It’s been said that a lie travels halfway around the world before the truth can get out of bed and put its pants on in the morning, but we anglers might instead say that the word of a good bite travels halfway around the Bay before you can back your boat off the trailer. I’m regularly amazed at how fast word of a hot bite can get out, and a couple times this year I received sworn-to-secrecy level intel only to find 20-plus boats at the hotspot.
Many people blame this on social media, and surely it does play a role in speeding the informational flow sometimes. But this phenomenon is nothing new. Before there was even an internet there were VHF radios, and the advent of texting and cell phones has in some ways actually slowed the spread of info. A few decades ago, 30 boats might have heard one friend calling another to tell them it was on fire at The Hill; today that message never goes out over the public airwaves. And to those who consider social media a spot-burning curse, remember that it also allows misinformation to travel even faster than real fishing intel. For every angler who bends a rod by chasing after FaceBook fish and Instagram bites, there are probably 10 flailing the water incessantly, wondering if they’re really at the same spot where BigBassBoy314 caught that monster.
For my entire life, but especially since FishTalk has been in publication, I’ve been accused of giving away “secret” bites or spots, the all-time stand-out complaint coming from a guy who was upset that I told everyone about the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. You know, the 4.3-mile-long twin structure with hundreds of pilings that’s trafficked by over 27 million cars a year and is visible from 15 or 20 miles away? That Bay Bridge. Still, the king of all “secrets” is, of course, the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Powerplant. Since I first fished there back in the 80s I’ve watched at least three different generations of anglers discover it, try to keep it a secret, and then get bent out of shape when they arrived one day to discover that it had been “burned.” Note to future generations: the CCNPP is not a secret. If you enjoy a few trips there when it’s empty, that’s because the fishing tends to shine at this place when the weather’s cold and most people don’t go outside.
Actually, addressing this topic now is like having deja vu all over again on Groundhog Day. But I do so because recently a friend who’s very wired into the fishing community asked me to, after telling me that people didn’t necessarily understand my position on the whole spot-burning issue. Well, I believe I can boil that position down into a single sentence: what some see as giving away fishing intel I see as sharing. And what some see as keeping secrets, I see as selfish.
The odd thing is, from what I’ve observed it’s some of the best anglers who are often the most protective of what they know. They have a much greater ability to go off and find an untapped bite than a mediocre or newbie fisherman does, yet many seem quite unwilling to share. Less accomplished anglers, on the other hand, often appear to be more willing to lend a helping hand to others, perhaps because they know all too well that there will be times when they need similar help.
For my part, I’m not going to apologize for helping any angler out, be they a highliner or utterly hopeless. Nor will I pretend it’s completely altruistic. It’s part of how I make my living, but even more importantly I like doing it because it just plain makes me feel good. Nothing beats the thanks of a friend or the smile of a stranger who enjoyed a successful fishing trip in part because of something they read or learned in FishTalk or its fishing reports. And for every complainer, there are 100 who say thanks. Besides, these are the people who will stay in the fishing community for years to come, giving us all a stronger voice at the statehouses and better funding at our parks and boat ramp facilities. Fuming at their presence at “your” spot is shortsighted, to say the least.
Speaking of which, we can’t leave this topic be without at least mentioning that the Bay, its tributaries, and the ocean are all public waters. No matter how often someone visits this oyster bar or that clump of deadfall, they have no right to lay claim to it. And fortunately, fish have tails. They swim. Each and every hotspot without exception has good days and not so good days, hot streaks and quiet streaks, seasons that they’re rich with fish and seasons that they aren’t. Today’s hotspot is tomorrow’s barren water — whether word gets out or not.
One final note about our fishing reports: much of the intel we publish in those reports comes from you, our readers, and I will not censor your input out of fear of spot-burn bashing. Last fall some loose cannon type actually set up a website dedicated to attacking us and one of our contributors after we passed along info about a particular bite that three separate readers and another contributor had chimed in on. Note to Loose Cannon: when four different people send FishTalk intel about a bite, it’s not a secret. Your ranting and raving and setting up a website just makes you look selfish. Plus, also maybe a little bit crazy.
I completely understand why some folks would want to keep a bite or a spot to themselves, particularly when it’s a contained area that can get ruined by too much traffic. I know well the sinking feeling of arriving at a spot to find it taken or crowded. Those are the breaks, though you can get up a little earlier or fish during the off-hours to minimize the competition. Still, I have to ask: should we look at each other as competition, in the first place? Are we trying to out-fish each other, or are we all just trying to catch fish? I suppose different people will have different answers. But you FishTalkers who are more sharing than selfish, I think I know what you’d say. And to you, I’d like to say thank you.