Etiquette On The Water

At one time or another, we’ve all been out fishing, or trying to enjoy other activities on the river or lake and had our experience spoiled by people acting like jerks, either intentionally or accidentally. The person that insists on fishing right next to you, and follows you every time you catch something… or the Butt-Head with the powerful cruiser boat dragging skiers or just cruising that insists on seeing how close they can get to your kayak…jet-skiers that buzz you when you are trying to fish,… the people that leave yards of tangled monofilament laying around or in the water to ensnare unsuspecting wildlife, and most likely kill them,…the people that leave all kinds of trash behind, etc…. I’ve met them all.

In many cases, they are just people with little or no respect for others, but a lot of them simply don’t know any better.  If no one has taught you, then you make mistakes when you’re out on your own. To that end, this article will explain the rules of etiquette on and near the water.

Never, Never Trespass on Private Property

This is one of my major pet peeves. YouTube is full of videos titled something like, “Old Man Yelled At Me For Just Fishing”. When you watch the video, it turns out that the person is trespassing, then acting like the landowner is at fault. Of course, if you are unquestionably on public water such as an Army Corps Of Engineers Lake, or a Navigable river, they may own water-front property, but they do not own the water at all. Water is considered ‘Navigable’, “ when they are used or are susceptible of being used in their ordinary condition as highways for commerce over which trade and travel are or may be conducted in customary modes of trade and travel on water”. It is illegal for them to try to block access to it. That is Federal Law (Title 33 CFR). It is no different than if they bought a house fronting a highway. They cannot restrict the highway. You can easily check to see if a body of water is public by checking with the local DNR Office.

I never trespass knowingly, but the people that do make it hard for the rest of us to get permission to fish private stretches. Many large production plants have land with ponds, streams, and even rivers running through them. Most of the time, if you ask for permission, they will allow you to fish there, let you know the rules, and maybe even get you to sign a release in case of injury. I fish a lot of places like this. But there are a lot that I can no longer fish because people have fished there without permission, so they just stopped everyone from fishing there.

Never trespass on private property.

There are valid reasons why a landowner may not want you to fish on their property. Their insurance company may not allow it. They may not want to run the risk of being held responsible if you get hurt (can you say, “lawsuit”?…). They may know of hazards you are not aware of. And the biggest of all…they own it and have every right to decide who can be on their property or not, for whatever reason, or no reason at all. They are paying a lot of money for the property and have every right to control it.

Never trespass, unless it is a serious emergency. It is against the law and can land you in jail. If you get permission, make sure you get it in writing with the persons’ name and contact information on it. Make sure that person has the authority to grant you permission. Keep the paper on your person at all times when on the property, and don’t bring guests unless you have been given express permission to do so. If you are on public water and someone attempts to run you off, call the local Law Enforcement Agency and report it. As far as standing your ground, if you are 100% sure you are in the right…well, that’s up to you. Are the fish worth someone possibly getting hurt over? I prefer to let Law Enforcement handle it. They get paid to do that kind of stuff…I don’t.

Know How To Handle Your Boat

Boats buzz me in my kayak all the time, for no apparent reason. They think it’s funny to splash you with their wake. I don’t care about the water because if you paddle a kayak, you’re going to get wet. It’s a fact of life… But it is dangerous. If they hit you, it can damage both boats. They can capsize small boats causing people to lose equipment, and it scares the fish. It is also against the law. Before you operate a powered boat make sure you know the rules and how to handle your boat. Most states require certifications to operate a powered watercraft, and violations of boating regs could get your Drivers License suspended in some states. Federal regulations specify maintaining a distance of at least 100’ clearance when underway for non-powered boats, which includes sailboats when under sail. Non-powered boats always have the Right-Of-Way.

Be Courteous To Other Anglers

Few things are more irritating than having other people crowd your fishing spot. The rule is, whoever gets there first gets the spot. Seldom are fish only in one spot. Give other anglers plenty of room, and always ask before setting up shop next to them. This applies to boats as well as shore.

Do not play loud music or do anything that may disturb others, especially when night-fishing. Sound carries a long way over water, especially at night and in cold weather.  I play guitar sometimes when bait-fishing, but so low that most people can’t really hear. If anyone is around, I always ask if it is alright first. Usually what happens is more people start showing up and we wind up passing the guitar around and having a great party. Few things create more friends than an old Martin guitar…

Always leave your spot better than you found it. Take out your trash, and clean up any other trash that was left by others. Just consider it a courtesy. Never leave hooks, fishing line, lures, etc… behind. If you lose a lure in the water or a tree, make every effort possible to recover it. People and animals can step on them, get tangled, and die. I have removed fishing line from dozens of ducks and geese that got tangled in it. It’s not a lot of fun, because they bite…hard. The worst time was when a friend and I untangled a large snapping turtle. We both had to get a few stiches…  Do us all a favor…don’t leave fishing line behind.

Let’s Do Launch…

Boat ramps can get very busy at times. Don’t be a Ramp Hog. Have your boat ready to launch before you back down the ramp. Put all of your equipment in it, and have it arranged like you want it before launching. Then launch your boat, and immediately move your vehicle and boat so someone else can launch. Kayaks and canoes don’t really have this problem because we can launch just about anywhere, but still, give other paddlers plenty of room to launch and land, and always be prepared to assist. It’s best to launch one-at-a-time to avoid congestion when there are a lot of paddlers. Paddlers downstream should get to launch first.

Fish Care

Take care of your fish. If you are not going to eat them, turn them loose unharmed. Be gentle. Always obey Creel and Possession Limits. They have them for good reasons. Never clean fish at the water. It draws turtles, bears, and is illegal in a lot of places because then DNR Officers can’t tell how many fish you caught, or what species. If you are camping, clean them in camp, and discard the remains just like any other trash. Never throw it back in the water. The turtles and bears already have enough to eat, and getting them to associate people with food is never a good idea.

You’re Not The Only One Using The Water

Always be courteous and civil to others. Most problems can be worked out amicably with some civil discussion. Respect others’ property, belongings, and space. Be a conscientious Conservationist, so future generations can enjoy the outdoors as well.

Happy Fishing!

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