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Internet and Fishing - The Good the Bad and he UGLY

Oh how things have changed. It wasn’t that long ago that anglers relied on trees, points, and other landmarks aligned with distinct landmarks to find favourite spots. Finding spots on spots was a matter of trial and error every time you went out fishing and much of the day was honing in on a piece of structure, a drop off, gravel bottom or something else that once found was sure to produce.old gps
When the first GPS was released there were no maps or charts, just a poor quality outline of the shoreline that was at best similar to the real shoreline. Waypoints on one GPS could be a 100 yards different from that of another even with the same Lat / Long coordinates. The U.S. Military reserved the most accurate satellite data for security reasons. Today, our GPS units are so accurate; they will bring you within feet of your desired destination.

The cost of devices, like any electronics is a fraction of what it was 10 years ago. Additionally they are easier to operate, smaller and simply offer far more features than older units. The advancements in sonar in conjunction with GPS have also led to the integration of depth and place through sonar side imaging.  GPS has provided a seamless transition tool that all but relays a perfect image of what is under you at all times.  Nothing is hidden; everything is exposed with no need for interpretation.  It’s all laid out on a high definition screen that can be viewed in any condition whether it is pitch black outside or bright and sunny.

There are more processing capabilities in a $99.00 hand held GPS today than there was to send a man to the moon decades ago.
navionics iphoneSmart phones with instant messaging and GPS units with charts of the entire lake highlighting bottom contours in finite one foot increments  are standard fare on the ice these days. You can almost watch the anglers shift as text messages broadcast the hottest spots on the lakes.  What cost over $300.00 a few short years ago just for charting software for your GPS is now a mere $13.95. Even better, you don’t need to be a computer wiz to download and use it in just minutes before arriving at almost any lake in the world.

And, all this my tech-savvy message board friends is exactly what leads us to the topic for the day. ..The Good the Bad and the Ugly of our beloved  Message Boards designed for information hungry anglers like you and I.

There is no social media more dynamic and influential than message boards these days. The knowledge base created by active fishing boards focusing on a particular area can be nothing short of incredible. Talk about how best to fast track your knowledge of a certain fishery – and today you’ll be hard pressed to find a better source than a local message board. 

However, many anglers fear these boards as the eventual demise and undoing of “the hidden gem” factor in fishing. They feel information that they have painstakingly earned through years of experience has been thrown away without consideration of the investment in time and expertise that they acquired the hard old fashioned way.
However, on the other side of the coin, good information from message boards can be golden. It can provide more fun and more fish for recreational anglers and cash in the pockets for the pros. Veteran professional tournament anglers on the Elite series tours will tell you that without the ability of accumulating current information from some of these sources, they can no longer compete against the tech savvy youth.

This information is a bonus to the weekend warrior or casual angler who doesn’t have the time to spend searching an entire body of water only to come up empty. They will know what fish is running where, what the hot baits and techniques are, where the best place to launch and park is, and even where to pick up lunch on the way. The lone angler can arrange to meet with other anglers and share resources and equipment.  These new found information sources could even help to reverse  the decline of angler numbers  in Ontario as the sport becomes easier and less overwhelming to  participate in. These sites can also help us save money and are kinder to the environment as we waste less time and gas searching for everything from boat launches to fish.

But what about the seasoned angler   who has spent a lifetime searching the province for those hidden gems? Do we not respect all the time and effort it took them to  hone their skills?  Their hard work has paid off and now they are a step above the skill level of the average angler. Of course we must respect ... and even envy these accomplished anglers.  

Will technology be the demise of fishing hot spots by  sending crowds to once secret places? Are we ready to accept that here, once word gets out on sites like this, that fishing may remain hot for several days instead of several weeks?

 Is this new electronic age really going to overwhelm the “best spots”? Maybe for some, but this irreversible trend isn’t going away and more are likely to join the movement.  Everyone who thought they had a private refuge or secret domain untouched by other anglers doesn’t have to fear the worst. There are other factors that govern the angling population’s ability to go where no man has ever been before and find their spots.

For the most part, those so called secret honey holes are rarely that secret. Experienced and dedicated fishermen tend to believe they are one of very few who know their spots even though they only fish them a few times per year.  There are always more anglers in those hidden gems than they would like to think.  They should probably worry less about other anglers finding those areas because there are so many other factors that limit where and when those “new water hunters” can get to the places some like to call their own

The average angler in Ontario doesn’t have any more free time today than they had 20 years ago. Most have less disposable income, and they don’t have the inherent skill level required to take advantage of the information available. Ironically enough one of the biggest problems they have is becoming paralyzed  with information overflow. At any one time there are multiple locations being touted   as “the place to fish”. Another problem the average angler has when trying to gather information from social networks like message boards is that the information has an expiry date. It may only be as good as the moment it was published.  Many fail to take this into account.

