fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)

GPS data & the secrecy of fishing

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It seems to me that we fishermen can be quite the contradictory crowd. Many of us might agree wholeheartedly with W.D. Wetherell, who in his book “One River More” wrote,

[…] So, my fellow fly fishers, the time has come to bring secrecy back into our gentle pastime — the tight lips, the polite shrug, the knowing wink. […]when it comes to your favorite spots, cherish them in secret, keep your mouth shut — and leave the godamn electronics at home.

Yet in an age when technological proficiency often goes hand-in-hand with the knowledge of knots that may have originated in “The Treatyse of Fysshynge with an Angle”, who among us doesn’t rely on at least one marvel of modern times in the pursuit of those fish in the genus Oncorhynchus. For those of us willing to acknowledge this truth, I would propose that a more pertinent question might be how one might reconcile the traditional secrecy lends a mystery to the sport of fishing (especially fly fishing) with the use of “godamn electronics?”

My own philosophy is that what matters most is not the secrecy of one’s favorite spot or strategy, but the tangible act of fishing. Isn’t that why we tolerate getting up before God and a four-hour drive just to challenge our abilities and skills in a cold stream? And why we will repeat this ritual two weeks later, even though a previous trip left us tired and cold and fishless? You bet it is. The combination of the scenery through which a river flows, the sound of the water, the occasional conversation with a passing angler, and many other facets that lead up to fishing, and of course, the fishing itself, add up to an experience that is only sweetened by hooking and hopefully landing a fish.

I wouldn’t dare suggest violating the age-old unspoken rule that beginners should pay their dues. One’s passion for fishing and all it entails— particularly the appreciation that the delicate nature of a small stream can be upset by a single unscrupulous angler — can only be cultivated over time. This unwritten code carries with it a type of “stewardship” that almost dictates the aforementioned long-held tradition of secrecy in order that we preserve our fishing resources for the future.

In light of these traditions, I questioned whether my desire to collect and share GPS coordinates in conjunction with maps or fishing reports might be misdirected. To be honest, in writing this essay I almost…almost…convinced myself that they should not be shared with anyone but our closest fishing buddies.

However, I believe that in today’s world very few of us, experienced and inexperienced anglers alike, have the time to spend scouting fishable water. Some of us may have a close friend willing to act as a mentor and fewer might be able to hire a guide. But many of us don’t have these resources. That’s why we visit fishing Web sites. That’s why we participate in forums. And as fishermen, we follow an implicit agreement to pass along what it means to be responsible fishermen to others who share our passion, and who may have become friends through fishing, in person and through Web sites such as That’s why, with a nod to the traditions of fishing and an acknowledgment of the bigger picture, that I think GPS coordinates can be shared in the spirit of this teaching.

My conclusion is that the sharing of GPS coordinates can serve in two goals. It can help get new fisherman on the water and learning, enjoying and developing a passion for the sport as well as offer a teaching opportunity. Coordinates only have to get someone to a location, perhaps roadside, that will offer them an opportunity. This opportunity may require some follow up in the form of exploration or a little hike, but it will still take some work to find the exact location of that secret bend of the river. At the same time, the offering of these coordinates should come with specific guidance and instructions as to the care of this mutually shared resource. It’s up to those who provide any coordinates as to how much they might share regarding the best locations or strategies, but we should all share in the responsibility of teaching this “stewardship” that I hope can be found in all avid fishermen.


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