By Paul Kalac
I was a thirteen or fourteen-year-old boy in the early 80’s when I started fly-fishing for trout. I’m not sure if I instinctively understood to keep my favorite trout streams to myself, or if I was taught to keep them to myself by the old-timers who made me a fly-fisher. But I was imperfect. I shared my favorite trout streams with some high school buddies. I know some of those guys were not my closest friends. So there’s no telling with whom they talked after we fished together. I’m sure word got around to some degree.
A watershed association made up of key groups and individuals formed on my favorite trout stream in the 1990’s and I became secretary. I had since learned that trout streams need friends, not button-lipped fly fishers. The minds of the old-timers who wanted to keep the stream’s secrets to themselves were flawed; all those who enjoyed or profited from the resource needed to come together to discuss and tackle issues related to the health of the watershed.
In groups of maybe three or four at public meetings, when after-hours conversation turned to trout fishing, some watershed group members spoke openly of great brook trout fishing in the headwaters that fed my favorite trout stream. Their words stuck to me like glue, and I acted on their words by fishing those headwater streams, finding success, and then largely keeping it to myself. The formation of a watershed association on my favorite trout stream didn’t mean that everyone simply revealed all the secrets spots in the watershed.
I moved to the Adirondacks in 2000 because I wanted big wilderness areas in which to get lost with backpacking gear and canoes. Internet forums were relatively new and hot in the 2000’s and people found them and talked about the Adirondacks late into the night. The internet chugged along outside the forums with all sorts of dot-coms devoted to shedding light on outdoor recreation in the Adirondacks. But if you sought fellowship and conversation especially, internet forums were the hang out. I saw a big difference between hiking/paddling threads and fishing threads on ADK forums. The hiking and paddling threads were loose and carefree, people shared without much ado. If you clicked on the fishing and hunting threads, the vibe was short answers and repeated warnings about “spot-burning.” I was transported back to my teenage years on my favorite trout stream.
I can’t find a Webster definition for spot-burning on-line, but the top definition on urbandictionary.com is, “When someone ruins your secret fishing spot.” When put into a sentence, according to Urban Dictionary, it goes like this, “I can’t believe they found out where my fishing spot was from my Instagram pic and those (bleeps) spot-burned me.” It appears spot-burning derived from fishing-related posts. A natural resource can be as small as a fiddlehead fern or field mouse, or be as big as Lake Superior or a mountain massif, but we know how fish and game rank at the top of all natural resources. The 2000’s forums tried to contain spot-burning, it was imperfect, but some push back was there for those folks who posted looking for the exact names and locations of new waters to fish.
We share more now than ever on social media like Facebook and Instagram. We share our dinner as it’s frying in the pan, and then another pic of it on a dinner plate. In these days of COVID, everything has been cancelled, or close to it. People are finding the outdoors because the music festival scene and water park is closed. That’s been my example in a nutshell. People are finding the outdoors and posting about it. Facebook really got behind Groups in the last two years. Having friends with which to share stuff was limited yesterday to your 46 friends. Groups are the newest places of fellowship and conversation. There are Facebook groups devoted to hiking and devoted to paddling and devoted to backpacking and devoted to fishing and devoted to bushcrafting in the Adirondacks with individual memberships nearing 25,000 people. Guess what? I started a Facebook group about repairing canoes. We have 1000 members in 6 months from every corner of the world, including Tunisia. That’s northern Africa, somewhere near there.
Too much information?
Now comes the hard part. The internet world of information is at the fingertips of anyone who knows enough to enter a search term on Google. A person can find 10 mountains to hike in the Adirondacks while eating lunch, and download the GPS tracks. They need it during COVID. And I need it. Social media takes things to a second level, when we share our adventures with 25,000 people. When we share our adventures in great detail, like naming the pond where we paddled, a third thing happens. We engage a natural resource, the pond where we paddled. Social media is fun, but things assume another level when you engage a natural resource under the eyes of a ton of people. Bottle-necking to the most talked about places is sure to occur. Helping someone in their efforts to climb a mountain is a common post. If there are precisely 46 mountains to climb, you have engaged a natural resource with severe limits.
I was triggered and quit my groups (and I miss them some) when I saw posts pointing out the availability of backcountry canoe-camping sites down to the site number in real-time from the field. I’m not sure I want to go back. A few of my comments might still be fresh in member’s minds. It was nothing personal, but social media doesn’t take kindly to disagreeing with a post.
We should be sharing with the ultimate result being the protection of the natural resource. We don’t have to be tight-lipped; we should just tread lightly on the internet like we do in nature.
Paul Kalac lives in Gloversville at the foothills of the southern Adirondacks.