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Richard Poole and I didn’t think much of it when a lone rider trotted up to the shoreline. We were at Flat Iron Lake, hoping some sturgeon would hop on our line. Seeing dozens of friendly, and not so friendly, faces was common.

“They haven’t shot at us yet,” Poole said, not paying much attention to the cowboy. The stranger got closer, joining us on the end of the dock. I took out my lasso as a warning as they looked us up and down.

The rider, unenthused with us fishermen, kept riding on. There wouldn’t be a shootout by the water this time.

Poole and I were on a fishing trip in Red Dead Online. He, a longtime veteran with more than 600 hours in the virtual wild west, was showing me all his top fishing spots throughout Rockstar Games’ sandbox shooter.

Fun stakes in a tight knit pond

Poole is part of an intimate group of Red Dead Online fishermen that host competitions and run monthly leaderboards. They share their biggest catches on their subreddit, where a few thousand players try to one up each other with bigger and bigger hunks of seafood. They hold events like the Isabella Cup and Golden Rod tournament, where players are sent challenges over the course of a month.

“Red Dead Online doesn’t have any scoreboards in game,” Grandpa Mango, who runs the subreddit, said. “So it seemed like a good idea to keep a record of players’ scores and achievements.”

A fish from Red Dead Online
There are 15 types of fish in Red Dead Online, each with their own location. | Provided by Aron Garst via Red Dead Redemption 2

One player, Angel_Maker held a high score of 189 pounds from a free roam fishing event for more than a year. Grandpa Mango didn’t think anyone could beat that weight until another user, Blangto, finished an event with a whopper weighing 206 pounds.

“I’m almost certain that’s impossible to beat,” Grandpa Mango said.

Waiting for a legendary catch

Our first stop on the fishing trip was Jeremy Gill’s place on the edge of Flat Iron Lake. Gill is a famous fisherman in Red Dead Redemption 2 who’s known to have caught all sorts of exotic fish. Once you’ve spoken with him in the single-player mode, he’ll give you a map and ask you to mail him 13 different legendary fish.

We walked into the small shack, which had walls lined with fish of various sizes, shapes and colors. A fireplace, set with grey rocks, was adorned with a photo of Gill holding two hefty fish, still wriggling in his hands.

The legendary fish aren’t a part of Red Dead Online. But players like Poole would love to see them added so they can have something else to do as they ride from town to waterfront.

Gill's fish shack in Red Dead Redemption 2
Jeremy Gill’s got quite the setup on Flat Iron Lake. | Provided by Aron Garst via Red Dead Redemption 2

“Most updates have been PVP,” Poole told me as we walked out to the dock. “From what I’ve seen on forums, people are not happy.”

Fishing in Red Dead Online is relatively simple. You have your fishing rod, bait and lures. There are 15 species of fish and you can actually use the game’s Deadeye mechanic to see exactly where the fish are in the water.

I did that at Flat Iron Lake, following Poole’s instructions, and didn’t catch a single fish.

“It must be bugged,” Poole said with a giggle.

Red Dead Fishing
The night sky over Flat Iron Lake. | Provided by Aron Garst via Red Dead Redemption 2

The night sky shimmered above us as a light fog started to roll over the water. I didn’t mind that nothing had jumped on my hook. It was relaxing just standing there, stuck between the digital sky and water.

Heading up to Window Rock

After catching nothing by the lake, we hopped on our horses and rode for Grizzlies West. We were heading to Window Rock, one of Poole’s favorite spots to catch a lot of fish during competitions.

“I love this spot,” Poole said. “You’ve got the enclosed space with the trestle bridge in the distance. It’s calming.”

Red Dead Online fishing competitions can be quite random. Sometimes the challenge will be to catch a certain type of fish or fish that match a certain color — whatever challenges that will keep players on their toes.

Red Dead character and his horse
Richard Poole posing with Django Untrained. | Provided by Aron Garst via Red Dead Redemption 2

Competitions are run based on trust. Players rarely compete in the same lobby, so they share images of their catches for verification. The competition rarely comes from other players, though. It’s the griefers that make things tough.

“I get griefed all the time,” Poole said.

It’s not uncommon for fishermen to get attacked by random players online, unprovoked. It had happened to Poole during competitions, too. He usually doesn’t fight back, unless they hurt his horse.

“That’s what I won’t take,” Poole said.

Django Untrained

Poole’s favorite pastime is hog-tying griefers. He loads them up on their horse and then, “I slap the horse to send it running,” he said.

To a lot of players in Red Dead Online, horses are sacred. They often have quirky AI, but they’re a necessity in getting around the map. Also, their saddles, hair, color, hooves and more can be customized to a player’s delight.

“I call mine Django Untrained,” Poole said. “F***er kept running into trees, so I thought why not.”

Red Dead Online
Window Rock is quite the spot to take a breather. | Provided by Richard Poole via Red Dead Redemption 2

We sat along the river near Window Rock for a while, talking about the future of the game and what Poole hopes to see in it. He doesn’t play it as much as he had, although new fishermen pop into the subreddit every once and a while. He hopes that Rockstar comes through with new content sometime soon, like property and legendary fish. He’s grown tired of the same grind.

“There aren’t many types of fish,” he said. “Once you’ve spent as long as I have, you’ve seen them all.”

Rockstar’s other online sandbox, Grand Theft Auto Online, is still booming. Red Dead Online, while popular, doesn’t match its predecessor’s helicopter explosion-fueled popularity. Maybe that’s because of the horrid conditions that Rockstar developers work through.

We ended our session the way most play sessions of Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto end: with total carnage. We loaded our revolvers and headed into the nearest town looking for trouble. We found some, but it wasn’t as fulfilling as pulling in a trout the size of Django Untrained’s leg. That remained the sweetest part of the fishing trip.

Aron Garst looks at esports from a different point of view by tackling the ways games are molded and broken by players around the world. He covers Call of Duty, Fortnite, Super Smash Bros, and everything else for Upcomer. You can read his previous work at WIRED, Rolling Stone, ESPN and elsewhere. Rise up red sea.
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