Fishing Etiquette for Inshore and Saltwater Flats

Inshore Fishing Etiquette

We have seen a huge increase in the number of inshore fishing boats on our waters over the past several years which in turn breeds competition for resources and problems between anglers. Ultimately, fishing is supposed to be FUN! But unfortunately due to a few knuckleheads I find the need to once again beat on an old fishing topic: Fishing Etiquette.

As a full time inshore fishing guide I am usually on the water at least 5+ days a week and I would say that courtesy between anglers definitely seems to get worse every year. I had a great example just last week while working a shallow flat on the back side of Hilton Head Island. I poled onto the flat with 2 clients where we quickly found a small school of redfish so I paused to allow my anglers to fish for them. A few minutes later another flats boat slow motors right up our back side within about 75 feet, shuts down and begins poling directly in front of us and down the same flat that we were working. The really sad thing in this situation was that there were very few other boats out that day, it was near flat calm…oh and by the way it was another so called “fishing guide”. I mean really; who would think that it is acceptable? Would you push your cart in front of another shopper at the grocery store and throw your groceries onto the conveyor belt while they are standing in line (especially if all of the other lanes were open without waiting)…so why is it any different out on the water? In turn, it got me thinking as to why people would be so damn discourteous to other anglers while fishing and here are a few possibilities:

1. Newbie’s – I will give these guys a quick pass simply because they don’t know any better, but hopefully if you are new to the sport and reading this article you will pick up some valuable insight into the do’s and don’ts of fishing.

2. I own this ground – This is a common mentality displayed by some old timers and charter boat captains who think that because they have been fishing a particular piece of water for many years that it belongs to them…it does not.

3. My fishing is more important – This behavior is most commonly seen among guides and tournament anglers who feel that because they are engaged in a tournament or carrying paying passengers that their activity supersedes another anglers right to fish.

4. It’s my only “spot” – Some people only have one or two spots to fish (usually spots that they stole from someone else anyhow) so if there is someone in there “spot” they would rather push their way in rather than go out looking for another place to fish.

5. Some people just don’t care – Unfortunately you can’t change these people!

The following list is a road map of some of the most common do’s and don’ts for flats and inshore fishing and though they can be used for most any fishing situation I have tailored them more specifically for the Eastern US inshore fishery. Moreover, these are not rules that I randomly picked out of the sky; these are the internationally accepted rules for fishing! Furthermore you can find more information on the subject by following the reference links below this article.

1. Don’t crowd another boat – In my home waters of Beaufort County we have close to 350 square miles of navigable waterways so there is absolutely no reason to find the need to fish on top of another boat unless you are invited. If you arrive at the spot that you want to fish and there is another boat already working that area then move on – he got there first so it is his spot to work! As a good rule of thumb you should leave at least 200 yards of clearance between another boat on the flats/backwaters and 50 yards of clearance between a boat anchored up in deep water.

2. Don’t jockey another boat out of position – This is quite common, very discourteous and can hold true for boats fishing a drift, poling a flat or trolling motoring a shoreline. I had a great example a few months ago as I was sight fishing the edge of a rip that runs about several miles long and sure enough another boat motored directly in front of me at about 100 yards, jumped up on his platform and started sighting down the same line that we were fishing. Come on Man!

3. Don’t buzz the flats – Here in South Carolina this is almost a non-issue (short of someone running over a short grass flat) as we do not have expansive open flats such as areas like Mosquito Lagoon, Florida Bay or much of Texas for example. But regardless of where you live please be consciousness about the wake and noise that you produce when you run past shallow fishing areas as this motion and noise spooks any fish that are on those flats.

4. Don’t drive over top of the fish – Similar to not buzzing the flats we want to watch our approach when entering fish that are cruising or feeding on the surface in deeper water. All too often one bozo out of the pack will drive or troll directly through the school of fish and send them straight to the depths!

