Don't Kiss and Tell; The Spot Burning Debate
A popular topic on fishing forums, in Instagram and YouTube posts, and at fishing meet-ups, "spot burning" (or more simply, the act of sharing spots) always leads to a spirited discussion. As more and more fisherman are heading to our local waterways, veteran anglers, at the risk of coming off as elitist or unwilling to help, are laying low and zipping their lips.
There is no denying that information on how to catch fish, where to catch fish, and when to catch fish is more accessible now than it ever has been. In addition, more powerful technologies, including rods, reels, lures, fish-finders, boats, kayaks, and aerial imagery all impact a fisherman's ability to find fish and catch fish. I personally have seen countless fishing spots change significantly over the last 5-10 years, likely due to the access to, and the spread of, specific fishing spot information.
Eight years ago, I began fishing a local trout stream and it quickly became one of my favorite and most productive spots. I can vividly remember having 30 fish days, hooking doubles on nymph rigs, and not running into another angler on over a mile of river. Today, this stream is one of the most popular streams in the region and one I rarely visit. If I do stop by, I am met with fisherman in almost every fishy spot, moving around from spot to spot like a giant game of musical chairs. Parking lots are full. And the fish are really hard to catch. So, I rarely exit the car at my once favorite stream, instead dialing my GPS towards my nearest "secret spot".
The vast expanse of the salty oceans and bays are not immune to these consequences either. Arguably, the east coast beaches are some of the most susceptible places to spot burning, since they are located within a short drive of four major cities. For example, within 100 miles of Atlantic City, NJ, there are approximately 21,600,000 people. In contrast, within 100 miles of the trout stream in my previous example, there are approximately 6,396,000 people. You can see why, if someone posts about a great spot or a hot bite, countless fisherman could flock to a spot pretty quickly. Typically, these fisherman are report chasers who often don't have a personal connection to a specific fishing spot. Sometimes - although certainly not always - this can equate to a lack of respect for the fish and/or fisherman who have long called that location home.
For me, I have been fishing a specific section of coastline in New Jersey for almost 20 years. 20 years ago, there were still fisherman at this spot each day, but they showed up in a slow trickle with no prior knowledge of what the day had in store. All they brought with them was their knowledge and experience from days and years prior, which they used to judge the potential outcome of a specific outing. Fast forward 20 years... In the spring of 2019, I stood side by side with countless other anglers at this very spot. Many arrived to join in on the hot action, having received a text message or viewed an online report specifically naming (or showing recognizable images) of the very spot. Each of the 30+ anglers, who's cars collectively filled the nearest parking lot, caught dozens of striped bass. Some even asked if they could keep my undersized, illegal fish. Others left bait containers, tangled line, and damaged gear behind on the beach, waiting for the next high tide to wash it all away.
Seeing all of this unfold has led me to change how I fish, where I fish, and who I tell. Is that selfish? Maybe. But, I look at it as an investment in the future of the sport, the future of many fish species, and the health of our environment as a whole.
However, there are two sides to every debate, and there are valid arguments to the benefits of online information, social media, and sharing spots. I believe that to have a vibrant, respectful, and robust fishing community, veteran anglers need to share their knowledge, help others find success, and encourage respectful practices, including catch and release, to those new to the sport. For me, I do this through taking beginners fishing, sharing my successes on social media, sharing information here on our blog, and answering as many questions as I can from anglers both online and in person. I also encourage others to do their own research, explore likely fishing spots, and branch out from their comfort zones. One thing that I don't feel the need or desire to do is share my favorite spots.
Part of the fun of growing as a fisherman is to research, explore, and discover fishing spots on your own (or with a small group of trusting friends - which I can count on one hand). I will always encourage others to do just that. And, if I run into you on one of my "secret" streams, I'll know you found it through the same avenues that I did. Because, we both know there are no "secret" spots, just some that are only known by a handful of others.
So, next time you stumble across a hot bite or a truly unique fishing spot, stop and think before you share it with an acquaintance or in an online post. Instead, think about the factors that went into making that day or location so great. What was the weather, what flies were working, what was the tide, did you fish a fast or slow retrieve...? Then, share those tips and tricks instead, encouraging others to learn and explore for themselves. And, next time you see me on the water, know that there is a good chance you've figured something out, and be sure to say hi!