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Ethical Behavior Important on the Water

(Author's note: This article was written awhile back for young anglers. But the same advice also is applicable to adult fishermen.)

You and your partner are having little luck and time is running out in the bass tournament. But as you pass a point at the mouth of a cove, you notice anglers in another boat are catching fish.

There seems to be plenty of room, and they are fishing public water. You have as much right to be there as they do. Why not join them?

You know why. It wouldn’t be ethical.

“All of us who fish competitively have had experience with ethics on the water,” says a long-time bass pro from Arkansas. “And the first rule is the Golden Rule. You don’t move onto another person’s water.”

The second ethics rule among tournament anglers, she adds, is a variation of the first. “You don’t go to that spot the next day either, if the tournament is still going on. That is someone else’s water. Find your own fish.”

Sometimes you can do that, she continues, simply by noting what makes this honey hole special and then looking for similar places that are not occupied.

An angler who wants to claim a hole, meanwhile, should practice good angling etiquette. He can do that by moving back and forth to signal that this is his water. Otherwise, some might mistakenly believe that he is fishing down a bank, instead of working a specific area.

In general, angling etiquette is a code of courtesy that shows consideration for others and, in doing so, encourages ethical behavior. Angling etiquette is visible, such as yielding to the boat on the right or to a smaller, slower craft cutting across your bow.

But what, exactly, is ethical behavior, aside from not crowding into another’s fishing spot?

 “Your ethics are the rules or values you use to help choose behavior that is fair to others and to yourself,” says Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). “We practice ethical behavior when we ‘do the right thing’ even when we think we won’t be caught or punished for our behavior.”

When trying to decide whether your behavior will be ethical, says TPWD, consider these questions: Is it legal? Would it be good if everybody did it? Would it make you proud?

Also, don’t allow someone’s questionable behavior to influence your judgment. In other words, two wrongs don’t make a right.

Sometimes, too, what you perceive as “wrong” isn’t seen that way by others.

“Especially in tournaments, we (bass anglers) are so intent, so focused,” says the pro. “Others, like water skiers and jet skiers, don’t understand that. And it’s not their mission to pay attention to things like the fact that they’re going between us and the shore. We have to understand that.

“And we shouldn’t get mad if we decide to fish a good spot where there’s going to be a lot of traffic. We have to accept the fact that people are going to go by.”

As a fisherman, however, you do know that motoring between an angler and a nearby shoreline is not good etiquette and possibly even unethical if it harms his fishing.

Here are some other actions that reflect good etiquette and ethical behavior by anglers: 

  • Honor another’s trust. If someone shares with you his “secret spot,” don’t tell anyone about it, no matter how tempted you may be.
  • Whether in a boat or on shore, don’t cast your line across another’s or into “his water.” Doing so not only is unethical but could result in a tangled mess that keeps both of you from fishing.
  • Understand and follow fishing and boating regulations. Obeying the law is not only ethical; it also keeps you from paying fines and possibly even going to jail and/or having your fishing privileges revoked.
  • Handle fish gently. Don’t suspend them out of the water with fishing line. Don’t touch the gills. After you net or lip them, don’t allow them to flop around on shore or in the bottom of the boat. If a fish “swallows” the hook, cut off the line at the eye and leave it in.
  • Never keep fish just to “show off.” You should be prepared to clean and eat any that you take home.
  • Have your boat ready to go before you back it down the ramp. When you take it out, move it quickly out of the way so that others can use the launch area.
  • Help with loading, unloading, and cleaning the boat.
  • Take live bait home with you or dispose of it well away from the water instead of dumping it into the lake. Be certain that your boat and trailer don’t carry any uninvited hitchhikers, such as nuisance plants or zebra mussels.
  • Don’t move fish of any kind from one water body to another. In addition to being unethical and illegal, it could do irreversible damage to a fishery that you were trying to improve.
  • Always ask permission before crossing private property or fishing a pond or stream on private property.
  • If you are wading, try to avoid trampling aquatic vegetation. Enter and leave the water at places where the banks are low or at gravel bars, so you will do less damage to the shorelines.
  • If you are fishing on private land and keeping fish, offer to share your catch with the landowner.
  • Leave an area just as clean as you found it. And especially never discard line or soft plastic baits. Even better, pick up the trash left behind by others. Littering, of course, is against the law. Picking it up shows respect for the resource.
  • Avoid spills and never dump pollutants, such as gas and oil, into the water.
  • Share your knowledge and enjoyment of the sport by taking others fishing.
  • Through your own behavior, promote angling ethics and etiquette.

