October 01, 2006
By ERIC WICKSTROM,
In today's high-tech society, information is king, and in the fishing world, trusted and up-to-date information is highly sought after.
If the success of the Florida Sportsman Fishing Forum is any indication, the marriage between on-line and on-water is the perfect match.
“It wasn't long before our first dolphin slammed one of my homemade redheads with a silver skirt,” reported one Forum member recently, who goes by the optimistic screen name eyefish2good. “She was 25 pounds of high-flying fun. This seemed to be the best color for the day, as another volunteer of the same species ate the same lure 10 minutes later.”
Another member, BigMoneyWhaler
, talked about the value of monitoring such posts. “You get up-to-date reports before you go out,” he explained. “It saves a lot of time—you can go right where the fish were yesterday and stand a better chance of hooking up.”
BigMoney and eyefish have plenty of company online. Since its founding February 6, 2001, the FS Forum has helped numerous anglers catch more fish. By the summer of 2006, over 60,000 members had registered. The Forum currently has 37 sections, covering different fishing specialties and regions of Florida. There are also “off-topic” sections where members can talk about team sports, current events, politics or pretty much whatever they like.
Back in 2000, Publisher Blair Wickstrom suggested that Florida Sportsman add a message board to its growing Web site. As editor of the site, I did some research, only to find that most “boards” were virtual graveyards, with participation spotty, at best. I really didn't think it would fly here, but since he wouldn't relent, we gave it a try. Within three days, membership went over 1,000.
“It has exceeded all of our expectations for traffic and popularity,” Blair said recently.
“It's like having an extra 100 fishing and boating buddies at your beck and call,” said Craig Harting, Guidenet
on the Forum. “Not only has it helped me make better purchase decisions by letting me ask others about their experiences with a product or service, but members have taught me how to install or repair things where I'd have never attempted it by myself.”
In talking with many members of the Forum—which I do on a daily basis—it's clear that this sense of community is exactly what has made the Forum so strong.
“This place is more than just a fishing forum; it's a community,” says Angel Fish
. “A place where I meet my friends, to share my fishing stories or just to hang out.”
“I've met folks who've become good friends; attended their weddings and watched them start families—shared their joys and sorrows, and exchanged fishing and boating knowledge with Forum members from all over the region,” adds nuevowavo
With this level of community support, the Forum has proven to be successful as a largely self-sustaining and self-policing entity. Volunteer moderators spend 20 or more hours a week maintaining different sections, checking to see that the Forum is a safe and civil place to go.
“From the beginning, what made the FS Forum different,” explains Blair, “is that we had rules and made them apply to everyone, even ourselves. When someone came on bashing us we let the thread stay. We put the community first, much like how we treat the readers of the magazine. The Forum really seemed to take off about five years ago when someone posted a legitimate complaint about a national manufacturer—the thread stayed, and eventually the company settled with the poster and everyone on FS Forum celebrated together.”
It's not just Floridians who've become part of the community. Members from across the country and overseas participate on a regular basis.
Chicago-area resident Mark Nagan, or mjn
, said he discovered the Forum after picking up a copy of Florida Sportsman on a hometown magazine rack. A longtime Midwest angler, Nagan was drawn to salt water.
“After my first saltwater adventure left me high and dry on the mud flats of Florida Bay, I began asking questions on the Forum,” he said recently. “Questions of basic techniques led to more questions regarding species, migratory habits, seemingly unlimited Florida destinations, and my biggest hurdle as a freshwater convert, tides.
“Over the last 5 years, my saltwater expertise has increased to the point I am now giving out advice to beginning saltwater fishermen,” he added. “The spirit of the Forum is to promote the sport of fishing while using your experiences to help others. I now fish between 25 and 75 days every year in Florida while living in the Chicago area.”
Other members are past Florida residents, and use the Forum to keep up with fishing “back home.”
“The interaction with a community in a place that is such an important part of my past keeps alive the great times I had growing up,” said Lawaiaa
, of Wailulu, Hawaii.
, of Nashville, recalls asking for advice on where to fish along the Florida Panhandle. “Since that time, I regularly visit the waters between Apalachicola and Panama City, and have met some fine Forum buddies,” he said. “The FS Forum continues to be the link we share for communicating about the sport, and a neverending source for humor.”
Supposedly, a thousand people move to Florida every day, so there is a huge market for teaching beginners how to find the fish. And that is likely one of the major appeals of the Forum.
