Open Discussion: How to Crowd Source Weekly Fishing Reports

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(Update: In thinking about this, I believe my fundemental problem is that while I’ve crowd sourced content generation, I am now at a point where I need to crowd source some of the content entry, formatting and editing tasks…)

I’ve been editing the Fishwire Reports at Reel-Time.com since 1995.  The task has generally been hugely manual, requiring tons of my time, most of which has happened over the years between the hours of 4am and 9am on Friday mornings.  In short, a really bad system.

The Scenario:

We cover 6 distinct regions throughout the northeast.  Each area is the responsibility of a different writer, although last year I wrote the reports for two regions.  The reports each contain around 6 subregions, such as “Boston Harbor” or “The Cape Cod Canal.”

Generally on Tuesdays I send an email out to my sponsors (generally area fishing guides) and regular contributors.  Then over the next two days the reports and images come back in via email.  If the weather is good, I probably have close to enough for a report.  If not, I go into our forum and look for posts that contain info from the general area.

I do a ton of cut and paste, much of which requires me to use notepad as an intermediary, since half the email comes in with nasty word or other formatting embeded.  Also, I get many of the images at full res, as many of the guides don’t have or don’t know how to use Photoshop.  Hence photo editing is a huge component of the task.  The images are generally optimized, have a caption added, and get a photo credit.

Then I put together the best of the images to use as the story leads for the homepage.

The current system, if it could be called that, is custom coded php that dates back to the dark ages.  I plan to move most of the non-forum components of the site to a highly customized version of WordPress that we use for many  of our sites.   If needed, I have the capability to make WordPress stand on its head and dance.  I do a LOT of WordPress development.

The Question:

My big problem is that I only see moderate improvement in the process no matter what I do.  Essentially, we’re managing a crowd sourced report here.  Many contributors, a writer, a photo editor,  and an editor.   How are other people doing stuff like this without having to use so many different skills?

The readers and sponsors really like the personal touch the writer gives the report.  I wouldn’t want to go to just a directory of reports, that’s been tried and failed repeatedly.  In fact, our presentation is one of the big differentiators.

Can you see a better way?  Do you have examples of how others are doing this in new and better ways?   Or should I just look at getting a couple interns to make it work manually?

As always, I look forward to the shining light of your collective wisdom…

(Oh, I’ve had a suggestion: why don’t you just do a blog – the short version to the answer is that I did that in 2004 as a test and found that only a very small subset of sponsors would post, so I ended up cutting and pasting again.  Plus, the subset that did post was way over represented on our site.)

Reel-Time Fishwires Updated

A Bonito

In the Cape Cod Fishwire for Reel-Time.com this week I spent a little more time than usual actually delving into the issue of rotten inshore catches of striped bass off the Boston coast. Basically I note (with statistics) that two of the past 4 years have been some of the worst spawning years since the 1980’s, when the fish almost ceased to exist. Not a good thing…

To the North in the Boston Fishwire, I have good reports of tuna and even some bluefish showing off Plum Island. The stripers are making a better show of it in both Boston and Plymouth Harbors, but its still a dog of a season for most of us. Check out the commercial catch stats I posted in the Cape Cod report…very interesting.

Reel-Time Fishwire Reports Updated

A busy afternoon – I’ve posted new reports for Boston and for Cape Cod on Reel-Time.com

In Boston, we’re still waiting on a real appearance by the bluefish.  Very strange, they haven’t been so late that I can recall.  It kind of reminds me of the stories the old timers told me back in the 1970’s that they remember not seeing blues in the 30s and 40s north of Cape Cod.

School bluefin are showing out at Stellwagen, so the games in Cape Cod Bay and off Cape Ann should start very, very soon.

On the Cape, the bonito have moved in to Menemsha, so figure in the next week someone strikes green in Falmouth, then from there, the entire south side starts to light up.  The funny fish are in and things get bizarre from here.

Angler Just Misses Striped Bass World Record

Peter Vican with a 75.4 Lb. striped bass - Providence Journal
Peter Vican with a 75.4 Lb. striped bass - Providence Journal

Peter Vican caught a 75.4 lb. striped bass off the reef at Block Island over the weekend.  Well, it was the Block Island reef, as the story in the Providence Journal says, he normally fishes off Block Island, and in the tradition of real striper fishermen, he apparently wasn’t even willing to admit he was in the Atlantic Ocean.

The current world record striped bass on hook and line is 78-pound 8-ounces and was caught by Al McReynolds during a storm off a jetty at Vermont Ave. in Atlantic City, NJ using a 5 ½ inch black-back silver Rebel plug on Sept. 21, 1982.

In the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen several large striped bass, well over 60 lb. come out of the waters around Block Island.  Here’s a hint for you:

Big stripers school together.  If you want your shot at a world record fish, now is the time to be fishing the Block Island reef.

There you go.  The best advice you’re going to get from anyone today, for sure!

Boston and Cape Cod Fishwire Reports for July 10

Boston…When the Going Gets Weird

I’ll try not to spoil it for you.  Basically, there’s a lot of talk how the stripers aren’t turning up inshore.  Tons of bait, and it’s going unmolested about it’s business.

The theories are many, but I question whether it’s a fundamental shift due to the declines in the cod that have allowed the stripers to take up residence as alpha dogs on Stellwagen.  At least until the bluefin really assert themselves.

Cape Cod…The Haves and Have Nots

On the Cape, much the same thing.  The Canal is deadsville.  But the outer beaches and Monomoy are looking good.  Plus, the rumors of bonito abound, but nothing I’m ready to believe yet.  Figure within the next two weeks it breaks loose.

