Originally contributed to ProAnglersJournal.com
Inshore fishing has grown in popularity over the last few decades bringing throngs of new anglers to the sport; unfortunately a by-product of this popularity is poor conduct. Pioneer inshore greats like Bill Curtis, Joe Brooks, and my good friend Stu Apte were looked at as gentlemen in this sport, who pitted their significant skills and light tackle against formidable shallow water quarry all the while displaying a great deal of respect for their fellow anglers. Back then and even through most of my fishing career there has always been certain customs and etiquettes that anglers abided by when sharing the water… ensuring good experiences for all. Today, there are a lot more anglers fishing the shallows and you would think that common sense and respect would play an even larger role but quite the contrary is happening now!
In the beginning, inshore fishing or flats fishing had etiquette similar to the sport of golf; honor and respect for others and the environment were exhibited by all anglers making for many positive experiences and thus attracted many newcomers to our sport. For the sake of comparison, let’s match up a few similarities between golf and shallow water etiquette. In golf, you wouldn’t drive a ball up onto a green until the party ahead of you putted out and left the green. In shallow water fishing it’s not a good practice to ease up on fellow anglers (the bent rod pattern) working a school of fish or a piece of structure to get a cast in on their fish or spot unless you’re invited! This bent rod scenario is maybe the biggest problem in the sport today… try to find your own fish it’s part of the mystique that got you into the sport in the first place. Also, in golf you wouldn’t walk onto another golfer’s putting line on the green, it’s a definite lack of respect and sportsmanship. The same applies when fishing the flats… you never cut off another angler’s water who is already working a flat or mangrove shoreline to get in front of him. The right thing to do is to fall in behind him and fish his used water or better yet find another area altogether! And here’s a final comparison between golf and inshore fishing, in golf you wouldn’t drive your golf cart onto the manicured fairways and greens (you would be asked to leave)… carts should stay on the cart path. Just as you shouldn’t run your boat over shallow flats while others are trying to fish… use the channels and deeper areas to run your boat then ease up onto shallow fishing areas either by trolling motor or push pole, give other anglers plenty of room! All of these comparisons are obvious common sense scenarios yet we still we see too many lack of etiquette situations occurring every day. We must stop ourselves and demonstrate better sportsmanship toward our fellow anglers or the poor behavior that exists now will perpetuate to our younger anglers and eventually effect the survival of our sport.
Below are a few “Rules of Thumb” to follow while enjoying flats fishing:
- If you think you’re too close to another angler/boat… you probably were “too close” a hundred yards ago!
- Running your boat for the expressed purpose of locating fish on a flat or a shoreline is unacceptable… it demonstrates very little regard for everyone else and changes the natural behavior of the fish we are all trying to catch.
- If you’re leaving a flat that others are fishing, do not fire up your outboard and just go (definitely poor etiquette)! Trolling motor or if you have to slow idle behind the other fishing boats in their used water (not in front of them) for an acceptable distance (500 yds. is good) before getting your boat up on plane.
- If you see another boat catching fish on a flat or working a school of fish in shallow water… do not encroach unless invited. Spanish mackerel & Bluefish schools in the bays or on the beach are great to share with other boats but a school of redfish in two feet of water should not be crowded because everyone loses!
- If another boat is working a flat or shoreline, try to be cognizant of the direction or area he/she is working towards… don’t cut off his water to beat him to a spot. You wouldn’t want someone to do it to you!
Again it’s up to all of us to be good stewards of our light tackle sport and to lead by example so that we’ll all enjoy better fishing for years to come!