Mind Your Manners
A LITTLE COMMON SENSE AND COURTESY MAKE EVERYONE’S DAY BETTER
A little common sense and courtesy make everyone’s day better
As more people take to the water, fishingspace infringements rise accordingly. Most etiquette violators are simply unaware of unwritten courtesies. Yet plenty of well-seasoned pros still throw common sense and sportsmanship to the wind. Here is a sampling of common situations and the proper fishing etiquette for dealing with them.
Soft Structures, Hard Advice
Weed lines, kelp patties, floating debris and birds sometimes bring out the worst in anglers. Should a couple of boats spot such a find, it’s usually best to be the first one there. And if and when you uncover fish, some boats aren’t too shy about mugging your find.
When trolling for dolphin along a southern Florida weed line, I’ll give any boat doing the same plenty of space. If they’re coming from the opposite direction, I’ll angle off and troll out a half-mile before angling back to that line. Plenty of big dolphin are caught in clean water several hundred yards off such weed lines. If someone is first on a piece of debris or working birds, I won’t infringe. My philosophy: If they worked for it, they should reap the rewards. We’ll keep looking.
“There are those who anchor in your chum slick, fairly close to you, hoping to pull away our fish,” says Capt. Joe Trainor of Avalon, New Jersey. “These people fail to do the math on how much distance is required to pull anchor using a poly ball. If a boat drops anchor 80 to 100 yards behind one already chunking, that boat must run forward of their anchor for at least 150 yards to free it. I never anchor less than 150 yards in front of any boat, and everyone should show the same respect.”
“Wreck etiquette depends largely on the size of the structure,” says veteran Key West guide Capt. Mark Schmidt. “On the larger Atlantic wrecks, there’s generally room for several boats. First rule: Stop shy of the activity and assess. Study boats drifting over it, and those on the hook. If you’re drifting, ease slowly away from the wreck until you’re up-current of it. Get in sync with other drifting boats and wait your turn.
“If anchoring, don’t run through or drop hook in anyone’s chum slick. I’ll position my boat parallel with another anchored boat, but with enough distance between us to where it’s hard for me to distinguish their brand of fishing tackle. This way, we’ll each have our own lane to chum and fish, without interfering with each other.
“When in doubt over anchoring on a wreck occupied by another boat, cut your motor and drift by to ask them where you can anchor and not get in their way. Back in the day, we all learned to work with each other, and we still can.”
Kelp Patty Blues
Greg Stotesbury, a Southern California angler, harbors disdain for structure and fish “muggers.” “We spend considerable time looking for kelp patties,” he says. “Once we locate one, we’ll chum and drift it. We’ve had other boats run right to that patty, once we’ve drifted a few hundred feet away from it. They have no clue that it’s all about chumming for fish along this entire zone.”
Another hot topic involves boats encroaching on chum lines. “There are lots of conflicts with small boats getting into the chum lines of charter and party boats,” Stotesbury says. “A small boat might only hold a couple of scoops of bait, but the bigger boats may hold 50 scoops. The encroachers think it’s OK to poach the chum lines of other boats.”
Stotesbury suggests never approaching an anchored boat closer than 150 yards of its stern, or within 100 yards of its bow. “If they hail us on VHF Channel 72 and ask if we’d mind them coming up and fishing off to one side of us, we’d have no problem.”
Jersey Joe’ Tidings
Capt. Joe Trainor is an experienced hand at fishing nearshore lumps and canyons along the mid-atlantic and Northeast. His pet peeve is boats roaring over the top of a small lump for another drift, often behind boats anchored and chunking. “It drives us crazy,” Trainor says.
“I prefer to anchor and chunk. So it’s frustrating when a boat drifts through your slick, then runs back up the same path for another set. This disrupts my chunking and the fish. Instead, they should navigate back far outside of the structure and other boats, then make a drift that won’t infringe on anyone.”
The most basic courtesies, not infringing on a boat fishing a bridge span, small flat, creek mouth or schooling inshore fish, are sometimes ignored. Capt. Mike Frenette of Venice, Louisiana, says a recurring issue is anglers moving in on those who have hooked a fish. “When we bend the rod on a bull red, some people feel they’re entitled to motor over, sometimes to within 50 feet, and pitch to the school we worked so hard to find,” Frenette says. “Other than being just plain rude, they have no idea which way the school is moving. When someone is on fish, courtesy dictates keeping a respectful distance and looking for your own.”
“We see a lot of the Ocean City boats, where trolling is favored, mixing with the Jersey boats, where chunking is widely practiced,” Trainor says. “All this often happens simultaneously over relatively small fishing areas, so you can imagine the potential conflicts.”
A lot of mid-atlantic and Northeast trollers commonly tow a center rigger bait 150 yards back. When trolling over nearshore tuna lumps, a lot of thought goes into maneuvering to troll the baits over the structure while not fouling the lines of other trollers and chunkers. “I’ll make long sweeps to position the boat to where I’ll be able to get a good trolling angle over the structure and avoid other lines,” Trainor says. “Then I’ll troll a good ways off and gradually work myself into position for another pass.”
When trolling over small targets, order is the rule. Observe boats working the structure and pattern your approach accordingly. Don’t cut ahead or troll tight across the back of another boat. Give others breathing room and concentrate on your own swath of water.
And when another boat hooks into a fish, never close in for a better look. You have no idea where that fish is. Run over their line and cut off their fish, and you’ll surely be the recipient of a few words of advice minus the cheery spin of a Christmas greeting.