Cyberscouting is truly the devil. Sure, there has always been an interest by outdoorsmen to get a leg up on the local landscape without putting in the effort, but the internet makes it deceptively easy - and a very dangerous prospect.
The more I use online tools to help find outdoor access spots, the more I'm reminded that I cannot (nor should you) ONLY use online information to figure out the lay of the land. I've been an outdoorsman for quite a few years at this point, and I've spent a lot of time (for work and for fun) looking at and interpreting aerial photos and satellite imagery of beaches, wetlands and streams. So I'd like to think I have a darn good idea of what a place will look like before I ever get there. But you just can't take on-the-ground recon out of the toolbox of a responsible outdoorsperson.
After a recent work trip to the farthest reaches of Maryland's eastern shore, I had four places I wanted to check for fishing and paddling, and to a lesser extent, duck hunting. I had my 5wt fly rod and my light spinning gear with me, just in case they panned out and immediately seemed fishable....to partially validate my expenditure of free time so far from home. The four sites were:
1. A pond in the woods behind a small shopping center. Looked like an abandoned sand/gravel pit
2. A set of dragline ponds in what Google Earth showed as an ambiguously "public" property
3. A set of stormwater ponds in an office park
4. Two abandoned gravel ponds on confirmed state forest property
Site 1 was a disaster. Far from being a cool, deep gravel pit, it was actually the stormwater pond for the shopping center. The water was cloudy, brown, and full of trash, with pipes from the parking lot hanging out above the water. Gross!
My visit to Site 2 was thwarted by a giant set of farm gates across the dirt road that was hung with about 20 "No Trespassing" signs. My guess is that the landlocked forest and ponds have been purchased by the state or county, but that an access easement has not yet been negotiated with the adjacent farmer. I was sure glad to find this out at 7pm during a scouting run, and not at 6am with a thought that I would be hunting or fishing those ponds that day! That sure would have been frustrating.
My luck turned at Site 3. In Maryland, we always have to be careful of cyberscouting stormwater ponds because the state requires that most of them have protective fencing around them so people don't fall in and drown. If you have to jump over a security fence to get to it, it's like metaphorically crossing the line between "Oh I'm just fishing here for a few minutes, Mr. Rent-A-Cop," and "Yeah, I am definitely trespassing." Luckily these ponds had no fences at all but they did look pretty shallow for bass. I'm sure they were full of sunfish and I'm looking forward to flyfishing them sometime this year, since the banks are mowed all the way down to the water. There's one new (marginal) site for the inventory!
Site 4 was the first big success of the day. Well-documented to be public, fish jumping through thick mats of vegetation as I was pulling the truck off the road, and with the far bank possibly far enough from the road to be a legal duck hunting spot. The second pond looked (on the internet) even more promising, but I never made it there. Why?
The vegetation was insanely thick and bass were jumping at bugs on the surface wherever there was a break in vegetation. This made for some tedious flycasting, and I lost a green hopper fly to the weeds. I switched to light spinning tackle and could at least control my casts a little better. Even though I could tell that there were some monster bass in the pond, I turned my drag off because I knew that if a fish ran out the drag, I'd never see the fish or the lure again. There were some exciting moments as "bulges of water" would come up quick behind my lure, but I didn't have my first solid hookup until I had walked about 3/4 of the way around the pond.
I tossed the same lure (generic floating goby in silver and black) to a weed-free spot next to an old, giant stump. Burned it back, below the surface, for just a foot and then CHOMP. I knew from that second that it was a bass, and assumed due to the area of the state (very far east and south) that it was a largemouth.
The only reason I can imagine that smallmouth were ever stocked here is because of the sand and gravel bottom. It still doesn't make much sense. But ultimately, who cares? Only my second smallmouth of 2011. Great way to end a little scouting side trip!
I drove back up on the road and headed north, then west, back to civilization or something like it. I had found my one new spot, and even caught a legitimate fish there. Successful use of 90 minutes? I think so.