What’s the Deal with “Secret” Fishing Spots?

Written by: Donovan Borne


The author casts a fly in his native South Africa.
Photo courtesy Donovan Borne

[Editor’s note: South African angler Donovan Borne sent us this letter, which was published in the October/November issue of The Complete Fly Fisherman magazine. He raises some interesting questions about the conflict between the desire to protect our own angling “turf” and the desire to help newcomers to the sport. I mean, we were all novices once. Donovan was kind enough to allow us to publish his letter, so I ask that your responses be respectful even if you plan to offer some “tough love.” What would you tell Donovan?]

What’s the Deal?

This is the rhetorical question that ricocheted around the inside of my head when I heard, from a friend, about yet another incident in which he was denied information about and the location of a good fishing spot, by another angler, as it was . . . “a secret.”

Now, unless this sacred knowledge is withheld for ecological reasons, this concept of keeping a good spot to oneself is one, that I simply, do not understand. I mean, I know that the average fisherman keeps their favorite fishing haunts a ghostly mystery. But surely not FLYfisherman!?

Or am I wrong?

I take issue with this nonsensical nonsense for many reasons. First, feel that it’s not in keeping with the spirit of our pursuit. I’ve read a lot about the unspoken bond of camaraderie that is shared between fly anglers, but this “secret spot” thing is contrary to that. Second, I simply don’t see the point. Fly fishing is a wonderfully challenging way of fishing, so where’s the challenge in hogging an easy-to-catch spot, where you know where the fish are? BORING! If you’ve hit on a stretch of water, why not take your photo and let someone else have a crack at it?

Last, and most importantly though, it’s off-putting to anglers who are new to the game. I think guys and gals new to fly fishing need all the help and encouragement they can get, and being deterred or even purposefully lead away from a hot spot is enough to send them to the bait freezer. Wouldn’t it be a far kinder gesture to guide a novice and/or a stranger to their first memorable catch or fishing experience?

I’m relatively new to fly fishing and have been on the receiving end of this “secret spot” rubbish on more than one occasion. It seriously ruffles my fly patch.

Is this covert concept part of what defines us as flyfishermen?

Seriously? What’s the deal?

25 thoughts on “What’s the Deal with “Secret” Fishing Spots?”

  1. I felt that way when I started 3 years ago. In fact, it kept me off the state fly fishing forum for the first year. But I can see the merits of it. Fishermen who put in the time and effort and research (trial and error mostly) have vested interest in that spot and would prefer it not be pressured.

    And I don’t see anyone getting mad at fly fishing guides for charging (a helluva lot of money) for the same information. In fact, in a recent podcast someone asked Mr. Rosenbauer if it was considered bad taste to return to a productive fishing hole after being shown it by a guide. If I remember correctly, the answer was… sort of. The crux of the answer was, ask him. If he waffles on his answer, don’t go back by yourself. Or if you do go back, but hire the guide again as a thank you..

    The justification was that the guide had put in time/effort/research to find out truly where the hotspot was. Why should flyfishers be any different?

    My .02. Opinions are like kittens…

  2. I fish a “Secret Spot” myself here in England. Tho if anyone on the fly forums requests info for Fly Fishing Im often quick to PM. Its teeming with quality brown trout but heavily overgrown and I have sought permission from the land owner.
    The reason Im so reluctant to share info is the idea of corporations coming in and taking over the rights hoiking up at some over priced ammount and making it private.

    Shame really as I would like to involve the Wild Trout Trust somehow. Shame that there idnt a way of doing so without attracting unwanted attention. Similar stretches run into the several hundreds. There is an elitidm in the uk by the Toffs.

    Any suggestions welcome. Its not far from the Westerham Orvis store.

    Regards

  3. I started learning to fly fish in late March when it started to get a little warmer here in Wyoming. I don’t have many friends that fly fish so I was pretty much a one man disaster for a couple months going to some reservoirs and ponds by Buffalo and then heard about Outlaw Canyon and the Big Horn and other waters fairly close to my home town of Gillette. I learned everything from Tom Rosenbauer and watching other YouTube videos and a lot of google. Trial and error and it wasn’t pretty for a couple months. Very frustrating for me. I haven’t really asked people where they fish or anything but have taken the route of trying to explore waters and look on BLM maps for public access areas. I wouldn’t be against telling people things I have learned and spots that I have been to but I also wouldn’t tell the world either. One example of how too many people knowing of a great reservoir, more specifically a trophy fishery, is a reservoir near Buffalo. It has a ton of rainbows, snake river cuts, and tiger trout over 20 inches. Most people I see there are fly fisherman and practice catch and release but I have pulled some trout out that have had their fins torn and just really looked beat up from people not practicing healthy catch and release and it’s sad. Huge trout but very beat up. I frequently seen a couple older gentlemen that had been fishing there over 30 years and they seen that I was new and they gave me great advice and told me about a few spots near by that I should try as long as I made sure to catch and release. They helped me more than they know. So, enough of my rambling on. I have spent a lot of money traveling to the mountains of Wyoming and near by areas this whole year and gone exploring to see what I could find. Disnt always turn out great but the experience is always great. I believe that even if you get skunked you still learned something from that day of fishing. Never a wasted day. There will always be people that want to keep their secret spots and that’s fine. They earned it. I highly recommend getting a map of public access areas where you live and just go exploring. You may find your own honey holes and then you won’t even care where other people go. Keep exploring and be patient. You never know what’s around the next bend. I know I can’t wait for winter to pass here in Wyoming so I can get back up in the high country. Best of luck on your future quests.

