Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Is Any Public Fishing Spot Really Secret?

There are two real fishing spots within two miles of my house.  Neither are amazing, but both will do in a pinch.  One is an abandoned 1800s water supply reservoir for Baltimore City, which I've been fishing for 10 years and have purposefully blogged about it (here and here to name a couple posts) - without ever naming the place.  The stream below it is known as a great spot for 10-12" smallmouth bass.  I've not fished it since I started blogging.  Both are within a local park  (owned by the city, leased by the county) named after a certain Confederate fellow.

When I first started fishing there in 2001 or 2002, it was depressing to see people lining the banks with 6, 7, and 8 rods and bobbers, obviously keeping every single fish they caught (which is alarming, since the lake is totally contaminated with Chlordane, an old termiticide and one of the most potent insecticides KNOWN TO MAN).   Despite perfect conditions on many trips, I had a lot of really awful days fishing there over the years, mainly (I think) due to fishing pressure (esp. subsistence fishermen) and water pollution (old stuff plus new pollution coming downstream).  I have also caught a decent number of fish over the years. 

Unfortunately, it's been closed to the public almost since I last fished it in 2009.  It's managed by Baltimore County....let's see what their website, last updated on April 4, 2011, says about it:

XXXXXXXX Park is scheduled to reopen in Fall 2011. This XXX acre park was recently leased to Baltimore County and is currently closed while construction and renovations are taking place.

So imagine my surprise when I checked the DNR's self-serve, searchable fishing report today and I read this:

Excellent Sunday fishing

Type: Freshwater
Region: Northern
Location: Lake XXXXX
From: Ellie S.
I have to report my adventure at Lake XXXX this past Sunday. My good friend Jonathan Frees (pictured here) and I have fished together for years. I have fished this lake many times. It is my opinion that this is one of the finest fishing spots in Baltimore City..or County depending on who you ask.

This picture proves it. We had a ton of fun. I have fished the attached lower portions of the XXXXXXX river with similar luck. Crappies and pumpkinseed galore on fly. The Largemouth in this photo was caught on a minnow popper. The others on plastic worm, spoons, and a very cool grasshopper popper. I had to show some love for a much appreciated refuge so close to the city. A beautiful spot, and a great day. Hope you enjoy.

OK.  So this lake has been closed to the public for nearly three years because of the ridiculous water pollution, unsafe pedestrian access, homeless camps, etc.  So I'm equally frustrated that people are fishing it illegally, and also that they left a permanent record of their great fishing trip to my "secret spot." (more on that in a bit).

But it begs the question, In this age of bing, google earth, and cyberscouting, is there such a thing as a secret spot on urban public land?"  Maybe.  As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, this certain spot has been abused, neglected and overfished for years - maybe decades.   The only reason that I used to be able to catch bass there (prior to the park's closure) is because I was willing to work harder than almost anybody who fished there.  Honestly, I'm jealous that some folks (Ellie and friends) could pop in there through the construction fencing and catch fish so easily!  Jealousy, indeed, is at the core of the "secret spot" mantra.  When I think of Ellie and her friend casually fly fishing that reach, kept out of the hands of poachers for 3 years now, I get jealous.  Can't help it.

But we're missing a huge point here.  Appreciation of these lesser-known spots, whether they are beaches or mountain streams or urban ponds, is what keeps them in existence and open to the public, so some government agency doesn't drain them/pave over them/close them permanently.  And I think this was the goal of Ellie and company.  Despite her best efforts, no one will travel from outside the County or City to fish this spot. By that same logic, if the City or County decide to permanently close it to fishing, will anyone outside the County or City care? Probably not.  That would suck for people like Ellie.....and me.  Just another insult to that little, promising fishery, I suppose.

So I guess what I'd implore you to do is to not post such bold advertisements for "lesser known public spots" on public websites, to be read, interpreted and used far outside of your sphere of control.  But at the same time, I encourage you to take new people to your fishing, hunting, paddling, climbing, and surfing spots - or to even email a buddy a map of the place.  While it adds "1 more person" (really "1 more person" + three of their friends) to the land-pressure equation, it also adds "1 more ally" to keeping these places open to the public and at least slightly managed by the agencies who own them. 