 Sometimes when you are on the water, you will run into situations that do not fit into any of the above and you will be forced to make decisions with little time to think. In such cases, listen to your conscience, make the ethical choice, and you never will go wrong.


Friends of Reservoirs Is Valuable Ally for Bass Anglers

Bass clubs that want to improve fisheries in their home impoundments have an invaluable ally in Friends of Reservoirs (FOR).

“This (partnership) is still in its infancy, and we need to get the word out about it,” said Ron Gunter of Texas’ Seven Coves Bass Club. “This is an excellent opportunity to get some help for cleanups and restorations.”

Earl Conway, conservation director for the New Mexico B.A.S.S. Federation, agrees.

“FOR gives us a national forum to interact with a nationwide network of fisheries management professionals, at a working level on real projects,” he said.

At Lake Conroe, FOR has been assisting Seven Coves with habitat improvement. Club members are growing aquatic vegetation to plant in Conroe, and have installed artificial structures to sustain the fishery until the plants become established.

“Phil Durocher and Dave Terre at Texas Parks and Wildlife were instrumental in getting Friends of Reservoirs started,” Gunter said. “They thought that Seven Coves would provide a good example and so we became the first chapter member organization last spring (2011).”

Along with sharing fisheries expertise, FOR allows the club to obtain tax-exempt donations and provides an account to hold those funds.

“The money stays there for us, earmarked for our project, and we don’t have to deal with finances,” the Texan added.

Gunter and Conway also praised Jeff Boxrucker and Jeff Lucero for their FOR leadership. Boxrucker is coordinator of the Reservoir Fisheries Habitat Partnership (RFHP), while Lucero represents the Bureau of Reclamation in the partnership.

“Jeff Lucero has been awesome and we owe him a pat on the back,” said Conway, who is working on improving habitat at Elephant Butte.

Friends of Reservoirs is the primary support institution for the RFHP, which says the role of the former is as follows:

  •  Provide supporters options to participate in the operation of the RFHP and to influence its governance through interaction with the Executive Committee, staff, and Regional Workgroups on the setting of reservoir conservation priorities, selection of fish habitat conservation projects, and long-term partnership goals and objectives
  • Provide sustainable funding for RFHP operations and project implementation
  • Help develop volunteer corps to support project implementation
  • Facilitate delivery of outreach for public education, awareness, and service

 (This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)


States Lose Latest Battle to Protect Great Lakes from Asian Carp

A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit by five states that want to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes by forcing closure of the manmade connection between the Mississippi River basin and the Great Lakes.

I can’t say that I’m surprised. Bureaucracy and status quo almost always will trump change, even if that change clearly is in the best interests of those affected.

On the positive side, the judge did say the he is “mindful of, and alarmed by, the potentially devastating ecological, environmental, and economic consequences that may result from the establishment of an Asian carp population in the Great Lakes.”

But he added that the proper way for the states to win approval is through Congress.

Read the full story here.


Killing Smallmouth Bass Proposed for Columbia River

 The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) is proposing regulation changes that could damage some of the nation’s best smallmouth fisheries.

Under one proposal, size and daily limits would be removed for bass in portions of the Columbia and Snake Rivers, as well as their tributaries. Under another, daily limits would be removed, but an angler could keep no more than three bass over 15 inches.

“It’s mind boggling,” said Mark Byrne, conservation director for the Washington B.A.S.S. Federation Nation. “No one (at DFW) has any answers for me on why this is happening.

“There’s no science behind it,” he added. “Studies have shown that bass are not an issue.”

But advocates for salmon and trout are making them the issue, as they continue to argue that bass predation is harming these native species, according to both Byrne and Chuck Lang, Oregon conservation director.

“This is a do-over of proposals presented in Oregon in 1998,” Lang said. “A determined co-op of native fish groups and folks within the state and federal government are pushing it.”

He added that fisheries biologists know that bass, first introduced more than a century ago, are not damaging salmon and trout populations, “but fail to call the native folks on it. Politics in the Northwest favor the extreme elements.

“If one of these proposals is implemented, I think it will be spread to the entire length of the Columbia and Snake systems.”

Byrne is not sure what will happen next with the recommendations, as their advocates are holding information “close to the vest.” 