The best examples can be seen on Lake Simcoe during the winter when  there are 10,000 weekend warriors waiting for the latest and greatest news.texting on the ice Someone posts “we pounded em on Long Shoal yesterday” and the next day there are over a hundred anglers there for the taking ...  but nobody is catching fish. Yesterday was always better than the day you show up.

Gathering information from a message board is an art in itself. Members have to frequent the board often to understand what is real and what could be embellished or outright misleading. They learn who the quality posters are and what they can use from the information. Guides often use message boards to market their services and there is no better place to show what you have to offer than a good high traffic board.

The Financial Realities of Fishing Message Boards:
Most well managed message boards will not allow promotion of products or services without some level of service or fee given to the board operator. They will not permit competing services to promote freely against advertisers or sponsors of the board. Any board that offers free promotion or advertising to anyone is likely to fail. Many start with good intentions to provide a free service to a community they feel committed to but eventually they lose interest or finally realize that their day job or family life is much more important  
In Ontario there are several well established fishing related message boards that attract the majority of visitors. If you are a bass tournament angler, or want to know how to rig a bass boat, or belong to an organized club or association, www.bigfatbass.com is the place to join. This is one of the best managed forums anywhere with a zero tolerance policy against rule breakers and spammers. Members have to use their real names and these are verified when you join and monitored regularly. The site is busy all year but for 6 or 7 months of the year during tournament season everyone who is anyone in the fishing industry visits this board at some point in the season.

Bay of QuinteSuccessful boards are usually regionalized and cater to local members or someone that wants information about the region. If you fish or want to fish Eastern Ontario then www.quintefishing.com is the place to look. This is another well established high traffic forum founded in 1999 that is active all year because of the Bay of Quinte’s four season fishery and the number of anglers that frequent the area. This is also a high traffic, well managed board with a zero tolerance policy toward rule breakers and spammers. If you want to know about fishing Prince Edward County this is the place to be.

lake simcoeOne of the most heavily fished lakes in Ontario is Lake Simcoe particularly in winter, and one the oldest and most established message boards in Southern Ontario is the www.lakesimcoemessageboard.com.  It has been a fixture among anglers from all over North America who come to fish through the ice on this prolific fishery. The close proximity to the GTA is one of the reasons that the lake sees up to 10,000 visitors on weekends and the message board reflects that volume with thousands of members and tens of thousands of visitors.

There are also message boards for most of the fishing magazines and publications in Canada and they receive a respectable amount of traffic as well. One of the problems they struggle with is the lack of regional density. They tend to be spread out over entire provinces or even across the country so information about specific regions is sporadic and diluted. Regional boards or those that service specific angler-groups seem to thrive and once established they are extremely difficult to copy or compete with.

Social networks including fishing message boards will likely play a much larger role in shaping political policy in the future. The constant communications, interaction, and incredibly high volume of members and visitors make it much easier to distribute information and formulate opinions. There are approximately 1.2 million recreational anglers in Ontario and hundreds of thousands of them visit message boards.  Many topics are the centre of constant debate and not the least of these topics is how good or bad message boards are for our fisheries.
One benefit they provide anglers is an immediate source of educational information on everything from interpreting local fishing  regulations, to understanding the ethics of fishing in busy areas on the lake. Government agencies like our own MNR are also utilizing these sites to get their messages across and no doubt as a high tech means  to monitor local offenders.
These message boards  create a culture which  in turn create peer pressure amongst the community they are most connected with.  They can foster a sense of community and active members become more invested in the health of their fishery.

To that end, it all boils down to balance and trying to ensure that what we post will not threaten the sustainability of the resource that brings us on-line to begin with.  For example, on some boards, members collectively refrained from posting waypoints or giving specific information en masse on small productive areas within the lake. However posting general information and locations (like the perch are hitting in Cooks Bay or the lakers are hungry in Kempenfelt Bay) might enable a visiting angler to increase his or her chances of hooking up IF they have the wherewithal to find and catch those fish within these vast areas.
In short for fishing message boards to be sustainable – they must make sustainability of the resource their primary objective.   Playing a role to increase the quantity of anglers on our favorite lake may be an inevitable reality for message boards. However, at the same time, massage board communities can increase the quality and conscientious commitment to the resource of those new anglers so that we can all get along – both on the water and on-line for generations to come!

In 1992, three guys from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston created an internet chat board for Lycos a once popular search engine and that was the start of what we know today as internet message boards. I wonder if they knew what they had done when they posted “the bluefish are in the harbour”.   


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