February 1, 2007 at 8:32 a.m.
A few hours earlier, my sweetheart, decked out in plaid flannel pajamas and a fleece ski cap, looked over my shoulder and asked me what I was doing before she shuffled up to bed. Our thermostat's set low enough to keep penguins as pets. The electric blue glow of the computer screen illuminated the crooked sneer on my mug and I replied, "Stealing secrets, Baby. I'm stealing secrets."
I spent quite a bit of time that night poring over Brainerd area fishing reports and forums, looking for the straight dope on the local fishing angle. On every fishing forum, there are always a few saps logged on that give away one too many details about where and when they're catching fish. Details that prove to be quite valuable to a smart and resourceful gumshoe like me. They just can't keep their yappers shut and it was paying off in aces for me. I was in luck. I found enough sap out there on the Internet to start my own maple syrup business, which only got me thinking about pancakes again.
If snooping around forums and sniffing out fishing hot spots like a Bluetick Coonhound weren't bad enough, I've begun to pull the "writer card" more and more often lately. Just the other day I phoned Sportland Bait in Nisswa, identifying myself as a staff columnist for Outdoors Weekly Magazine. That statement is true enough, I do write a weekly column for them. Most times, just the mere mention of the magazine will loosen the lips of the grouchiest bait shop owner. Tell the guy that you intend to write a piece about his business, the area lakes and the terrific fishing opportunities that await the multitude of readers and he'll really open his beak and sing like a canary. What's the guy gonna do? Feed me crummy information and risk equally bad press? No, when I sidle up to a bait counter wearing my trench coat and Sam Spade fedora with the glossy Outdoor Writers of America card tucked behind its satin ribbon, believe me, their eyeballs show dollar signs and begin to spin like a one-armed bandit. They all know good press brings business. The deal closer is the moment I whip out my little spiral notepad, pull the stubby #2 pencil from behind my ear and ask them to spell their name -- you know, for accuracy. I surely wouldn't want the guy's name misspelled in print. After that, let's just say that the only question left for me is how many big fish I'm going to catch that day.
Do I believe that trolling the Internet and pimping magazine inches for fishing information are shameful and cheap ways to find fish? Oh, absolutely. There's no doubt about that. Do I lose any sleep over it? All I'll say to that is I wake up every morning feeling well rested and quite refreshed.
It's a dog eat dog world out there. The competition is stiff and business secrets are well guarded, even in the fishing world. I do take pride in the fact that I'm getting pretty slick at finding good fishing spots using very unconventional and questionable tactics.
Sometimes I think I missed my calling in life, particularly after I've cracked some wise guy's code on a forum, or sort of triangulated a great fishing spot using a number of seemingly unrelated reports. Maybe the world is short one really good detective or private eye. I guess we'll never know.
Dan Brown's weekly outdoor column is brought to you by Frankie's Bait and Marine, in Chisago City, and St. Croix Outdoors, in St. Croix Falls, Wis.