As a person who has been officially involved with fish reports in some capacity for nearly 60 years (since 1959), I may be able to share some observations and insights that might prove helpful to you. To that end, I will generalize fish reports provided to the public into three categories:
- Creel Counts
- Vague Assessments
- Absolute BS
My first experience with this came when I was 12 years old and began spending weekends, holidays and school vacations living with the family of Sutherland Damkeeper Chuck Martin. Every Monday morning it was the job of the Damkeeper to call the report into Orville Ball in the City Lakes Office, who in turn would share the reports from all of the city operated lakes with Rolla Williams at the San Diego Union, George Herrick at the Evening Tribune and whoever answered the phone at Western Outdoor News.
If it was a holiday Monday and the City Lakes Office was closed, the Damkeeper was expected to call each of these outlets to provide a report, and that’s where I came into the picture for the very first time. As a general statement, most Damkeepers loathed this part of the job. Outdoor writers, some frustrated by working on deadline could be demanding and in some cases cranky, arrogant and insulting. Imagine a Damkeeper trying to decipher scribbled notes on a fish report form where information was often misspelled, incomplete or smudged with fish slime – and then trying to convey it as accurate information to someone who expected them to provide it the same as if he was an eyewitness.
Reporters wanted to know about the largest fish, what they weighed, where they were caught and what they were caught on, along with the name and hometown of the angler. They also wanted some indication or opinion as to whether fishing was good, bad or otherwise with the purpose of trying to turn highly subjective information into an objective report for public consumption. It was a terribly flawed process – and that was what I was thrown into at the age of 12!
Once Larry Bottroff arrived on the scene, the cooperation of lake staff who appreciated his dedication and support improved with creel census and fish report information rising to a new level of reliability and accuracy. From 1974 to 2003, relaying that information to the public twice a week via outdoor writers and the City Lakes Fish Line was an important aspect of my job. During that period I was dedicated to doing a good and accurate job of it – but that was not always the case in my younger years as evidenced by the following examples:
The first involved the father of a girlfriend who flat out did not believe that I had anything to do with what he read in the paper and pretty much called me a liar. The next week he opened his sports section to read: “Sixteen year old Kelly Beaver (not her real name) of San Diego fished Lake Sutherland Saturday for a nice 16 pound limit of bass caught on black plastic worms and topped by a five pounder.” Knowing that his daughter had not even gone fishing he never doubted me again – but he probably should have.
The second instance involves one of my favorite stories. In 1965 while running the dock at Lower Otay three days a week for the concessionaire, I was approached for another job in the fishing business on my days off from the lake. The father of a fishing buddy had recently secured the lease for Islandia Sport fishing (now Mission Bay Sport Fishing) and asked that I run the landing office, which included providing the fish report to local papers and Western Outdoor News. I asked if I was supposed to get the reports from the landing’s two skippers, Jack Rader and Mel Shears, and was surprised by the answer
“Nah,” he said, “follow me.” From the landing office we followed the Quivira Basin walkway past Sportsmen’s Seafood all the way to Seaforth Landing where a large board listed the day’s fish report. “You see that? Just check it every day and make sure our counts are better!”
With that bit of personal experience out of the way and not all of it very admirable, I’ll move on to the three basic types of fish reports described earlier that are most available to the public.
Without a doubt, and assuming the numbers are legitimate, this is the best source for anglers, particularly those with a little experience. Plus, I’m inclined to believe that the accuracy of the numbers, especially those for San Diego landings are more reliable than they may have been at some points in the past. Some lakes provide objective numbers in a similar fashion and I commend those who go to the extra effort to check anglers and provide honest figures. Keep in mind that fishing success varies greatly and keep track of the reports. In my experience an operator that occasionally shows terrible numbers on their fish report can be counted upon when their numbers show outstanding fishing.
If ever there was a mixed bag, this is it, because there are some operators whose vague assessments without numbers are reasonably descriptive of the quality of the fishing and there are those who are not. Vague assessments are made when an operator does not have the resources, experience or knowledge to recognize the importance of providing the public with accurate information so that they can make an informed decision as to when and where to fish. I’m inclined to support the operator who will honestly say when fishing is not very good and avoid those shortsighted operators who seem always to claim that fishing is terrific.
Let’s face it, there are those in the fishing business who would not tell the truth even if they knew it. This flaw is not limited to those trying to attract business to their boat, lake or resort, and quite often involves the complicity of those who report the news. In fact, this latter group may be the very first source of “fake news.” I have personally had the experience of providing certain media members with an honest report that fishing is very slow, only to see my words changed to extolling the quality of the fishing currently available. I’ve dealt with lake operators who knowingly lie about fishing prospects and this is particularly true when it comes to trout plant schedules and the number of pounds planted. I’ve received glowing reports from resort operators who rated the fishing outstanding during a week in which their boats could not go out due to the weather.
Fish reports and the trust you place I them comes down to you and your effort to find them. Follow the reports over a period of time, talk to other fishermen and compare notes based on your own experience and know this – there is no better place to obtain everything from current fishing reports to technique, places to fish and even fishing partners than the community that is SDFish!