One question I often wrestle with is whether or not to name certain places in the stories I write. After all, I’m an angler too. I appreciate solitude on a fishing stream as much as the next person, and I fully understand that you can love a place to death by writing about it in every detail.
For example, I’ve written about this place, but I’ve never named it. Sorry, I’m not going to say where it is now. But those of you who fish in the Rocky Mountain high country know that this is one of thousands of little trout streams that look and fish the same way. It’s no great discovery to chance upon a scene like this… certainly nothing an angler willing to dedicate a little hiking and map reading effort couldn’t find on his own. The way I see it, my job isn’t to tell you exactly where this is, rather, it is to motivate you to go and find it on your own. If you’re willing to huff and wheeze your way up to this water, you’re no intruder. You’re a kindred spirit.
On the other hand, in this day and age of instant access to information via the Internet (some of which is good, and some not so good), are there really any secrets anymore? More to the point, is anything worth guarding, especially if you are a guide? I have many guide friends, I used to guide myself, and I certainly appreciate how hard guides must work sometimes to produce results, especially when conditions are tough. But I just laugh to myself when I see some of them getting all worked up after somebody else “discovers” that special side-tributary to the Colorado River that they’ve been pounding with clients for days.
I mean, c’mon man… you don’t own the rivers, and if somebody reads on a message board somewhere about the productive water or the hot hatch, why would you get all bent out of shape? You’re a pro, right? Up your game. That’s not to say that it’s ever okay for someone to poach water or low-hole another angler. That’s particularly uncool when guides do it. I’ve seen that happen too.
The best trout guides don’t worry about such matters. One of the best I have fished with, Kea Hause of Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley, once explained to me why he believes a great guide should be an open book. The way he sees it, clients pay guides to become better anglers. Sure, catching fish is a major part of that. Teaching skills is probably even more important. And arming people with information to fish on their own is also key. Hause said he has been on some trips where his boots barely got wet. Instead, he and his sports sat around a picnic table looking at and marking maps. That’s what they wanted. That’s what they paid for. So he gave it to them. He figures that people will find information anyway. Best to arm them with the right information, and have everyone spread out, rather than pounding the same popular water, over and over.
Some guides are bothered when a client hires them and then asks all day about other places to fish. I know of saltwater guides who have had clients book a trip, only to bring along their own GPS units to mark spots. Sure enough, the guide motors back to the spot a few days later, only to find Bob the Client already staked out in a rented boat. I think that probably crosses the line. That would bother me too.
But in the end, whether you’re a writer or a guide, you make money off of these resources, and ultimately by delivering information that helps everyday anglers be more successful. That’s about it. We all must give a little if we want to get anything for ourselves in return.
My writing mentor, the late, great Charlie Meyers of the Denver Post, probably navigated the “kiss and tell” conundrum better than anyone has or ever will. He said, “Deeter, you ultimately have to look at the resource itself, and decide if it can handle the pressure or not. That’s part of the job. Then you trust your instincts and go with them.” For Charlie, big waters like the Colorado, or the Bighorn, or the Snake had few secrets that weren’t already told. And the high mountain streams were sacred, and thus, they remained anonymous.
But this balancing act is never comfortable, and it is always on my mind. I suppose there’s no way around the risk of earning the ire of someone for giving away their “secret spot.”
I’m genuinely interested in hearing more thoughts to guide me.