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10 Commandments Of Fishing Etiquette

It happens every year… The yellowtail, white seabass or tuna start to bite somewhere during the week and come Saturday morning, a bunch of boats flock to the spot ready to catch fish. But the fish don’t bite on the weekend, or only bite for a couple of boats. But the bite comes roaring back on Monday (while most of us are stuck at work). The fish don’t know what day it is, so what exactly causes them to stop biting on Saturday morning?

The simple answer — boat pressure. Too many boats in too small an area with too little fishing etiquette leads to too few fish being caught.

Short of quitting our jobs and becoming weekday fishermen, most of us are stuck fishing on the weekends. There are two ways to handle this problem. The first solution is to find out where the fleet is fishing and go the other way and find your own fish. This is my preferred way of fishing, but it’s not for everyone. So there’s always option two, which is to slug it out with the fleet.

Everyone who owns a boat has done something that has inconvenienced another angler, be it chopping up their chum slick or inadvertently throwing a big wake at their boat. We’re all guilty of something. This includes the sport boats and charter captains. They are some of the worst offenders, but I don’t really blame them as private boaters chop them up every day.

In hopes of alleviating some of the craziness out there, I’ve come up with the 10 Commandments of Fishing Etiquette.

I suggest you print these out and keep several copies handy on your boat. That way, rather than getting mad and yelling at someone who just drifted three feet from the side of your anchored boat, you can just pass the commandments on to them. Who knows? It might just help…

1) Thou shalt not drive through the fleet with your boat on plane. I don’t care if you are just getting there or in a hurry to get home. Whenever you are within a couple hundred yards of a boat that’s fishing, slow down enough so you don’t throw a wake. If you don’t want to slow down, stay at least 200 yards away. If you have trouble judging distance, go and get yourself a laser range finder.

2) Thou shalt not come between a man and his kelp. If you see a boat anchored near a kelp line or any other visible structure, never drive between the boat and the structure — not even at idle. I know fuel is expensive and a straight line is the shortest distance between two points, but bending it 200 yards past the bow of an anchored boat isn’t going to cost you that much in fuel.

3) Thou shalt not be the odd boat out. If all of the other boats are anchored, put your anchor down as well. If all of the boats are drifting, drift along with them. Just one boat fishing an area differently is enough to screw up the rhythm of the entire fleet.

4) Thou shalt not be any closer than 100 yards from the next boat when anchoring. Again, get a laser range finder if you can’t judge distance. Also, never anchor in a boat’s chum or bait line. The baits will usually drift out in a wedge from the stern, so don’t drop your anchor in the middle of that wedge.

5) Thou shalt not attempt to poach another boat’s fish by drifting down their side. This goes back to the third commandment. But more importantly, don’t do it with the intent of poaching fish from someone else’s spot. I know that it sucks to watch another boat get bit when you’re not, but if it bothers you that much, leave and go find another place to fish.

6) Thou shalt not run on radio fish. When was the last time you got on the radio to call in the fleet when you were on some good fish all by yourself? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Why would anyone else call in the fleet? Radio fish are only ever one of two things — a hoax or an area that is probably more crowded than the one you just left. Remember, when you leave your spot to chase radio fish, the boat that pulls in after you always gets bit!

7) Thou shalt not tango. They say it takes two to tango, but the reality is that two can turn into 20 very quickly when it comes to bad behavior on the fishing grounds. If someone chops you up or a six-pack charter drops his pick on your bow and yells at you to move, don’t retaliate. Just ignore it or move. It’s not worth getting into it. I’ve had more boat-to-boat yelling matches than I care to remember and they don’t accomplish anything.

The other guy has NEVER said, “Wow! Thanks for yelling at me. I finally understand what an idiot I am. And you’re right, my mother is a whore.”

8) Thou shalt help your fellow boaters. If you see someone doing something strange or stupid, wave them over and explain what they should do differently. But be nice, they may get lucky and end up with limits and call you in to take over. Not many boaters go out with the intention of acting like idiots, they just do it because they don’t know any better.

9) Thou shalt always post up on the edge of the fleet. The fleet you’re about to join started with just one boat and that boat is probably right in the center of all of them. But just because that boat is on fish, doesn’t give you the right to try and squeeze in next to them. Leave earlier next time or go find your own fish.

10) Thou shalt give sport boats and charter boats a wide berth. Like I said earlier, sport boats and charter boats get chopped up by private boaters all day, every day and they treat you the same way they treat every private boater that comes near them — as an adversary. That’s just the way it’s always going to be. If you know what you’re doing, you don’t want to be fishing anywhere near a sport boat anyway.

Erik Landesfeind
Erik Landesfeind is BD's Southern California Editor and has over 30 years of experience saltwater fishing for a range of species in both California an...