Trout Talk

Is 'destination marketing' bad for our fishy resources?

Oh, those innocent little hashtags.

I’m in Vermont at the annual Outdoor Writers Association of America’s annual conference, and I just stepped out of a session about how writers, communicators and influencers can work with destinations to promote the activities at those destinations to encourage readers and viewers to take the plunge and take a trip. 

First, for communicators, working with destinations might be the easiest way to experience new places and write (or “create content” in today’s complex new media terminology) about them. I’ve done it for years–with a little help, it makes it easier to, say, chase pike in the wilds of Manitoba, or spend 10 days wandering around the Tongass National Forest fishing for trout and salmon. 

But I’m asking myself more critical questions about destination travel of late — the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has pushed more and more visitors into the outdoors, and, unfortunately, the misbehavior born of ignorance or disregard (or both) that accompanies the increase in people in the outdoors gives me pause. 

Should I be writing about specific places to go and fish? Should I be “tagging” these places for the world to see (and, in time, visit and possibly abuse)? Admittedly, fishing is a higher-impact pastime than driving paved rural roads to enjoy the fall color–it probably makes more sense to be more discreet when talking about specific destinations.

I’ve settled on what I think is a happy medium. I’ll go. I’ll do. I’ll experience. But when it’s clear that the “destination marketing” that might come from my visit could do more harm than good, I’ll lay off. And, unless it’s a necessity or part of some arrangement with a host, I likely won’t be using too many specific hashtags. 

In other words, to borrow from Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, “Just because I can, doesn’t mean I should.”

As an angler in particular, I’ve seen how letting too many people in on “secret” destinations can be problematic for the destination and the fish that swim there. There are times and places for the influencers in today’s media landscape, but for fish and fishing, I’ve become something of a secret-keeper. And for the author of three fly fishing guidebooks and someone who firmly believes that wild places need advocates and that keeping secrets can sometimes be the wrong choice, I’m struggling with my new reality.

What’s your approach to this? Do you keep your destinations secret? Do you share with just a handful of close, trusted fishing buddies? Or do you just blindfold those you take with you, under threat of waterboarding?

I’d like to know … because this new reality has me conflicted.

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