5. Don’t motor across any shallow grass flats – This is not only discourteous but also illegal in many areas and you can be fined big dollars for leaving prop scars in the grass. Know you depth, location and always motor across safe water.

6. Don’t anchor up directly behind another boat – If you are in an anchor fishing area such as a wreck site or hard bottom area you need to be carful in how you anchor in relation to other boats. On these areas it is generally acceptable to get closer to other boats as we are now fishing on the bottom rather than across wide open flats or shorelines. Fifty yards is acceptable from side to side but more care needs to be taken on the stern side. If you drop your anchor directly behind another boat you can hinder their fishing by interfering with their chum line, fishing gear, ability to fight a fish (such as a jumping tarpon) and quite frankly their beautiful view.

7. Don’t anchor up in the middle of a main channel – Yes some of the channels can be great places to catch fish and I do fish them myself but you must be careful as to when and where you set up so not to hinder the navigation of other boats.

8. Don’t beat on the same spots everyday – This is one of the biggest problems that we have within our local fishery; I commonly see the same boats camped out on the same spots for hours on end, day in and day out until the spot is completely exhausted. Yes you can beat areas up so bad that they will be un-fishable for years to come.

9. Don’t steal peoples fishing spots – This is a big problem no matter where you go. Personally I spend endless hours out scouting for new fishing areas and techniques and it is ever frustrating when people blatantly sit off watching me fish (it’s a little creepy too) or come back to fish the areas that I had previously taken them to. If you are one of those guys who thinks that scouting for fish is riding around looking to see where everybody else fishes you are need to rethink…buy a map and try working a little bit of shoreline for yourself! That being said, you will find a lot of great spots to fish just by doing your homework, time on the water, inevitable discovery, and talking with other anglers.

10. Do take care of our resources – YES our resources are finite and YES you can fish out a fishery! For those of you whose sole purpose of going fishing is to kill as much as you possibly can on every trip let me give you a clue…You are the reason that our fisheries are dramatically declining. There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking a few fish for dinner but after that catch and release should exercised in an effort to keep our fisheries healthy.

11. Do keep control of your garbage – This should go without saying but please don’t litter our waterways and if the garbage can is full at the boat ramp take your garbage home.

12. Do enter and exit quietly – This goes for both shallow and deep water spots; with more and more boats on the water fish are becoming educated to the sounds of boat motors and wakes. Along these same lines sound travels long distances across the water so please be attentive to your radio and loud conversations in an effort to make fishing more enjoyable for your fellow boaters and fisherman.

13. Do know how to navigate the waterways – With the advances in modern technology such as accurate charts, tide logs, GPS, depth finders and even radar there should be no excuses for poor navigation these days. If you are new to boating or uncomfortable in running your boat I would highly recommend that you take a boaters safety course and/or hire a local guide to show you around. Moreover, if you find yourself lost or in shallow water slow down to idle until you regain your bearing.

14. Do be courteous – In a given situation if you were to ask yourself “how would I feel if the situation were reversed?” you would likely find the answer as to whether you are doing right or wrong. I had a situation on a small short grass flat a few years ago where another boat jockeyed directly in front of us at about 100 feet and during the entire process they refused to look at us even once. Obviously they knew what they were doing was wrong but I would hope that in a similar situation common courtesy would have prevailed for most of us.

15. Do educate your fellow fisherman – I know that many of us don’t want to get into confrontations but there is nothing wrong with letting others know when they are out of line. And I am not saying that you need to start slinging egg sinkers at the guy who just anchored up in your chum slick but calling them out is by all means acceptable. Some people just don’t know and a little education can go a long way -or- even better if you know who they are feel free to send them a link to this article.

16. Do use common sense – The old saying that “common sense isn’t so common anymore” seems to hold truer and truer these days but it doesn’t need to be that way. If everyone would follow these simple rules we would all have a much more enjoyable time while out fishing.

Captain Charlie Beadon

Hilton Head Fishing Adventures