Ask any fisherman how they did the last time they went fishing. I dare you. The answer you get will depend on a number of factors, for example are you a friend? Or a friend of a friend instead? Perhaps you are just asking someone new that you have run into on the riverbank. Or you’re asking the guy behind the counter at the local fishing store, to see how things have been stacking up in the local rivers. So depending on where you fit into the criteria listed above, the answer you will receive, assuming that it’s more than a grunt or an expletive cast in your direction, you can expect one of the following scenarios.
Highest on the totem pole of honesty will be the response given by a friend, preferably a close friend or even better a fishing buddy. If he or she is truly your friend, you’ll get an honest debriefing about the number of fish caught, species, size and location. You may even get more specific details like size and type of fly pattern, flow rates, and river color. You have therefore reached a certain level of credibility and trustworthiness that permits you exclusive access to this useful information. You sir, are at the top of the trust totem pole looking down.
Now if the person you ask is just an acquaintance, who may or may not trust you entirely or is perhaps in doubt or unimpressed by your fishing resume to date, the answer you get will be different. You might get a fish tally, and a round about general geographical location, but that will probably be the end of the story. You aren’t quite worthy yet of the Full Monty (so to speak) but you’ve at least got your foot wedged firmly in the door to the temple of knowledge. On the totem pole of honesty, you’re somewhere stuck between almost trustworthy to not safe enough to babysit their dog for the weekend.
And finally, if you are in the very last category, where you really don’t have any sort of relationship with the person or people you are asking, you’re likely to receive one of two types of answers. First, is the polite response that the conditions weren’t right for catching fish that day and best of luck with your efforts (also called mind you own business and we slayed them today). The second response will be either nothing at all, or something possibly quite unflattering about your mother.
So where am I going with this line of thought you might wonder? Is this heading towards some sort of rant? Nope, not at all. But the truth is that fishermen are by nature, secret keepers, afraid to reveal where the best fishing spots are for fear that someone will exploit it. Or even worse, tell everyone they know about it and before you know it your secret hole is a repository of empty beer cans, torn open lure packages, and broken camp chairs. The fear of being “found” is so universal that I don’t think that any of the fishermen I know are immune from it. Myself included!
In my prior postings I’ve been open with revealing some of the places that I’ve been fishing, where historically the pressure from outsiders is low. Of course I am not revealing all of my secrets in these stories, but that is mostly because it would take the wonder and excitement out of those like minded adventurers that want to discover them for themselves. But do not doubt for a minute that I didn’t go back and forth about naming the places where I have been, and replacing them with names like Zipper Mouth Creek, or Betchacantfindit Valley.
When it comes to secret keepers, fishermen who have been bitten by the Steelhead bug are by far the most seriously afflicted, and rightly so. With the numbers of wild Steelhead in British Columbia decreasing each year, with little support being given by Provincial and Federal governments alike to protect these magnificent fish, it’s no doubt why Steelheaders are tight lipped. There’s a phrase I’ve heard from more than a few successful Steelheaders in response to my laments of low numbers and the difficulty in hooking a fish:
“It’s not hard to catch a Steelhead you know. The hard part is not in the catching, but in the finding”.
Sometimes there are secrets, and other times you just get lucky.
And they are absolutely right. So it’s no surprise then why a Steelheader who has found a productive section of river keeps it to themselves, sharing secrets only with those select people resting at the very peak of the trust totem. They see the protection of these sacred spaces not as a selfish act, but as their duty as the unspoken guardians of these fish. When you have put enough time in and been through the grind of looking for these ghosts of the river, you grow to appreciate their complexity, strength, beauty, and most of all their vulnerability to outside pressures.
But is this really helping the fish?
As a Steelheader I find myself caught between the desire to share my love for the sport of fly fishing and Steelhead with my desire to not tell anyone where to find them. The paradox here is that by not engaging more people in the sport and allowing them the chance to experience what it’s like to see, catch, and hold one for a brief minute, the public’s level of awareness for their plight is not allowed to grow. Sport fishing is a huge business around the world, and British Columbia is obviously no exception. If fewer people make the effort to fish for Steelhead due to increasingly low numbers of fish and frustration in not catching one, then the interest by the powers that be to protect them will ultimately decline. It’s a tough thing to balance. Talk too much and you risk over exposure. Say nothing and the problems go unnoticed and support for conservation and remediation efforts dwindles.
So how does one climb from ground level bottom dweller to top of the trust totem? The only advice I can give is that it takes time and effort. You have to develop your fishing network, gain trust, prove your worth and your credibility. My experience has shown that you can generally tell the “yahoos and googans” from the serious fisherman and advocate pretty easily. So as a guardian of the river I don’t open the door to everyone. And even those in the circle of the greatest levels of trust and respect don’t always get immediate access to the best spots. I’ve had very good friends of mine not tell me their hot spots before either, and that’s perfectly OK with me. I respect that. Sometimes they let me peek in the crack or through the keyhole to the places that hold their favorite spots, but full disclosure normally only comes in time.
So in summary I guess old Zipper Mouth Creek will continue to flow unimpeded by development for all time, stopping only occasionally at Lost Lake and Fantasy Forest before melting into the depths of the ocean where it’s secrets will be locked away forever. And rightly so.