    1. Seriously, Jeff? You’re actually dropping names of places in this, of all articles? Would you like even more people at these places you just mentioned? Wise up, man.

  4. The answer to this question has many facets and it will be different for nearly everyone. I have a couple of reasons why I keep my favorite spots to myself. Although I have taken a buddy or two out somewhere that I knew I could get them on some fish when they were learning. First of all, I live in Arizona. We have many bass ponds and warm water fisheries but very little trout water compared to other states. I have been fishing long enough to watch once “secret” spots become littered with power bait jars and styrofoam night crawler containers. It is very frustrating as an angler and one who tries to leave the area just the way I found it to watch this type of thing happen.

    Secondly, I have put in a lot of hours researching and adding miles to my truck and boots in search of common as well as rare species in AZ. These personal achievements were something that I worked for and they were that much sweeter when the work paid off. I have more than once hiked miles to a blue line on a map to find it bone dry. When I joined a fly fishing forum for AZ, I did some reading on there before I just blurted out that “I want to catch some fish and someone please tell me where to go do that.” You must understand that these locations are part of many journeys that anglers hold very close and revere them as sacred for the peace and tranquility they offer. I doubt you would just give away a prized possession or award to someone else who didn’t do what you did to achieve it. It teaches nothing of perseverance to do so.

    The guys on my fishing forum are awesome. There is a wealth of information out there to LEARN how to become a better fly angler. They have many times offered advice and even guide recommendations for areas I was traveling. Or maybe a particular fly pattern to try. As a matter of fact, Tom Rosenbauer has done a podcast on moving from a novice to an intermediate angler and one of the suggestions he offers is to hire a guide for a day. I did and it was one of the best decisions I have made for my fishing. I learned more in a day than I had the whole year before. There is no substitute for trial and error and learning on the water.

    I don’t know one fly fisherman that would sit down with you and pour out his years of honey hole success because you want to catch fish without making the effort. Buy and read some books, join a fly fishing club, spend hours pouring over forum posts and maps and contribute to the forum when you can, make friends with the guys in your local fly shop, take a fly tying class, practice your casting, and most of all, get out there and wet your line. It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. The HARD is what makes it great.

  5. There are many sides to this coin and I’ll share some things you didn’t think about.

    Iam an experienced fly fisherman of 28 years and this very subject has made me virtually self segregate myself from the fly fishing community. It doesn’t have to be a new angler to get fed up with this subject.

    Years ago a guy took it upon himself to post a PUBLIC stretch of water and would harass anglers that fished it. He stocked it heavy, fed the fish to enormous proportions, all the while this is being done in a naturally reproducing trout stream. When I called this out and showed people how good the fishing could be for the wilds, some people got very angry. The funny thing is the stream is in an urban area and is hardly a secret. Still these people got so angry, I was threatened and had my wife and child made fun of. It got so bad that I ended up sending open invitations to the jerks to come to my house and do something about it. Yet, no one comes. Total keyboard warriors that were more concerned with protecting “Thier secret” than seeing the real issues.
    A guy posted public water for himself and stocked apex predators over a very good wild fish population.

    Another instance is one river here produces giant brown trout and lots of them in an urban area. Very urban in fact. People have raised total hell about it being talked about, yet the locals harvest fish and know they are in the creek. The creek is just so fertile in macro life and bait fish the Browns grow super fast. One angler who fishes it just started to recently in the past 5 years and he brings his buddies. *cring* right? No. Because without him and his buddies who called in an underground oil spill stopped about 20,000 gallons of oil from ruining a large portion of the river. Sure there would be less fishing pressure but it wouldn’t be worth fishing anymore. Moral is keep your secrets but when they come to ruin the creek don’t get upset when no one sticks up for it!

