Liars Can Figure a Hard Look at Fishing Reports

by Louis Bignami

Back in my salad days when I did fishing reports for Fishing & Hunting News in Northern California I was constantly in trouble with my publisher. I'd write that the streams in the foothills looked like cocoa and folks should stay home. Some marinas and guides would note that "the river's a bit off-color, but improving fast by the weekend." Readers would read my column and compare reports.

Then they'd call up to ask for specifics. Unfortunately, at the time I lived near Rough & Ready and had a listed number. I'd tell folks to come if they liked, but be prepared to plow. Readers would rely on guide's and marina reports and do this. Then, after a bit my phone would ring off the hook for "real reports." For it's clear that while some fishing reports come from the horse's mouth, more come from the opposite end. In the short term this might bring in a little extra business; in the long term it puts folks in the position of the boy who cried wolf.

Maybe we needed translations vis.

Report Reality
It's improving fast. It must, nobody's caught a fish for weeks.
Water clarity is a bit off. Bring your plow.
Water's a bit cold but warming fast. Well, at least the ice is mostly off the lake.
Sea's running a bit high, but should calm soon. At least we think so no boat's made it over the bar lately.
Flyfishing's tough. You either need to chainsaw long holes in the ice to open up your cast, or an antifreeze spray to keep line from freezing in your guides.
Everyone's doing well. The locals get fish. Everyone else gets a suntan.
Action's hot The hatchery truck just arrived.
We just had a tournament Everybody else enjoyed bobbing in wakes.

This sort of thing wouldn't be so bad if puff reports only existed locally. For if the local charter types inflate results results, as some did when I lived in the Bay Area, it was easy to ask Uncle Gino to go down and sit on the dock while Fish and Game counted bags. The skipper who claimed 287 cod and "75 pound bags" didn't like it much when Gino quoted Fish and Game's 145 cod and 31 pound average bags. So if you can, check on backup reports from public agencies. They don't care if you come or not.

Unfortunately, the killer is the remote area where there may only be a couple of reports available. What do you do here?

First, I suspect you book through a specialist who know what usually bites when and that you won't be back if he touts you on the wrong time..

Second, you need to look at the high season. Early and late may be much less expensive, but this can, as once happened to me, be the reason why I sat in the rain in Costa Rica for nine days and watched the river rise and dead cattle float by. Admittedly we did enjoy some dandy shark fishing just off the river mouth with IGFA "non standard' drowned birds for bait.

Third, I learned in law school about "declarations against interest." If a PR type, guide or outfitter says, "don't come, it's lousy" you've probably got an honest report and should check back later when it may be better.

Fourth, you need to look at Gary Soucie's excellent book Traveling With a Flyrod and note his advice about realistic exceptions. Like myself, Gary's been an outdoor writer for years. It's clear to me that few clients get the kind of treatment outdoor writers enjoy when a guide, skipper or resort operator wants solid coverage. Then too, not all outdoor writers are able to admit it when they get skunked, and not everyone on the editing side will print material that suggests a resort's less than perfect. As a result the typical report you read about trips, resorts, guides or whatever, is rather "sunny" as opposed to the storm clouds of reality. You don't really think the photo in the booklet is off the worst cabin at the resort, do you?

In fact, I discovered that if you write an honest report that mentions "good solid food a bit better than elk camp," you get complaints from the lodge owner that questions your credentials to say this. So I pointed out I'd grown up in the food business, worked as a chef and had published 13 cookbooks. Then and noted as an aside, "balloon bread and margarine in tubs on tables with paper napkins seemed rather a burden for 'gourmet' food to carry."

Some information isn't a lie; it just overlooks some important points. For example, you might check with Hawaii Fish and Game on the number of trips it takes to catch a Pacific Blue Marlin. Hint: it's more than a half dozen. So before you purgle up $600 or so for a marlin trip you might check out sharing a charter or catching other species. For going out onto blue water off Kona or elsewhere is about a lot more than just catching fish. It's birds, bait, whales and much else that make fishing special. Just don't, if you fish in Hawaii, take bananas on the boat!

Maybe all this is the reason it doesn't matter that lairs can figure and that so many of the reports you see in print -- not to mention the video shows with 12 minutes of action that take a week to shoot -- isn't going to happen more than a couple of times a year. Do you really need the biggest fish of the season, or day?

I suppose I have low tastes. I'm happy with a few bluegills or brook trout, the odd channel catfish or an assortment of saltwater panfish if these come with the chance to get outside and escape the joys of work and "honey dos". Maybe we need more stories about the trip where we didn't catch fish, or the Russian cooks got drunk and burned the lodge down, and they fired the cooks, and the helicopter crashed and the salmon didn't bite and then the PR firm that laid this on complained about the lack of coverage. So, from time to time I'll add these: I've enjoyed enough of them for anyone and, frankly, some of the really awful trips such as 25 hours of seasickness on an albacore boat, now seem more interesting than trips when things go well. So believe the reports. Take your chances and hope that your trip is good, or bad, enough to be memorable.