The Fish and Wildlife Commission could vote on them following public hearings, he said. Or they could be presented via the legislature. “We’d have a better chance of defeating them there,” he added.

The Washington conservation director pointed out that studies of bass stomachs have shown stickleback to be the most popular prey species, while salmon smolts “didn’t even make the top 10.” Northern pike minnows, he added, do far more damage to native fish populations.

But bass are an easier target because they’re more visible than the pike minnows. “The salmon guys see us with big fish,” Byrne said.

“If there were any science behind this, I could understand it,” he concluded. “But there’s not. It’s a political thing, and we’re David versus Goliath on this one.” 

(This appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)


The Positive Power of Fishing

Photo by Robert Montgomery

Fisheries leaders long have known that successful advocacy depends on economic justification. They recognize that recreational fishing’s worth must be proven by the numbers to state and federal decision-makers who authorize and appropriate funds for fisheries and conservation programs.

I understand and support that strategy. Recreational fishing generates more than $125 billion annually in economic output and more than one million jobs. It clearly is worth the money that we invest in it, and that is something that politicians understand.

But you and I both know that angling’s intrinsic value is what keeps us going to the lakes, rivers, and oceans. We fish for fun, to relax, to compete, and to spend quality time with friends and family. We fish to forget. And we fish to remember. We fish to lower our blood pressure. And we fish to raise our adrenaline.

Did you know, though, that fishing also is magic? That probably doesn’t mean much to the politicians who control the purse strings, but parents and volunteers will tell you that fishing works in ways that we can’t quantify to enrich the lives of millions who endure illness, injury and disability. As much as we might think angling means to us, both economically and inherently, it can mean even more to them.

“Fishing and other outdoor activities are a diversion from the reality that they have life-threatening illnesses,” says Gene Gilliland, a B.A.S.S. member who helps organize an annual day on the water for children with chronic and life-threatening illnesses at Camp Cavett on Lake Texoma.

“This gives them a chance to be a kid again. It’s amazing how fired up they get to go for a ride in the boat and to go fishing.””

Fishing makes a difference, too, for war veterans who have been wounded and are struggling to adjust to the new reality of their civilian lives.

“We see the benefits over and over,” reports Heroes on the Water, an organization that takes injured warriors fishing in kayaks. It adds, however, that “the rehabilitation aspect was an unintended consequence of helping injured service members.”

Realization of that aspect of the magic occurred with a veteran suffering from traumatic brain injury. He stuttered, would not talk, and wanted to be left alone. He had to be persuaded to get in a kayak for a four-hour outing.

“When we were helping him out, we asked how his morning was,” Heroes says. “For 30 seconds, he was jabbering away, talking about how great kayaking was, how he caught five fish, and how he really enjoyed the time on the water.

“Then he --- and we --- realized he was talking normally.”

For the first time in two years.

The stuttering eventually returned, but the soldier said, ‘Now I know I can do it (speak normally). Now I have hope.”

Fishing and other outdoor activities provide hope for children with autism as well.

“What I’ve discovered about people on the (autism) spectrum is that they are highly institutionalized,” says Anthony Larson, owner of Coulee Region Adventures and father of a 6-year-old with the disability.

Such a lifestyle, he theorizes, puts to “sleep” the part of the brain that makes maps and encourages creativity. Additionally, those on the spectrum often have issues with their body placement, as well as linking their body with their emotions and estimating where they are in time and space.

“So, when children participate in the outdoors, they are using parts of the brain that normally don’t get used, as well as utilizing muscle groups that don’t get used.

“Another benefit to being in the outdoors is exhaustion!” he emphasizes. “It’s a lot of work to be outdoors. And, like I tell my son’s therapists, he can’t fight if he’s tired.”

Eli Delany also noted the therapeutic value of fishing for his son, and that prompted him to found My Little Buddy’s Boat, an autism awareness program now promoted by many of the top professional anglers.

“He loves nature and the boat’s movement and the sensation it gives him,” says Delany. “He really is starting to enjoy the fishing part of it, casting his rod and holding the bass after we catch them.”

And Katie Gage, the mother of two sons with autism, adds this:

“Fishing has proven to be great therapy. They can find peace on the water, and they can connect their love of science and nature and stewardship. No pressure, just fish!”

So . . . you can tell the politicians that angling is worth more than $125 billion annually if you want to. I say that it’s priceless. 

(Published originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)