    I was put on blast once for talking about the best smallmouth fishery on the east coast. This river is 464 miles long, is ranked in the top 10 as best smallmouth fishery in the U.S. and is a mile wide in its lower long stretch. It’s no secret! If you can’t talk about this place then where can you? The same guy that blasted me is a guide and did a 1 hour show on TV about this fishery. I guess it’s ok as long as you are monetarily invested.

    The other thing is guys who get upset feel as if they have ownership in the fishery. That’s good and bad. It’s good you are passionate about the place but when you take ownership over something in public trust, you make the mistake of passionately telling people how they should take stake in it. It’s not yours! It’s everyones!

    Finally, I was at a TU meeting once and in the conversations before the meeting I saw another senerio play out. A few guys were talking in code about taking a fishing trip. “The fishing is good now. At you know, the place with the thing and the spot.” “Oh yeah yeah, I got ya shhhhh”. Then later a buddy of mine showed them a pic of a giant Wild brookie he caught. When asked where and he refused to give the location, these same secret squirrels got so upset we had to leave. Wtf is that ?

    Obviously not everything all the time should be put on blast and shared online. It depends on the reasons for disclosure. Over fishing can ruin a fishery and solitude. Still…
    Time and place and I love how some people want to control those times and places.

    I let my TU membership expire, I joined other conservation groups and fish with all new people now. These groups don’t threaten my family and my life if someone over hears my say, so I was at stream x today……
    Some fly fisherman have Thier priorities all wrong.

    2 sides to every coin and I just showed you both sides of my .02 cents.

  6. It comes down to this, if you want your own honey holes, you need to go exploring and be ok with a heck of a lot more misses than hits. Earned spots, they are glorious and feel great if you know you worked hard for them. You can bring newcomers to a couple of the more obvious spots but in the end, why would you give away your hardest to find spots.

  7. Yes. Keep secrets. Tell only your close, close, close family and friends who won’t go blabbing about it. Solitude is everything, folks. Solitude is worth as much as the actual fishing. Go out and explore if you want to find a place of ”your own”. Anyone who gets upset because someone won’t share their secret is a whiner.

  8. If a fellow fly fisherman sounds like a good person and I like their attitude towards the sport then I have no problem saying, “hey, you should try checking out this area with a nymph before you call it a trip, it looks really good”. If a person is not someone who I agree with then I’m not going to tell them anything.

    I’m all for getting new people into fish, and I try to do my part often, but I’m not helping those who are not in a similar head space. Just my way, I’ve got “secret spots” that aren’t so secret. It’s method and execution that I find more important.

  9. The purpose of a so called “secret spot” is this:
    You wake up at an unusually early hour, drive through who-knows-what kind of weather, for who knows how long.
    You’ve finally got the chance to get out, but you’re giving up a potentially productive day doing something else (because it’s a WEEKDAY, because typically that means LESS OR NO PEOPLE).
    You suit up, hike through the woods (which felt bottom boots are NOT meant for), and when you get to that spot you’ve been thinking about for a week or more, NO. ONE. ELSE. IS. THERE.

  10. Donovan, I think you and I enjoy fly fishing for different reasons. In fact I see this a lot more with the new generation of fly fisherman getting into the sport. I am glad more people are finding our sport and I am more than happy to help teach others but fly fishing used to be a journey of self education. Hard fought, hard learned lessons that took a long time to figure out. It took a long time to learn because it wasn’t easy and it is worth it. With today’s access to information it has become too easy to learn, in my opinion, and the true spirit of the fly fisherman is being lost. If you want something you open up some canned info and there you have it, someone else has done the hard part for you. I listen to the Orvis podcasts and I love what Tom is doing there but I see this issue in the Fly box questions all the time. I get so annoyed at what some people will ask. Get on the water and try some things and figure this out on your own. So my opinion on that point being known, the challenge is not in hiding your easy to catch fish from others, the challenge was finding them yourself. I feel that by keeping spots “secret” I am as much protecting my spot as I am helping teach the new person more about fly fishing. You will never know the satisfaction that this sport gives me if someone hands you everything. Every spot, every technique, if you don’t figure this sport out on your own it will not satisfy in the way that it can. Go work for it, go earn it. Tear that river up and find your own spot. Being upset that you can’t go to my easy to catch spot just proves that we enjoy different faccets of the sport but if you take the time to slow your journey down and learn it yourself, you can be on the right track in no time.

    1. I love it Greg!
      “work for it, earn it, tear that river up…”
      That says it all.
      Burning felt reaps great rewards.
      I would not mind if our boot prints crossed in the sandbar

    2. I disagree that fly fishing knowledge only came from hard fought experience. Since I got into it in the mid 80s, I found numerous books, how-to’s, magazines and even videos were coming around. There was already a well established army of authors who shared their hard-earned discoveries of the sport: Schweibert, Bergman, Marinaro, Humphries, Jennings, just name a very small few. Naturally, no internet and digital media, but those are only outlets that expand access. I agree, though, that the learning curve has been reduced. I don’t think I got a really good sense of how to nymph more effectively until early 2000s–almost 20 years after I started! If young anglers can master a skill like that in a few years, then more power to them.

