Fishing Etiquette

The Lost Art of Honor on the Water…and on the Ramp

When it comes to fishing, nothing chafes my line like the disrespectful jerk who sees you catch one or two fish and then attempts to hedge in on the sweet spot as if you aren’t even there. Or the guy who watches with binoculars from a distance and waits patiently, then slips in and claims your spot as his own the moment you move on.

For lack of a better term, let’s just call these bait-slinging misfits “potlickers” and leave it at that.

They say a fool is born every day. But judging from the countless war stories I’ve heard over the years, it seems as though potlickers are born a whole lot more often than that.

Although hole jumpers have likely been around since the dawn of fishing, the practice has become especially troublesome on public waters since the advent of GPS and side-imaging technologies. Nowadays, with a few clicks of a button, someone with a good working knowledge of modern electronics can idle past your boat from a considerable distance, check out your fishing spot and pop a waypoint on it in matter of seconds. Voila—the secret spot you spent countless hours looking for, or the brush pile you worked so hard to position, isn’t such a secret anymore.

Make no mistake about it. It’s not against state law to be a potlicker, but it is serious violation of an unwritten code of ethics that seasoned fishing crowds know to abide by.

Translation: There are some things you just don’t do when you are on the water fishing. Knowingly moving in on another angler’s fishing spot uninvited ranks high on the list.

“It’s gotten pretty bad out there, especially on Sam Rayburn,” says Jonathan Garrie of Nacogdoches. “It’s amazing how many people are so inconsiderate nowadays. You can be sitting in the middle of nowhere, and they’ll pull up right next to you and start fishing. Or you can be fishing down a bank and some guy will pull in 50 yards ahead of you to cut you off. I don’t think some of them are purposely trying to be rude. I think a lot of them just don’t know any better.”

But some of them do, as illustrated by a horror story told by Garrie.

Garrie is a former weekend tournament angler who enjoyed a considerable amount of success on his home lake between 2011 and 2013. During 2011 alone, he and his fishing partners won nearly a dozen team derbies on Rayburn. During that time, Garrie pocketed around $70,000, targeting sweet spots he had spent dozens of hours locating far from shore.

Garrie and his fishing partner, Casey Sobzak of Houston, were competing in a championship event in 2011 when they noticed they were being tailed by another boat. “I purposely made a detour just to see if he would follow us and he did,” Garrie said. “I stopped and moved a couple of more times and he followed us everywhere we went.”

Frustrated, Garrie motored toward the boat and confronted the driver, who had has face covered with a buff he refused to remove. Garrie said the man claimed he was some sort of a federal investigator and admitted he was following them in an attempt to learn their fishing spots.

“I told the guy we had worked hard find our fishing spots and that I didn’t appreciate him following us around—that it was very disrespectful,” Garrie said. “He basically told us he didn’t care what we thought.”

Garrie eventually contacted a state game warden, who met him at the Caney Creek boat ramp. The warden boarded the boat and Garrie took him to the mouth of the cove where the other boat was waiting.

“The warden told him what he was doing was harassment and that if he didn’t stop we were going to file charges on him,” Garrie said. “The warden also told him he could be charged for impersonating somebody he wasn’t. At that point the guy just sat there and cowered. He said he didn’t understand why we were mad—that he was just trying to learn. But he knew exactly what he was doing.”

Lake Fork fishing guide Gary Paris knows all too well how it feels to have an angler hedge in on a fishing hole uninvited. A few years ago Paris and a client were set up on a creek bend catching bass after bass. A boat passed nearby, and the driver witnessed the action. The sight was obviously more than he could stand.

“This guy moved in a boat length away and started videoing what we were doing,” Paris said. “I couldn’t believe it at first, but that’s just the way people are. It happens pretty often. If they don’t move in on you when they see you catch one, they’ll probably be there on your spot the next day.”

I’ve spoken to numerous other guides and tournament pros with similar stories to tell. A few years back, veteran Toledo Bend guide and tournament pro Tommy Martin was competing in a pro/am event on his home lake when he took his draw partner to one of his offshore sweet spots, where they caught a few fish.

The following year, the amateur joined the boater division and helped himself to the very spot Martin showed him the previous spring. “He just smiled waved at me when I idled by,” Martin said.

That’s just sorry, plain and simple. But it probably happens way more than it should.

Potlicker bass fishermen like those just described aren’t the only ones who need to clean up their acts out there. Other types of anglers and pleasure boaters alike can go a long way toward making fun in the sun more pleasurable for everyone by exercising a little courtesy on the water.

Here are some good examples:

  • Don’t Pitch Plastics or Line: Used or torn soft plastics should be retained and disposed of properly once you get to shore, not tossed overboard. Bass and other game fish are prone to pick up discarded plastics and swallow them. This can result in blockage and digestive problems.

Do the same with fishing line you remove from your reel. Discarded fishing line can take years to deteriorate, and it can cause serious outboard problems by causing lower unit seals to wear prematurely should it get wrapped around the prop.

  • Keep Boat Lanes Clear: Boat lanes can be great places to wet a hook, especially when the fish are schooling. But you should always be prepared to clear the way for approaching boat traffic.
  • Boat Ramp Sense: If you don’t know how to back a trailer, don’t wait for a busy holiday weekend to learn at a public boat ramp. The best place to learn to back a trailer is in a vacant parking lot. That way you won’t be in the way.

Also, be sure to remove all tie down straps, boat covers, and transom savers, etc…. and have the boat fully loaded and ready to roll BEFORE you back down the ramp. The quicker the boat is unloaded and the tow vehicle is cleared from the ramp, the faster other boaters can do the same.

  • Trotline Removal: Way too often trotliners run off and leave their passive fishing devices in the water rather than gathering them up before they leave. Not only will this leave a lake looking trashy when the water levels drops, but it also could pose some safety hazards and other problems for other boaters and anglers should their props or lures get caught in the lines and hooks.
  • Gas Tips: If you pull in to refuel at a lakeside marina, get in and get out as quickly as possible and don’t leave the boat blocking the pump while you run in to buy drinks or snacks. That way other boaters can tend to their business in a timely fashion.

Being courteous to others on the water doesn’t take a much effort, but it does require some manners. If you don’t have any water manners, it would be wise to learn some. Otherwise, it is only a matter of time before someone gives you an embarrassing tongue lashing…. or worse.

story by Matt Williams

TF&G Staff:
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