One of the things that the internet age has brought us is a brand new sport: spot hacking. I know I spend half the winter at it when the weather is just too bad to go out and actually fish. I can think of a few great successes. Once a few years ago a fellow posted a photo of himself and a 20 inch smallmouth bass. In the background was a nondescript photo of a section of riverbank with nothing notable in the background. Nothing that is except for a electrical tower and a set of wires crossing the river. And under his name he had posted his hometown, a Chris from Columbus sort of throw away tag line.. So I first brought that up on Google maps. Now his town wasn't on a river but it was five or six miles away from a good smallmouth river. So I then zoomed in on the river about ten miles downstream. Really tight, as close as Google would let me zoom. And then began crawling the mouse slowly upstream. A few minutes later Voila! Towers and wires crossing the river. The next day I drove out to test my theory. I parked the truck, grabbed my rod and headed over the bank to the river. And there he was, standing there fishing his hotspot! Sometimes it's just that easy.
Sometimes it's harder of course. You have to match bits of different photos and try to name unnamed features. Tying to match a piece of smokestack sticking above the trees with photos of power plants in the area you find on Google images. Or take tiny snipits of text from two or three different posts and add them together. It can become a sport all unto it's own. And I'm not alone, I know at least six or seven guys that I know personally that practice the art to varying degrees. And of course these are the guys you have to watch out for. Never con a con man as the saying goes and never trust these fellows fishing reports. Oh they caught those big fish for sure. That's a thing of honor. But where they said or implied? Probably not. If I say what river I caught it in then it was that river. After all my favorite two rivers are well over a hundred miles long each so I don't have to worry about that. But give you details? Never. And every photo is checked for landmarks in the background before it's posted. Not everyone does this. I have a friend who last year posted some dandy fish he caught mid winter. But the river he said online was an hours drive from the river he caught them in...Caveat Emptor
And todays electronic fishing world has brought us the photoshopped trophy pic. You've seen them, the ones where the background is all blurred or just painted over with a layer of white. Sometimes it's even done in an artful manner. I once went fishing early one morning with a good friend. It was a picture perfect morning, mist rising, the sun just kissing the treetops. And he caught a huge fish, a trophy bass. Well back at home on the computer in the background of the photo was an obvious landmark. Anyone that lived within a dozen miles would know instantly where we were. A little bit of photoshopped mist and it became a calendar quality shot. Minus the landmark of course.
Then there is the opposite of the paranoid fishing zealot. The guy that makes us all cringe with fear when he posts. The fishing neophyte that lucked out and hit a good spot on a good day and managed to catch a few quality fish. Now he doesn't do that very often so he has to share his good fortune with the world. "Yeah you park behind Larry's used appliances and follow the path to the river. It's a super spot!" And he's just posted it on a website that gets thousands of views every week. My biggest fear in life is one of these jokers is going to unwittingly stumble on one of my most secret spots. It's enough to keep you up nights and make you shudder on a warm day. If you want the guys who are good fishermen to think your a good fisherman for God's sake don't go posting directions to where you caught that hawg.
The best use a serious fisherman can make of the internet though is to find spots on his own. Google maps and sites like it have made it possible to look at more water in a day sitting at home than you could in a lifetime on your feet. My favorite site is http://www.digital-topo-maps.com/ Here besides the usual map and satellite views you can also get a topo map. I'd hate to add up all the time I've spent doing this. If it's in southwestern Ohio and it's flowing water I've looked at it at least once. Some spots dozens of times before I finally go there in person. So you zoom in close and begin slowly working your way up the river, noting the rock bars, the riffles, the bend pools. Now of course maybe only half of these will pan out in the real world. At least at first till you gain some experience at this sort of thing. But even half is way better than just going out blind. After all the old saying 90% of the fish are in 10% of the water is gospel truth.
But then it possible to turn that on it's head too. Me, I'd rather catch one 19 or 20 inch smallmouth than a hundred smaller ones. It's what I live for. I'm not after the 90%. And let's face it, a really big 20 inch smallmouth is something like one tenth of one percent of the total population in a river around here. It takes well over a decade, sometimes more like two for a fish to grow to that size. So back we go to those mapping sites. Now, instead of obvious classic spots I'm looking for that out of the way not so obvious spot that might hold just a few fish. But hey look, it's away from any good spot to park so there's little pressure. And it's not so fishy that some guy on a float trip is going to beach his yak or canoe and get out and fish. It's pretty ordinary except that it gives the few fish there that magical thing they can't get anywhere else. Time.
All of this also takes time as well. Lot's of it. You can spend a lifetime developing a library of tried and true hotspots. And an even bigger list of hoped for hotspots you just haven't tried yet. But will. Just as soon as you get time. But to quote one of my favorite writers:
"Angling is extremely time consuming. That's sort of the whole point." - Thomas McGuane