My Reel-Time Fishwire Reports are Up…

Cape Cod Fishwire for July 3, 2008

Boston Fishwire for July 3, 2008

I’d sworn last September I was done writing the Reel-Time Fishwires (weekly fishing reports).  When NameMedia bought Reel-Time.com I realized that just wasn’t in the cards.  So I’m now finding the fun in the reports again.  A couple things I noted as I posted this week:

  • The Fishwire management system is antiquated.  It was a nice try in 2001 when it was built, and frankly I hated it then.  It has not improved with time.
  • Flush left page templates look like 1999.
  • Lots of broken links.  Tons of them.

The long and the short of the story is that I’ve got a lot of work to do.

Reel-Time.com Acquired By NameMedia

In what has become an utterly bizarre turn of the tables, NameMedia Inc. has bought Reel-time.com – the site I have been working with since 1995 or 1996 as managing editor, head geek and general do-what-needs-to-be-done guy, is now owned by my current employer.

It’s a great thing for Thorne Sparkman, who is now able to repay the investors in the site. David Churbuck (he blogs on this story here)  and I had been almost completely disengaged and had no financial stake in the final buy out. The big winner is honestly the community which now will actually move forward, vs. being in a holding pattern.

Last September, when I posted my final Fishwire Report for the Boston Region (a report of what’s going on for saltwater fly fishermen) I swore it would be the last. Yesterday, I wrote two of them…handling both Boston and Cape Cod. The good news is that I was for the first time able to write them during normal working hours, instead of getting up at 4 in the morning.

Reel-Time.com was a niche online community before anyone had any idea that such a thing could exist. In a lot of ways we invented, identified or were afflicted by, just about anything you now hear about termed as “Social Networking” or “Social Media.”

So as things change, in many ways they stay the same for me.  I’m now back where I began, at Reel-Time.com and after 13 years, I couldn’t be happier.  Now if I can just get some fishing time in.

Where are the Herring?

The Cape Cod Chronicle reported over the weekend that the herring runs haven’t started yet, and people are worried.

The runs in Harwich and Chatham are all but devoid of the silvery baitfish, as they have been around the state for the last eight years. Chatham Herring Warden Donald St. Pierre checks the run at Ryder’s Cove three times each day, and Tuesday morning, he saw only a few dozen fish. “It’s not a lot. I haven’t seen any schools,” he said.

In the past, schools of 500 to 600 fish could be seen climbing the fish ladder in the evening or early morning, “but I haven’t seen any this year,” St. Pierre said. Some say the precipitous dropoff is the result of subtle changes around the spawning grounds; others say it’s a simple case of overfishing. But in either case, it spells trouble for the entire marine food chain, not to mention those who depend on it.

Ouch – this is bad. Many of us had hoped that the closure of the river herring (alewife) runs to fishing last season would provide a quick turnaround. It’s beginning to look like that isn’t going to happen. The Chronicle article goes on:

In a single trip, pair trawlers can land a million pounds of herring. The captains target Atlantic herring, but because river herring often school with them, large numbers of river herring are also caught. Massachusetts and three other states have strict prohibitions on the possession of river herring, so when a pair trawl’s haul contains large numbers of alewives and blueback, they are either pumped overboard as dead bycatch, or landed in a state with friendlier river herring laws as an “incidental catch.”

Harwich Natural Resources Officer Thomas Leach said in one trip the pair trawlers are capable of hauling the equivalent of all the fish to go up the town’s herring run last year.

Great, so most of a run’s annual return can get swept up offshore before it ever sees the land. Then on top of it, the fishermen have to run to another state to sell our fish (to get around the laws on by catch in MA).

David Churbuck has another great post on the herring run here, along with a video. Be sure to read his post from last year on the subject as well, which he links in his post. Here’s a point not to miss:

I stopped by the run on Route 131 this afternoon on my way to Logan. There was a few kids waving nets at fish that weren’t there. Indeed, with the usual harbingers in full force — dandelions and forsythia — I expected to see some alewives making their anadromous way into Mashpee-Wakeby Pond on their way inland on the Mashpee River from Popponesset Bay and Nantucket Sound beyond.

There will be fish, but I fear we’re in for a much longer recovery than any of us had hoped.

California Cancels Salmon Season

Via Jim Forbes…and confirmed via the MercuryNews.com (not that Jim needs confirmation).

Sad news indeed, and unfortunately news we’ll be hearing more often. In Massachusetts, from which I write, we’re wringing our hands over the past couple years of poor herring returns. As a striped bass fisherman, I worry about the herring, as they are a primary early season forage species for the stripers.

It’s the sportsman’s paradox, that we must often restrict our sport, in order to improve our sport. Few know this as well as an east coast striper fisherman, as we’ve seen our species go from boon in the ’70s to bust in the 80’s and a slow, painful road back in the 90’s. Our fishery is strong now, but there were days when I felt sure that we’d never see the fishing I saw as a teenager again. And in some ways, we’d best not…

Jim notes the paradox in his inimitable style:

As a sport fisherman who really enjoys chasing salmon off the Golden Gate, or further North off the Humboldt Coast, I have very mixed feelings about the salmon fishing closure. On one hand, I will really miss tussling a slab sided King to the side of my boat, however, taking the pressure off the remaining salmon stocks for one or two seasons may result in my being able to catch free running wild salmon at a later date.

I can only hope California has the success we’ve seen on the east coast.

BTW, my predicition is that this week will be the start of the 2008 striper season in Massachusetts.  We should see the arrival of fishable numbers of schoolies on the south side of Cape Cod, in the usual spring spots, the rivers creeks and bays.  Remember to remove your barbs, this is going to be catch and release fishing until early to mid May.  Once you’re sure the fish are in, this is a really good time to take a kid fishing for some of the fast early season action.