      In fact, the sport of fly fishing, I would say, is perhaps the most generous in sharing and disseminating its knowledge and secrets. You don’t find the level of information–whether print or digital– available for, say, bait casting or ice fishing methods.

  11. Good arguments on both sides of this one. I’ve been telling folks for years here in the Driftless about a fine little stretch of stream near my home (in a reasonably populated area of Wisconsin) that’s paved with native brook trout. Despite this, I never encounter other fishermen. Still, I’ve no position to state one way or the other, just a couple of thoughts. One: Your “secret” spot is 50 other fisherpersons’ secret spot — or maybe 500. It just pleases you to think otherwise. And then there’s this: Offense is often a choice. Me? I choose not be offended when a person who shares my interests wants to know where to catch fish. So very many of us so ready to be offended these days. If you really want to see unctuous outrage, try applying the nomenclature that we would have used in the bad old days of the 1950s and 60s (before we got all religious about fly fishing) to certain tackle and techniques now popular. Hell, back then we’d have known “strike indicators” and Clouser minnows for what they really are — bobbers and jigs. It just pleases us to think otherwise.

    1. Maybe where you live it’s impossible to have a secret spot, but out west I’ve got places that I guarantee I’m the only one to fish or there are a handful that fish there any given season. The fishing is so good if the word got out the very nature of the place would be ruined.

  12. This is a tough question and def divides anglers. It goes back to our definition and reasons why we fish. If you want to catch fish in solitude and close to towns, keeping a spot quiet is in your interest. if you fly fish to share in the community and help others, then sharing the knowledge openly is as much a part of the fun as anything.

    I even created an entire website/membership that shares all the spots to fish that i know of in Colorado – https://thecatchandthehatch.com/river-explorer-free-version/

    I’ve had some say it’s the best thing ever, others are up in arms about it. I think there is a balance as in all things and finding a balance of sharing information, while protecting the resources that others have worked hard to fin is important. I don’t share exact fishing spots on the membership, but I do show what rivers are fishable and how to find success on them. I do the leg work to get them 80% there, they figure out the last 20% and that creates a satisfying experience and what I believe is a healthy balance to the discussion.

    My two cents!

  13. I think there are good arguments for and against revealing your secret spot or spots to fish. I have noticed, though, that salt water fly fisherman are more likely to reveal their secret or in most cases non-secret spots because salt water game fish are always moving from place to place unlike fresh water game fish that are more likely to remain in the same place. I usually got better information on where to fish in salt water than where to fish in fresh water.

  14. New anglers shouldn’t worry about getting to the Good Spots. Read up on reading water and fish behavior. Then go to the the well-known rivers; creeks; and lakes in your neck of the woods. Put that research to work while refining your approach, casting, and line management on the water. Then head to the tributaries. The spots are everywhere, but you won’t catch a thing unless you’ve got a decent idea how to pull fish out of ’em.

  15. I think its for fly fishing’s own good. If you do show someone your secret spot and they have a great time more power to you and them. However there is something to be said about finding that secret spot for yourself and figuring it our for yourself, where the fish are, what they are feeding on, how their behaviors change through the hour, day, month, and year that is much more rewarding than following someone to a secret spot with a secret fly. Shoot they may as well catch the fish for you while they are at it!

  16. You don’t understand? Wait until you’ve hiked hundreds of miles solo and put in all of the hard work&time to find said spots. Then 10 years later, see what it feels like after you give away some of your spots. Fishermen, sadly especially flyfishermen, can’t seem to keep their mouths shut about these sort of spots. It’s a disease. An attempt to self gratify one’s bravado, of which I will never understand. Give your spot to one or two people. They in turn they tell one or two other people, those people do the same, next thing you know-50 people know about it. The cycle continues. Also, telling a newbie would be even worse, as they destroy fisheries with poor fish handling and lack of moderation in fishing time. One day you’ll get it.

  17. I’m becoming much more reserved about my fishing spots since a person from work has started fishing with me over the last year. I have filled this person in on some of my favorite spots (that I’ve paid dues and worked hard to find) only to find this person hitting the same spot over and over again throughout the week. After a while of this person overfishing the areas (sometimes every day), they’ve started to become unproductive. This person also began to take other people into the spots as if the work was their own. Before long, the fishing spots were nowhere near as productive as they once were. If someone knows where the good spots are because someone told them, why would they want to put in the work to find spots themselves?

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