Sunday Classic / The Borg Don’t Fish

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Locutus of Chum

Locutus of Chum

I am a child of the sixties.

But my childhood in a small Virginia town in the 1960s was not the long haired, free love, groovey sixties that phrase brings to mind. Mine was the nerdy, plastic rim glasses, popular science sixties. In 1966 when Star Trek warped onto national TV I knew my people had arrived. I spent hours forcing my young hand into a Vulcan salute and cemented my outsider status by showing up at school wearing pointy ears cut from flesh colored peel-and-stick Dr Shoals felt shoe inserts. Yep, that was me.

When Captain Kirk and Mr Spock hung up their phasers I grudgingly followed along with Picard and Richer but it was never the same. Data never went into a homicidal mating rage and Worf was a sad excuse for a Klingon but it was the Star Trek of the day. My grousing stopped however, the day I encountered the Borg. Star Trek T.N.G. Reached into the bag of old school Star Trek tricks and came out with the greatest outer space boogie man of all time.

If you recently escaped from North Korea and the iron hand of communism I’ll excuse you for not knowing about the Borg. You can read about them (HERE).

This terrifying new enemy wipes out entire species, not by destroying them but by assimilating them. Making them into Borg. The Borg exist as cybernetic organisms. Half alive, half machine. Their neural implants connect them all in a hive like consciousness. This makes them a handful in a fight.

photoThe creepy gray skin and tubes are very Gigeresk and the loosing ones individuality is a classic Star Trek threat, but none of that is what makes The Borg frightening. What’s scary is Star Treks amazingly consistent record of predicting the actual future. They’ve gotten enough right (talking computers, smart phones and 3D printers for a few) that I’m afraid they might be right again. We may be the Borg.

I am not only incapable of putting down my iPhone, I no longer want to. Walk into any restaurant and you will see tables surrounded by people ignoring each other and staring at their phones. We are on line constantly. Most of us to the point that loosing our Internet connection for a few hours constitutes an emergency. Thank god for Starbucks where we will spend five bucks for a cup of coffee just to be near a router.

We have facebooked and tweeted and pinned ourselves straight into the hive mind. And what do we do with all of that connectivity? Just like the Borg, we go after less advanced species. Fish. This became clear to me when one of my favorite ‘secret’ streams appeared on an Internet message board. The result was a full scale Borg invation.

A similar scenario is playing out in the Florida Keys. Every year a new crop of aspiring flats guides show up, fresh faced and ready to be famous. In there hands are no charts or hand drawn maps from a generous old pro. Instead there are iPads with Google Earth already open. What’s more, I know veteran Keys guides who have been drooling over Google images of Cuba for years, waiting for that border to open.

I’m all for guys getting on fish, but what is all of this technology doing to the fishing? It’s not a simple question. Although social media, blogs and Internet message boards are likely introducing a lot of folks to fishing who may not have found an interest on their own, it’s hard to picture random Facebookers logging on over their morning coffee and deciding to go out and rape a local stream. On some water however, pressure is increasing. I have no hard data, but it seems to me two things are happening. Pressure, and more pressure.

First, pressure is becoming concentrated. The word gets out that a given stream is fishing well and, before you know it, everyone within a three hour drive is fighting over a couple of miles of water. It’s annoying for anglers but it’s big trouble for the fish. Fisheries are cyclical by nature. The fishing in given streams and lakes gets hot and then eventually goes cold for a while before getting hot again. It’s a cycle that takes years and it used to take years for fishermen to figure it out.

These days it takes weeks and the new hot stream gets pounded right out of the gate. In the old days, crusty old anglers would give you there sisters phone number before they’d give up a hot fishing hole. That accomplished a couple of things. It gave streams time to rebound. The hot stream of tomorrow was developing during the years it took to fish out the hot stream of today.

This concentrated pressure, caused by the Internet, accelerates one side of the cycle without accelerating the other. Streams don’t get a chance to catch up. The other thing those tight lips accomplished was to season new anglers. By the time an angler learned where the fish were and how to catch them there was a pretty good chance that they had learned some respect for the resource. Started pinching their barbs and practicing catch and release or at least stopped leaving their beer cans on the bank. The system was not all bad.

Concentrated pressure is not a phenomenon isolated to place. Fish species suffer from the same effect. How many guys were seriously chasing musky five years ago? Not many. It was carp before that. A species gets a lot of sudden press, it becomes fashionable to catch them and resistance is futile. The poor fish must wander what in the hell happened to get them all of the new attention.

“I gave up on bass out here,” a friend in California told me the other day. “Too much pressure. Everybody’s pounding the good water. The internet’s ruined it. Just like surfing, every Barney can go online and find where the surfs good.” he went on to tell me about the new species he’s chasing in the surf, but he made me promise not to tell.

In addition to pressure the information age is fueling the problem from another angle, education. The Internet is teaching folks to be better anglers. “I’m not worried about fishing behind those guys,” I’ve heard guides say. “They don’t know what their doing anyway.” Well, more and more they do and that’s added pressure too. The fish are out numbered, out gunned and have nowhere to hide.

By now I’m sure you are thinking something that I figured out long ago. I am part of the problem! This became obvious to me the day I did a google image search for “Bahamas bonefish flies,” and found that a startling percentage of the results were my own photos.

365 Days a year Kent and I post information that’s geared toward putting you on fish. We are flattered and genuinely thrilled that so many of you read what we put out and share our passion but we do stop to think about the impact. We feel that we have a responsibility to the angling community at large. It’s a responsibility we take very seriously.

We believe that fly fishing should be inclusive, not exclusive. We believe that everyone should experience the thrill of tying a fly and catching a fish in their life. That said, we know what a disaster that could be. We accept that if we are going to give out information that helps more people catch more fish, them it’s our responsibility to help those anglers be better stewards of the resource. To respect the fish and the water and their fellow anglers and leave the places we love better than they find them. It’s our Hippocratic Oath. To do no harm.

If I have a point, it’s this. Tread lightly. Not just on the river but on the web. Think twice before posting gps coordinates or even stream names. Help your fellow angler, but not just to catch fish. Help him understand the importance of conservation. Help him understand the etiquette of angling. Help him be a better angler in the larger sense. Take that oath yourself, to do no harm.

I owe a great debt to the friends and family that thought me those lessons. It has not only made me a better angler, it has made my experience so much richer. Thanks to them, I have the context and appreciation for what a special and precious thing it is to catch a fish on a fly. It has made me mindful of all that I do. It is the measure of every other experience in my life.

So be that better steward. Tread lightly on the river, and online, and think before you post that Facebook status. The Borg are listening.

Come fish with us in the Bahamas!

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline 
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4 thoughts on “Sunday Classic / The Borg Don’t Fish

  1. I agree with everything you said, but remember there are 2 sides to every coin. Increased anglers also means more support to protect the resource. As you said there needs to be an element of education in online information to inform new anglers of the need for support to protect the resource. I like your post just remember not all is gloom and doom. A borg even became a member of starfleet.

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