A Case Against Guidebooks

Guidebooks, helpful or harmful? Arguments can be made on both sides and what the content of the guidebook is may matter most. Mountain biking a popular area, probably pretty harmless. Including “local trails” which may or may not be operating under the blessings of good drainage or the USFS, probably not as good to include. Fishing at a world famous spot like Lee’s Ferry or the Madison River near Yellowstone, probably not going to change things. Upland game hunting locations… Well, those books aught to be outlawed..

Not in the book, off the beaten path, no names
Not a single fish found or caught on this 10 mile day, they don’t always work out

This is a subject I have two minds about. On one side, I have benefited from some wonderfully written guide books which helped me better navigate and more respectfully utilize an area. The judicious use of local knowledge is a must. To list and detail every single small stream or hidden pocket of country for all to read I’ve found to be more a shame than a gift. While it most definitely benefits the book purchaser to be able to find all the local spots in the short term. It has definite downsides to the seldom traveled places. Allowing easy access to the masses has a track record of failure. I know it is all public land and everyone has equal opportunity to access and utilize it, but sometimes making things so easy to find has a bigger downside. Arizona has had many such examples of this, a state with an excess of people and small amounts of fishing locations.

Recreational debris left at an overused Arizona gem

Fossil creek is the perfect example of something that was nearly ‘loved to death’. Near constant attention in guidebooks and southwestern magazines made it a must visit for the masses. Most people who visit our public lands are respectful of their resource. However, the more people you attract, the more shitty people will show up. People who leave their trash behind, who drive off roads and who leave behind far more than what they removed. A few years back it came to a head and the forest service was forced to limit access and charge for passes. This was done to both limit the amount of people leaving trash and to fund their own efforts to pick up trash/provide restroom facilities. It is sad that this is what land management agencies are forced to do. Similar to a game of whack-a-mole though, one location is blocked and the trash crew shows up and ruins another. This is not the only site in Arizona or the west to be in a similar predicament. With increased usage and a lack of etiquette I would not be surprised to see more and more places forced to limit access.

Creek small mouth from a “don’t bother” area in the guide books

A book detailing every spot is not necessary. The thing is that is that all that information is out there. Between Google earth and various topo maps all the information you need is at your fingertips. With a little digging you too can find a secluded canyon to hike or an out of the way trout creek. With the influx of guidebooks and (even worse) Instagram guides to just about everywhere, these less known spots are being broadcast to the world. Worst of all adventure is being taken right out of the equation. The magic of the next ridge is lost when you know what to expect on the other side.

Only way to find out what’s there is to burn some gas and ruin a perfectly good pair of boots

There is one more method that, in my opinion, is the best way to find a hidden gem. Forget the guidebooks and the internet sleuthing. Replace it with a topo map and the loss of a little boot rubber. Not only is this a pretty much guaranteed way to find a secluded spot, but it is far and away the most fulfilling. Coming to a creek you have no info on and catching fish all day on dry flies or finding a covey of birds in a hidden pocket is an experience that is tough to top. The lack of expectations and the hope of finding the next good place keeps the motivation high to walk over that next ridge.

Deep in the burned and killed creek full of “dead” native trout
Public land isolation

In todays social media age, the ability to keep a spot off the map seems like a lost art. In theory though it is pretty simple, keep the geotag out of the picture and the name out of your mouth. If you want to have secret spots then keep ’em secret. If I’m your friend and we go bird hunting I don’t expect to be taken to your best spot, shoot if we go anywhere in your top five I’m gonna have doubts about you. What I’m getting at is if to be in the “in” crowd of social media outdoorsmen you’re required to give up the goods on local spots, then you might want to reconsider what you’re looking up to.

Less than 2 angler use days per year on average and hope it stays that way

If you take anything from this, get out and walk somewhere you’ve never been and don’t tell anyone the details. Or better yet, stay home and leave the good spots for me to find.

3 thoughts on “A Case Against Guidebooks

  1. I feel your pain. I live close to Banff and Lake Louise in Alberta. These areas are inundated with the masses every year, so much that the locals couldn’t even get close. The problem is now in managing the vast number of people who flock to one area. Do you have shuttle only access? Tour guide only access so you help the local people and economy (like Macch Pichu in Peru)? I think there are solutions to over-loving a spot, but the government needs to take the lead.

    On the flip side, I *know* exactly where all the tourists are going to be, so I can easily avoid them.

    Anyhoo – I originally came to your site because my step-dad (American) came to Canada for the fly fishing. He loved our Bow River. He practiced his fly fishing skills EVERYWHERE! Back alley. The park across the street. Even in the desert when he worked in Saudi Arabia!

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    1. I bet its really crowded up there, it is some incredible country! And shuttles/tours down here are definitely becoming more common which is helps some of the locals but puts these spots even more on the map. More and more the government agency that manages the land seems to be forced to use a permit system/area closure because they can’t afford to clean up after all the mess. The spots here definitely get even more crowded after an Outside magazine article or person with a big following comes through and blasts the location of the spot they went. I guess that’s the blessing and the curse of public land, I just hope people learn to use it more responsibly.

      And that’s awesome! I hope to fish up there sometime, there are some really awesome rivers I hope to fish someday!

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      1. Yes, the permit system. We have friends in Montana that love to river raft and canoe. Their trips work around the permit system. We have a few popular spots and huts in Canada that are on a lottery system. Its almost impossible to win a week though.

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