“I had been fishing and boating for 30-plus years,” says one member, “but when I relocated to Southwest Florida from the New York area, fishing and boating became a whole new world. I donned the name Clueless n Cape C
and joined the Southwest section of the Forum. I gained tips on tackle, methods and areas to fish, and found myself fishing with some of the best and most renowned fishermen in the area!”
Al Snow, Snowman
, also from New York, adds, “When I moved to Florida I decided to buy a boat. I started my search on the Forum. Because I was looking to fish both inshore and freshwater lakes, I asked for suggestions on boats and motors, and if I should buy new or used. With Forum recommendations I picked an Action Craft Flyfisher 1620. I decided to go used and actually found the seller through the Forum.”
One thing that all boaters and anglers are always looking for is more gear. If a product is available, there's probably a Forum member who knows about it, and likely, already posted about it. Good reviews of gear are the subject of many a thread. Likewise, bad reviews can also be found. Of course no company wants to have a bad review, so we sometimes get angry calls. The bottom line, though, is that consumers are educated, and can more easily find the best products on the market.
“We weren't the first fishing forum out there,” Blair recalls, “but we were one of the first not to bend to every commercial pressure to alter or delete negative threads, which wasn't always easy, and from time to time still isn't. I know of one national magazine that had a boating forum before ours and finally canned the whole thing rather than deal with disgruntled advertisers. The key is we've grown to the point where we have such a large community that unless you have a truly bogus product or service you'll have someone come to your side with positive feedback.”
Marine conservation has long been of vital interest to Florida Sportsman magazine, and it's clear that Forum members share the same concerns. The Forum follows the magazine's long tradition in helping to spread news of important issues confronting us.
“The Forum is recognized as an important voice of the recreational fishing community and is read and respected by regulators, politicians and industry leaders,” said Gary S. Colecchio
, one of the original four Forum moderators. “When I speak at public hearings on conservation and fisheries issues, there is always a nod of recognition when I mention the Florida Sportsman Forum. It carries weight.”
“Friends” is perhaps the word you'll hear the most when you talk to members of the Forum. A phenomenon termed a “Bash” by members has become quite the hit. These get-togethers range from a local “pub night” to a full-blown weekend gathering—and some friendly competition is often part of it.
“Everyone goes to put faces with names, fish, and have a good time—sometimes with attendance of over 100 people,” said FishyGirl
. “The bonds I have formed with some of these people will never go away. Thanks to the Forum, I consider myself a member of an incredible group of giving and sharing individuals, who just happen to love fishing.”
One of the most popular Forum online gathering spots is called Off Topic. This section is much like a neighborhood bar, where fishermen gather to tell jokes, stories and lies. Of course when men (the Forum is about 95 percent male) gather, the topics tend to gravitate toward women, drinking and sports.
“The Forum began for me as a place to learn about fishing and boating, since then it has grown to a place where I get my news updates, laughs, advice and share moments with friends. If we could ban Gator fans this place would be nirvana,” says saltydawg
In the end, though, it's the good old outdoors, and fishing—Florida's most popular outdoor activity, that is the backbone of the Forum. Says Marker954
, “The Forum has become my all-in-one Internet source. It's my news, comedy and entertainment all in one place. And, it even has fishing reports, fishing news, and HOTDs with fish.”
I couldn't have said it better myself.
If you're not already part of the FS Forum family, log on and surf around. Before you know it, you'll be hooked, just like me.
Membership to the FS Forum is free. All you need to participate is a computer, online access and an e-mail account.
Once online, go to the FS website, www.floridasportsman.com, then click on the “Forum” link in the blue bar near the top of the page. Next, click on the “Register” link to the right of the FS Forum logo.
Now comes the tough part, coming up with a member name that is unique, simple and not already being used. It's often good to write down a few of your favorites on paper before registration time. You'll also need to use a valid e-mail account, since your password will be sent to you via e-mail. Also keep in mind that any potentially vulgar or lewd names will not be approved. If you don't receive an automated confirmation e-mail within minutes, then perhaps your e-mail server blocked it, thinking it was spam. You can then get your password by sending an e-mail to email@example.com. Note: passwords are case sensitive.
Once you get on the Forum, you should fill in your profile, and if you choose, make your e-mail hidden. The next step is to jump right in, headfirst, and start posting. A good first post might be an introduction of yourself in your regional section. And of course, the best way to learn Forum etiquette is to read as many threads as your eyes can stand. Also, click the “search” link up top, and read over some of your favorite topics.
As they like to say in the Forum, “Welcome to the asylum, and be careful; it sure is addicting.”