There is such a thing as a secret public spot in urbanized America- it's just that it's a secret to you and 5,000 people you don't know, who like you, also don't get out to fish nearly often enough. 

Promise me something - do the resource a favor, and tell some people, but not everybody, about it if you're lucky enough to know of a special place like this.


Coloradocasters said...

This is a very meaningful post and hope people take heed. I have actually blindfolded people before taking them to certain fishing spots. I have also lost friends over the disclosure of a few of my favorite locations. Water is sacred and good water is hard to find. It does no good service to blab about a spot unless it is large in size and well traveled (showing people how to fish these locations has merit). Small spots get pillaged quickly. I grieve every time I read a post like this.

Downeast Duck Hunter said...

Happy to live in Maine where the pressure is certainly lighter and you can fish a lake without seeing another person... I'll take you to all of my good spots, just leave the rest of Megalopolis behind...

tugboatdude said...

We have had way to many discussions on this topic and just like then I disagree with some of what you wrote.Maybe it's because the people I run into are more than willing to share information if I give them a bit.My duck hunting spots are few and far between in Virginia and I will tell just about anyone about them to gain another spot they may know.The fact is just knowing where the spot is doesn't mean jack.You still have to know what works there,bait selection/decoy set up etc.I have lost a few contacts doing it my way.However I have gained plenty more than I have lost.Still a good post and I do see your point

Kirk Mantay said...

T, that's a good point, and that's why I wanted to post the second half of that post. If nobody knows about it, who will make sure it still exists, or that nobody pollutes it or fills it in or poaches it (seine netting for bass or baiting ducks)? The number of hunters and anglers is still declining, and soon enough there may be no one to tell! I agree with you there.

But there HAS to be some measure of communicating these spots back and forth to one another (like you said -on the river, one on one, with somebody else who you can size up in person) without broadcasting it to anyone who searches the "river name" and "duck hunting" or "fishing" for the next 15 years.

Also remember that over one million people (roughly 100,000 angler) live within 5 miles (5 miles!) of this lake. Not the case with your new fishing and hunting spots near the NC border.

Anonymous said...

This is Elie Sollins. You make some excellent points. To be clear, I made the DNR post in the way that I did for a reason. You touched on some of those reasons.I, like you, want places like the one referenced to be respected and cared for. Sadly, in a place like this it will take public monitoring. In response to your reference to illegal fishing I was not aware, and do not fish anywhere illegally under any circumstance. Also, please be aware of the language you use in your posts. I used my name. Please have some respect ("If there is such a thing left in America") and not bash it. I appreciate your opinion, you make some excellent points.

Kirk Mantay said...

Ellie! I had no idea - I've made some edits to the post so your full name is not shown anywhere.

I also added a little bit of text about the intersection of "secret spots" and your not knowing the spot was closed to access - that intersection is jealousy (mine). I have been keenly aware of that spot's legal status, between the bridge closure, dredging, pollution, city/county government stupidity, etc., so honestly when I first read your report on the DNR website, I was FURIOUS....and jealous.

The more I thought about it, while I was still not pleased about the "fishing a closed lake" thing, I realized that we need more people like you and your friend to help advocate for those places. Because the heroin dealers who hang out there are certainly not going to attend city hearings on whether to close the park!!

Thank you for stopping by and setting the record straight. I hope to see you down at the **now officially open!!** park when the fishing picks back up. It's been a special place to me for a solid decade. Hope you continue to have some great experiences there too.

Kirk Mantay said...

And yes, I do believe that it's possible that you could access the property, either from the lakefront homes or the rail trail, without knowing the park was closed.

As somebody who fishes a lot of different places, I make a point of staying on the right side of that information - Maryland law is ridiculously punitive on trespassing and "fishing without permission," including clear cases where honest people had no idea they were doing something wrong.

Take care out there to make sure you and your friends are legal! It sucks that we should have to worry about such things....but such is Baltimore, I guess.

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