Captain Clay Sheward starting the morning hooked up in the marsh.
Consideration and knowledge goes a long way for on-the-water etiquette
By Capt. Steve Soule
Every single one of us who boats, kayaks, fishes, goes sight seeing, jet skiing, wading or any other use of public waters has come from a different place or perspective. Some are very experienced, others have little to no experience. Each and every one of us has a different view of the resource that we share. None of us are wrong or right, though we may be highly opinionated or have well founded thoughts and beliefs. We all have a right to the use of the resource, and we all have the shared responsibility to respect and maintain what we have.
If you search the internet, or speak to people who utilize the bays and waters of the Texas Coast, or any other for that matter, you will find no shortage of opinions and arguments regarding how we come in contact with each other on the water. Over time, we start to develop the belief that we are right or someone else is wrong. This may or may not be true or correct, but we tend to believe that our way of utilizing the resource may be better than the next person’s plan.
Does a fishing boat have any more right to be in an area than a jet skier? Does a poling skiff have the right of way on a flat over a tower boat? Does a wade fisher have more right to be in a spot than a boat drifting? I believe that it is safe to answer all of those questions, and many other similar scenarios with a resounding no!
There isn’t any one of us who takes advantage of our right to access public water that has special privileges that others do not. Now, with that said, consideration of others must come into play, along with some knowledge and understanding of how your actions may impact others around us, we can all enjoy the resource.
In nearly every case where someone is upset with another person on the water, ignorance, or lack of knowledge is the primary issue. I don’t use the term ignorance in a derogatory manner, but truly in the sense that there is a lack of knowledge or information that causes the perceived infringement on another.
There are most definitely some cases where people act in malice towards others, either because they don’t care or they believe they have some right. For those who do this, I can only suggest that you consider the consequences. Imagine if every time a boater, or anyone on the water took revenge on every person they believed had done them wrong. Likely this will not resolve the problem, nor will it allow any involved to enjoy the water as they had planned.
Let take a look at perspectives, and knowledge of others and what they are doing. Maybe goals on the water and what would be required to achieve them. For most of us that fish, having a productive spot to ourselves, without a boat coming inside of 100 yards sounds like a good thing. In some case it may take even more room than that to keep the spot producing. This is very different than what a jet skier would want. For them it would be fun to have boats running nearby so that they can jump wakes. A very different view of how to spend time on the water and easy to see how conflicts could arise.
A wading angler, walking quietly down a shoreline, has a plan of stealthily approaching fish, and if skilled, could easily stay within casting range of fish for long periods. A drifting boat of anglers, no matter how careful, will always make more noise and spook more fish. If you haven’t spent time in clear or very shallow water, this may not have ever occurred to you. After a lifetime of fishing in both shallow and clear water situations, I can tell you that the noises we make in boats definitely alert fish to our presence and reduce our chances of catching them.
The Lateral Line
Every single thing that moves in the water, no matter how big or small, creates a pressure wave. This is like a sound signature, and tells every animal with a lateral line that there is something nearby. Most fish, can judge the size of the object or animal making the pressure wave in total darkness. This sense is one of many that keep fish safe from harm.
Once we are aware of this, and look for its impact on our fishing, we can see that even a wader can send out pressure waves and make noises that alert fish to our presence. Often this can be why one person catches fish while another nearby does not. Given that fish can so accurately “feel” sounds or movements that can indicate the presence of danger. If fish can be spooked by a wader or a quietly drifting boat, you can only imagine the reaction to a boat running through the shallows at 20 or 30 miles per hour. Sheer panic is the immediate reaction to such loud noises.
If you fish shallow water long enough, you will without a doubt, witness this first hand. In many cases the cause isn’t intentional. I seriously doubt that we haven’t all sped across a flat, through a marsh or down a shoreline looking for signs or trying to reach a destination spot, never really giving thought to fish along the way. It’s probably not that anglers have a blatant disregard for fish or fishery, but likely that we haven’t fully considered the impact of our actions.
Common Sense and Courtesy
With the ever increasing numbers of people enjoying the bays and lakes, comes greater potential of encroaching on others. Every situation is different and some are more avoidable than others. Classically the case of channels or passes from one area to another create challenges for passing boaters. Neither has any greater right or privilege, though common courtesy goes a long way.
It doesn’t really matter whether you are operating a boat, kayak, jet ski or even wading quietly, public waters are a first come first served playground, and we all want to be able to enjoy the discoveries we have found without unwanted interruptions.
Its hard to say there is any set of rules regarding distances or behavior that govern us on the water. It is however safe to say that if we all give the same consideration that we would ask, time on the water would be much more pleasant. Taking the time to understand and respect the intentions of others on the water isn’t hard and will likely yield the same respect in return. It only takes a brief moment to determine the direction a boat is drifting or poling, or the direction waders are walking, and shift your course to avoid cutting them off.
Public waters are a source of enjoyment for many varied groups; a resource that needs respect and consideration. I have no doubt that we as users of the resource can collectively do a much better job of managing that which we all love, than politicians could ever dream of. Our first hand knowledge provides a view that can’t be seen from an office and an understanding that can only come from experience. The responsibility to be the stewards, falls on each and every user, and the better we can self maintain, the less the likelihood of misguided bureaucratic management.
Fish and fisheries are not an endless resource. Having the right to run a boat basically anywhere we want doesn’t mean its always the best thing to do. Just like having the right to kill our legal limits of fish every day would not be a good way to preserve the fishery.
As much pleasure as we find in our time on the water, we probably all have the same desire to pass this along to the next generation. With a little thought and consideration, we can not only enjoy our time on the water, but also leave it in great shape so that generations to come can experience it as well.