John Gierach famously wrote that there are two types of fishermen: the guys in your party, and the assholes. It’s been quoted way, way too many times, but bears particular mention in a discussion of fishermen making dick moves. It goes to show that anglers are naturally suspicious of and hostile toward other people on the water, simply by nature of them being on the water that we would like to have to ourselves. If we happened to run into the same folks at a bar, we’d more likely be fast friends.
But the fact remains that fishermen do occasionally display rude, inconsiderate, disrespectful, and slovenly behavior. There’s a host of unwritten rules and etiquette that many anglers take very seriously, and you’d do well to know them lest you risk raising their ire. So, in keeping with Steve Rinella’s enumeration of the biggest dick moves a hunter can make, here’s our aquatic version.
If you really want to lay it on thick when a buddy shows up late to the boat ramp, you’re going to want to reach for a quote from “A River Runs Through It,” the movie, not the book. When Norman Maclean’s soon-to-be brother-in-law arrives at the river drunk, hours late, and accompanied by a prostitute, Paul Maclean (via Brad Pitt) tells him how things are: “Neal, in Montana there’s three things we’re never late for—church, work, and fishing.”
This quote is just annoying enough to transmit your frustration and the depths of the dick move your truant companion has perpetrated. An agreed-upon meet time is inviolable among anglers, so it’s best to set your alarm when you make that agreement. If not, you’re less likely to be invited next time. Sleeping through the 3 a.m. alarm can happen to anyone, but you can’t be mad if the train leaves the station without you and can’t be surprised if friends call out this dick move.
Conversely, it’s also important to agree on a time you’re planning to stop fishing. Nothing is more obnoxious than getting in the boat, then telling everyone that your wife wants you home by noon.
Low Holing, High Holing, Corking, Crowding
As expressed in the convoluted section header, this is an ill-defined but nonetheless severe fishing foul. To attempt a clarification, I’ll call it “to begin fishing in another angler’s close proximity or within their path of travel.”
On coastal rivers, it’s stepping or floating in below someone swinging or drift fishing downstream through a run. In the mountains, it’s starting above someone going up. In most lakes and inshore areas, you’d better not motor in to a shoreline right in front of someone clearly casting or trolling along it.
Our personal space bubbles naturally expand and contract like a gas to fit the total number of anglers inside the area in question. I’d always rather fish way down in a canyon and not see anybody, but I grew up fishing a lot of crowded beaches and creek mouths for fast-paced, short-lived salmon and steelhead runs. In the backcountry, if you can see someone else fishing, you’re too close. If we’re at the hatchery hole, just try to not cast over my line. Learn the etiquette of personal space when you arrive at a new destination, either by asking someone who knows or observing anglers around you, before you make a cast.
Under normal circumstances, remember that on some level we’re all out there on the water for some peace and quiet. If you see another angler, give them a reasonable amount of space. Likely, they’ll do the same. There’s plenty of water for all of us.
There’s a preferred position for angling on any watercraft. And in many cases, whoever is rowing the raft, poling the skiff, or running the trolling motor isn’t actively fishing.
Back in college, we had a friend who I believed to be deliberately bad at rowing a drift boat. A smart and shrewd dude, I think he calculated that by plowing over the good water and hitting enough rocks, he wouldn’t be asked to row again that day. Au contraire, mon frère. We still made him row for as long as we could handle it, though shouting inevitably ensued.
Be a good friend. After you catch a fish, or blow enough chances to do so, take the sticks, push-pole, or tiller for a bit. If you don’t know how, ask for a lesson. It’s a good way to get your shit back together and say thanks to your buddy for getting you into some action.
Leaving Line or Litter
My buddies Dustin, Hank, and I once spent the better part of an hour chopping and hauling a derelict gillnet out of a tiny coastal steelhead creek. That’s a high concentration of monofilament in one place, but I’d be willing to bet there’s more than the equivalent amount of lost sportfishing line in the trees and riprap of any of the larger rivers nearby.
Leaving a cobweb of fishing line strung through the scrub brush along the bank is a huge dick move. Monofilament decays slowly in UV rays and water chemistry, but is thought to take up to 600 years to completely decompose. Researchers believe fluorocarbon and modern braided lines will persist almost indefinitely. That means all the fishing line that you and everyone else has lost since the late 1930s is still kicking around somewhere.
Breakoffs happen. I don’t like it any more than you do. But if you somehow leave 150 yards of line behind, you’ve done something severely wrong. Replace abraded or compromised line. It’s always a good idea when you’re rigging up to identify or create a designated break point. Of course you want your terminal knot to be strong, but you don’t want it to be stronger than your backing.
When breakoffs happen, do your best to recover as much line and tackle as you possibly can. While you’re at it, just don’t leave anything on or around the water or woods. Beer and dip and worm cans don’t decay fast, either. But wanna know how to redeem yourself for past dick move indiscretion? Pick up some garbage next time you’re out fishing. It’s not hard to do and will make you look like a real good guy.