More and more people are enjoying the bountiful fishing resources of our great state. As a sportsman, I enjoy the fellowship of other anglers, both on the water, at the dock, and here on the internet. However, pressure to catch fish, inexperience, and crowding have created increased tension among recreational anglers and have undermined the success of many trips.
I am publishing these tips for your consideration as a thoughtful and sporting angler. Please realize that I do not consider myself to be a perfect sportsman, and these tips are not rules; they are simply my attempt to give anglers something to think about. At one time or another I have bent or broken just about every ethic there is for courteous fishing. However, with age and experience on the water, I have found that there are common courtesies that not only reduce frustration and anxiety, but also will help you catch more fish in the long run.
1. Keep a Fair Distance From Other Anglers:
Crowding another fisherman, especially one that is actively fishing, is probably responsible for more aggravation than any other breach of fishing etiquette. One of the reasons we fish is to "get away" from the crowds and traffic in town, and the last thing we want is company on the water. At the same time, one cannot reasonably expect to have The Picketts as their personal fishing hole on Memorial Day Weekend. When fishing a known hotspot, you cannot complain about having some company.
What is a "fair" distance depends entirely on the circumstances, including structure, water depth, type of fish, type of fishing, and number of boats. Let me say that I have seen a dozen boats catching fish with no problems in a small canal or at an offshore platform. I have also seen eight boats fishing a single oyster reef with excellent results. On the other hand, I have also seen the approach of a single poorly placed boat shut down a bite at a productive spot.
First, unless you are going to fish a certain "spot" (i.e. the mouth of a bayou, a platform, a weir in the marsh, a dead end canal), there is no reason to approach another boat at all, unless you are waved over. If you are joining other boats on a spot, keep a minimum "two casts away" from other anglers (100 yards). This means that if baits cast from the other boat are within the radius of your baits, you are getting too close. Of course, the "two cast" guideline can be contracted in certain situations and if proper caution is employed, especially in canals and at offshore platfroms.
2. Do Not Disturb the Fish or Fishermen:
When fishing, and especially when fishing near others, it is important to keep quiet to avoid spooking the fish. Big Speckled trout are very easy to scare off. Do put your trolling motor down a minimum of 200 yards away when approaching a likely spot, especially if you are joining another boat. Even better is to drift in. Do Not approach using your big motor, especially not on a plane. Do ease the anchor over the side quietly. Do Not re-enact the olympic hammer-throw with the anchor. Do step softly on your hull (especially on hatches). Do not share your Neil Diamond's Greatest Hits CD with the rest of the boats at the spot. Do idle past another boat anchored up in a narrow bayou. Do Not run across a lake to ask another boat if they are catching any fish.
3. Be Prepared:
Respect your fellow sportsmen enough to anticipate the reasonable challenges a day of fishing can offer. This can be as easy as making sure your boat is ready to launch (plug in, motor up, straps off) before you back onto the ramp. It can be as important as making sure your radio and safety equipment (life jackets, fire extinguisher) is functioning properly. As a common courtesy, you should be able to troubleshoot the minor mechanical and electrical problems you could encounter. Know how to change your spark plugs, propeller, and batteries. Watch your fuel guage, and know where you are, where you are going, and how to get back to the launch.
Don't leave the dock when you have reason to believe you will need a tow back. While most fishermen will dutifully offer assistance to a stranded party, no one likes to cut a trip short because they have to tow someone else in. A good tip is to bring a cell phone with you, so that if you get in trouble, you can get a friend or relative to assist you rather than relying on strangers.
4. Practice Conservation:
This can be as simple as having a valid fishing licence and knowing and following the applicable bag and size limits for each fish species. More advanced considerations are whether to keep more fish than you intend to eat within a couple of weeks, and whether to keep exceptionally large or breeding gamefish. I won't compalin about anyone who follows the law, but I would like to offer a couple of my own personal thoughts.
To me, it is an easy decision to put back "bull" redfish. I have caught my share of them, and I find that once they get over about 25 inches, they are a chore to clean and are not as tasty. The bigger reds are so tough that I have had to use a cane knife to clean them, and the larger filets have a higher percentage of veiny bloody meat that I don't like. I wish I could say that I put them back out of a spirit of true conservation, because they are a fantastic fighting fish. But really, they are too much trouble for too little return.
Speckled trout are a bit different. There is no doubt that a 5lb trout will give you two beautiful filets for dinner. But, I love to fish topwaters for big speckled trout, and despite the reputation of the Dularge area for its massive schools12-15 inch fish, we have found some 4-6lb fish on occasion. Because I would like to see a better quality of fish caught out of Dularge, I have for the past few years put back almost all the specks I catch over 23 inches. I know that it is a drop in the bucket of the millions of fish out there, but it makes me feel like I am doing my part to better the gene pool.
Don't worry, though, I keep plenty of smaller specks for the Fry Daddy and the freezer. As sportsmen, we ought to care for the fish that we catch, so that they are not spoiled or otherwise wasted. Make sure you keep your catch on plenty of ice, and filet and bag them soon after fishing. Freeze the speck filets in water to avoid freezerburn.
5. Respect the Professionals:
Our state has a long history of commercial fishing, and while the outdoors is a playground for the recreational anglers, it is the livelihood of the waterman. Give working shrimpers and oystermen a wide berth, and be aware of the numerous crab traps in the area. Also, remember that fishing guides are also professionals who have an obligation to their clients.
I have had the privilege of meeting many of the folks who make a living in the coastal waters of Terrebonne Parish, and I have to say that they are among the friendliest, hardest working, and most personable people in Louisiana. I have received their genorosity and assistance on many occasions, and I consider myself lucky to be a small part of the Dularge community.
See you "Down In Dularge,"