If you are new to angling or just new to flats fishing you may have
questions about how to share the water with other anglers (I hope
this is something you will consider). Let me state from the start
that I am not the standards authority on the topic of angling ethics.
It is unlikely that you will find a single source on angling ethics
that is considered the standard. Many would suggest we are governed
more than required and certainly more than desired. However a common
code of conduct that all anglers could follow would be welcome. If
it would be followed. Which code do we use?
There are internet sources...
For example here is a link titled
code of ethics" posted on the Alaska State Sport Fish site.
Here you fill find another full page on the topic, the Code
of Angling Ethics Adopted by The National Marine Fisheries Service
from the Florida Musem of Natural History.
I listed only two of the over five hundred hits on the search for
"angling ethics" and there are bound to be more if you open
up the search with the various phrases that pertain to the topic.
That indicates that people, ''fisherpeople'', recognize that there
is a need. Many have an opinion on what the 'code of ethics' should
include. I have my ideas and certainly, you do as well.
A code includes...
I have a code of ethics for several different fishing environments.
As a teenager, there were certain specific courtesies when you were
fishing the catwalk at Gandy Bridge. I do not recall any need to rely
on those in my weekly trips to fish. Moving a little north, to the
mountains of Georgia and beginning my freshwater trout adventures
I encountered new angling ethics. These were a little more involved
than bridge fishing. If fishing on a trophy trout stream, you were
very likely to get a lecture on what was acceptable if you goofed
Now I am fishing the shallow and many times confined waters of coastal
habitat. The 'rules' are not very different from others I have encountered.
They are common sense it seems. My code also is not very different
from either of the two web links cited previously. Here are the important
rules on my list:
Nothing ground breaking. These rules are
the same for anywhere you may fish fresh or salt water. However, you
know as well as I do that rules and rights are subject to interpretation.
This is where conflicts can arise. Is 100 yards enough right of way?
Maybe 400 yards is required. Sometimes 'our' idea of what is right
is different from another anglers' idea.
- Respect the space occupied by other anglers,
including moving to and from your destination. With your boat,
where you wade, or where you cast.
- Treat the fish you catch, whether you are
harvesting or catch and release, with respect.
- Care for the natural environment that you
are visiting. For other visitors and your return visits in the
- Provide help to other anglers to promote
the sport and encourage them to be ethical anglers.
So what should you do?
First, I suggest that you understand some key concepts about how your
actions affect fishing for yourself and others on the flats. It is
shallow water. The fish are keenly aware of this and usually are on
'high alert' when they are vulnerable. It is easy to turn off an entire
flat for all fishing by traveling through carelessly. Depending on
how you fish you may have less impact but you need to keep this in
If other anglers are present, you should observe their actions before
you make your course to avoid disturbing their fishing as much as
possible. Likewise, if you are fishing a channel you cannot expect
other vessels to stop and wait for you to fish. If you have a reason
to approach, another angler or group you should observe as mentioned
and determine if there is an opportunity. Best to call out before
heading over. Other anglers are your best bet for tips. Turning off
the fishing by your approach will not get you any favors.
There seem to be more people using the waterways each year. It can
be crowded and there are many different ways to use the water. You
cannot mix swimming, jet skis, pleasure boating and fishing in the
same body of water.
What should you avoid?
I have been there when a boat pulls up into the middle of the hole
and anchors. There is always a possibility that some boater will speed
through the flat you are fishing. Many discussions on fishing boards
concerning the topic result in angry comments. My reaction is anger
at times as well. There is an inclination to teach someone a lesson
with a purposeful cast or maybe our own invasion of space.
The first inclination is not always to let things go. That should
be avoided by all as much as possible. Keep in mind that you are fishing
for the pleasure of the activity. Letting other's thoughtless action
take that from you only adds to the frustration. In most cases, your
best course of action is to move on to another spot and enjoy your
At times, you may decide to confront someone who is willfully breaking
the laws, poaching for instance. I want to encourage you to exercise
caution in this situation. If you are in a remote area, you don't
know who this person is or what they may do. Get the information you
can safely to describe the violator and report it to authorities (see
your state natural resource web site). If possible, use your cell
phone and call in immediately to report the violation. Stopping a
poacher is the right thing to do. Do not jeopardize your safety in
Go fish. Have a good time. Learn. Get along with others sharing the
water. Be an example.
Let me know what you think.