Angling Etiquette: 101

By Steve Huber - May 1, 2000
This article is somewhat of a departure from my normal monthly ramblings. What I'd like to discuss is etiquette. Not what fork you use for the salad or what to do with the finger bowl, but trailering, boat launch and fishing etiquette.

I fish quite a bit, some ten months (or more) each year. What I see every year, on the roads, on the lakes and at the landings is quite often nothing short of appalling.

First of all, BEFORE you ever take the trailer out of the driveway, please make sure that your trailer lights are working. I don't know how many times I've seen boats going down the road, with not a single light working. Now I don't know if they forgot to plug in the lights but I've almost rear-ended a boat several times last season because of no lights on the trailer. Talk about ruining a trip in a hurry!

Next, learn to back a trailer BEFORE going to the lake. Remember the commercial for Blue Fox lures where the guy zig-zags, back and forth all over the landing? I see it every week, all season long. Backing is not terribly difficult to learn but it is an acquired skill and the more you do it, the better you get. An easy way to learn is to keep your hand at the 6:00 position of the wheel.

I'm not talking rocket science here, just basic, common courtesy...
Then, move your hand in the direction that you want the trailer to go. Remember, a little movement of the steering wheel goes a long way on the trailer and keep the speed down. The biggest mistake that I see people make when backing a trailer is too much steering. A good place to practice backing is at your friendly neighborhood (insert your favorite department store name here). Go off to the far corner of the lot, where no one ever parks and practice, practice, practice. Don't just practice backing in a straight line, try backing around corners, into parking spaces. Get used to maneuvering your rig prior to hitting the lake Opening Day.

All right, you've practiced backing until you're fairly confident, you've got the boat hooked to the family truckster and you're ready to go......Not quite yet Me Bucko... When was the last time you ran the outboard? Sometime last year if my guess is correct. You're not ready until you've gone through everything and it's been checked.

Dump the gas from the tank into your car. The little bit of oil in the gas won't hurt your car and you want fresh gas in your outboard. When were the spark plugs changed? Somewhere around the Nixon Era right? Spend the $1.86 each and put in new plugs. It wouldn't hurt to get one of those "Muff" thingies that hook to a garden hose and make sure that your motor runs before getting to the lake. Try running the motor without water and I guarantee you'll burn out the water pump in a heartbeat. As long as you've got the engine cowl off, check for signs of oil leaks, loose nuts/bolts or broken wires. Tighten, tape and clean as needed.

If your motor is an electric start, make sure that the battery is charged and all the connections are clean and corrosion free. If you have a trolling motor, the same applies, charge the battery, check the connections. Make sure that the motor clamps are tight, I've seen one outboard bounce off the back of a boat going down the highway. I also saw a motor come loose from the boat while out on the lake. Luckily, the fuel line kept the motor from sinking out of sight. I have to admit, it looked really funny but I wouldn't want to be the one supplying comic relief on Opening Day.

As long as you're out in the garage, checking things over, take off the propeller and make sure that there is no fishing line wrapped around the prop shaft. If there is, unwrap it and take a good look at the seal. If it shows any sign of wear, you'll have water getting into your lower unit. This is not a good thing and if left unchecked, will do severe damage to the lower unit.

This seems like a lot of work but it only takes a couple hours and is time well spent. Unless you really like getting red-faced pulling, pulling, pulling on the starter rope while your kids are getting a vocabulary lesson.

You've made the trip to the lake, surviving city traffic while pulling the boat, trying to tune out the kids in the back seat saying (for the 4,734th time) "Are we there yet?" OK, you're at the landing, there's no one around, "Quick, get that boat in the water!!" WRONG!!! I don't know how many times I've seen a boat ramp tied up while trip after trip is made between the car and the boat, loading rods, tackle boxes, bait buckets, life jackets etc, etc., etc. Pull off to the side of the parking lot, remove the boat tie downs, PUT THE PLUG IN THE BOAT, load all the gear, take off the safety chain but leave the winch strap attached. I've seen boats slide off the trailer when everything is detached so leave the strap attached. NOW, you can launch. As you confidently back the boat in, you're thinking (c'mon, admit it), "Man, am I glad I practiced." Once you've got the boat off the trailer, move it to a place where it won't be blocking the ramp and either tie it off or have someone hang onto it. Go park the car, jump in the boat and have fun.

When out on the lake, please pay attention to others. Everyone deserves to catch fish, but everyone also deserves to have the peace and quiet that goes with fishing. If you have to motor near another angler, either swing wide or throttle down to the point where you aren't at huber05_00(1).gif"Maximum Wake Speed." It's all right to fish the same area as others but give them some room. It's frustrating to find fish only to have others flock in like seagulls at a fish cleaning station. See if you can figure out the conditions that are successful for that guy getting one after another and look for other places that offer the same. Most times, it's not that particular spot that is producing, it's the combination of depth, cover, etc. that makes it a productive spot and there are usually more places just like it elsewhere on the lake. My partner Gil was down in the Winneconne area lately, fishing for white bass. He caught two fish and immediately had three other boats come and anchor within spitting distance, attempting to get in on the action. One of the boats went as far as to anchor between Gil's boat and shore, parking his boat directly over the spot where Gil was casting to!!

When the day is done and you're back at the landing, the process for leaving the lake is just reversed from launching. Park the boat out of the way of the ramp. Get the trailer in the water. Put the boat on the trailer, tighten the winch strap and pull the boat over to the edge of the parking lot. This is the place to stow all the gear back in the car, attach the tie downs and get the boat ready for the trip home, NOT blocking the landing.

I put my boat on and off the trailer several hundred times a year. Granted, that's more than most people but in all honesty, I don't think that I occupy a boat ramp for more than five minutes....either launching or leaving the lake.

I see it too often each year, people blocking boat ramps, trying to get their boat started for the first time of the year, loading gear, talking with their friends, just plain being rude. I saw one 4th of July weekend where the sole landing on a lake was blocked for more than 30 minutes while a Nimrod fiddled around launching his boat, making sure everything was "just so" only to find out he had a dead battery. He actually left the trailer on the ramp, the boat in the water, got some tools and took the battery out of his car! All the while, there were quite possibly 25 vehicles waiting to launch. The fact that he wasn't physically assaulted amazes me to this day.

I think that many people out there are very good about "Ramp & Lake Etiquette" but it never hurts to give a reminder. I mean, I'm not talking rocket science here, just basic, common courtesy. Unfortunately, with the hustle and bustle of today's fast paced society, common courtesy is becoming a rare commodity.

Sorry for the departure from my normal articles, I just felt it needed to be said.

Until next time, see ya.

Author Steve Huber

Steve Huber
Steve Huber, an avid angler with over 35 years of experience (man, he's old) is one of the few multi-species guides in the Rhinelander area. He's been operating G & S Guide Service for 8 years now and loves to fish for Muskies, Northern Pike, Largemouth/Smallmouth Bass and the occasional Walleye (in no particular order). A person who loves to see others succeed, he's an educator while on the water and when he's not teaching you something, he'll regale you with tales of adventures and mis-adventures gleaned from his years on the water. If you liked this article, you can check out Steve's web site at http://www.herefishyfishy.com.