each report. I encourage you to sign up and start posting reports so twenty years from now you, too will have hundreds of reports to review.
Of course, if you do want to learn from other peoples reports our site has plenty of that. We have over 47,000 fishing reports and counting on lake, river, and saltwater fishing. How about “Hot Spots”? Our members can mark locations they had success around, and you can actually download those locations to your GPS unit. Now why would I want to share my Hot Spots with total strangers you may ask? Good question! I look at it this way. We’re here to help each other out. That’s the whole point of fishing web sites in my opinion. If I give information, including locations, it helps you out. You in turn may be willing to share a few spots with others to help them out. We all benefit by having more success. WDFW hears about our joint success from creel reports and next thing you know they are increasing stocking into these locations. It’s a win-win for the angler. Now, what I don’t recommend is sharing a “secret location”. That spot you hiked into and found that had no one around and you caught some beautiful coho salmon at? Keep it a secret! I’m only talking about places that are well known and aren’t really “a secret”. To someone just learning the ropes your report will help them perhaps catch their first fish. Let’s help each other catch more fish!
Being a Digital Angler does opens up a multitude of fishing knowledge. All those books, maps, and articles, fishing reports, and videos are a simple Google (or Bing) Search away. Want to know the locations of boat launches on the Skagit River? Type your query into the search box and there it is. Then, use a mapping site to get driving directions from your house straight to the launch. The Digital Age has opened up the world to us in ways unimaginable twenty years ago.
Editor's Note - this article was published in 2014 on WashingtonLakes.com