A recent column on boating safety and personal watercraft operation spurred a reader request for a similar guide about boat ramp manners and fishing etiquette.

The timing is ripe for addressing both topics.

Recreational boat sales are through the roof and fishing is becoming increasingly popular among people of all ages. Plus, boating and fishing seasons are approaching their summer peaks.

It’s hard to imagine folks getting crossways over a launching lane at a boat ramp or a fishing-looking spot on public lake, river or bay. Sadly, it happens more often than you might think.

Most altercations begin with foul language and escalate from there. Not every tiff ends in childish behavior, but some of them do. I’ve heard of stories about grown men getting into fist fights, guns being brandished and personal property getting damaged over something as silly as a brush pile cloaked in 25 feet of water.

There is no formal guide for launching vessels at public boat ramps, or how anglers should conduct themselves when fishing among other others on public waters. However, there are a passel unwritten rules that apply. Most are built around common sense and everyday courtesy.

Boat Ramp Advice

 Hang around a public boat ramp on a busy weekend and you are liable to witness a comedy of errors to illustrate just how uneducated some people are when it comes to launching and loading a boat.

A good friend once saw a perfectly good tow vehicle sink at the end of a ramp after the driver of the truck backed the boat trailer in and failed to stop once the boat floated free.

Several years ago, I witnessed a 21-foot bass boat get dumped on the concrete after the driver of the tow truck pulled out before his partner had the boat fully loaded on the trailer bunks.

The guy in the boat yelled to alert the driver with no success. As the truck took off, the boat bow tilted upwards and outboard motor skeg dragged on the concrete. The driver essentially pulled the trailer from beneath the boat, leaving it and the driver rocking in the middle of a ramp bustling with people.

Such a show might be amusing to a casual onlooker. Not so much for other boaters waiting in line and eager to get on the water.

 Here are a few ways to avoid becoming the center of attention the boat ramp:

 Learn to Back a Trailer: One of the most common mistakes occurs when a driver backs the trailer down the ramp and winds up taking up multiple lanes instead of one, blocking others from access. I’ve seen trailers jackknifed so badly that it damaged the tow vehicle and boat.

A crowded boat ramp is no place to learn how to back a trailer. Practice and learn how to properly back a boat trailer before you go to the lake.

Most beginners have problems learning how to correct the direction of the trailer when it veers left or right. The best place to practice is a large, open parking lot where you won’t be in anyone’s way. If the parking stripes aren’t clearly visible, use orange traffic cones spaced appropriately to simulate the width of a boat ramp lane.

 Practice backing the trailer into the slot from odd angles. It is easier for some to learn by looking over their shoulder instead of relying on the vehicle side view mirrors. Once you learn how to the back up looking over your shoulder, master the process using the mirrors. It’s easer to line up the lane markers and see the trailer fenders.

Pre-Launch Inspections: Many people allow boats to sit idle for extended periods between use. Just because everything worked fine last time out is no guarantee a boat will run several months down the road.

The bottom of a crowded boat ramp is no place discover a dead engine battery.

Be sure the boat’s battery is fully charged and other critical parts like the bilge pump and running lights are working properly before you head to the lake.

 If the engine won’t crank, clear the ramp immediately. Don’t try to diagnose or repair mechanical issues on a boat ramp that others are waiting to use. Do it in the parking lot or go home.

 Making Ready: If you are planning to water ski or drag tubers, don’t wait until you back down the ramp to transfer gear from the tow vehicle to the boat. The same goes for fishing tackle and ice chests. Do it in the parking lot

Delaying others from ramp access while you tend to chores that should be done ahead of time is inconsiderate. It’s a good way to get a much deserved tongue lashing.

 Check your boat for all necessary equipment like life jackets, fire extinguishers and kill switches ahead of time. Make sure the boat’s drain plug is in place, and that all winch/transom tie-down straps are removed before backing the rig into the water.

Launching the Boat: Launching can be performed alone, but it is much easier (and quicker) with two experienced people — one driving the tow vehicle and one handling the boat.

 With the winch and transom straps removed, ease the boat into water until it floats off the trailer. The tow vehicle driver should always make sure the boat is completely free of the trailer before pulling out. Boat drivers should wait until the outboard’s lower unit is fully submerged to ensure sufficient water flow to the water pump before cranking the engine.

Loading the Boat: Loading a boat is essentially the same process as launching, except the steps are in reverse order. Some boats by design are more difficult to load and take a little more practice than others.

Always be sure the trailer is backed into the water just far enough that the nose of the boat reaches the winch roller with a goose of the throttle and that the boat is straight while the bottom is at rest on the trailer bunks. Back the trailer in too far the boat may float off the trailer and possibly damage the fenders.

Fishin’ for Ethics

 How anglers conduct themselves on the water is a reflection of the sport that can make an everlasting impression on others, especially the watchful eyes and attentive ears of a youngster.

 Ethical fishing behavior goes far beyond abiding by state fishing regulations like buying a license and not exceeding daily limits on sport fish. It means respecting the rights of others, including private property owners, as well as other anglers who are sharing the water.

There are plenty of stewards of the sport out there. Sadly, there are also a bunch of potlickers around who need to clean up their acts. Here are a few examples of good fishing ethics and how lines sometimes get crossed:

Don’t Be a Hole Jumper: Nobody likes a hole jumper. He’s the guy who watches you catch one or two fish, then attempts to hedge in on the sweet spot while you are still sitting there. It’s alright to join in the fun if another angler invites you in. Otherwise, keep your distance and find your own fish.

Don’t Cut People Off: Getting cut off is a common complaint among bass anglers. It happens when one angler is fishing down a vacant shoreline. Another angler motors past then cuts in on the same shoreline, 50-75 yards ahead of the other fisherman. It’s similar to cutting in line at the grocery store check out counter.

It’s Not Your Brush Pile: Fishermen routinely sink brush piles on public reservoirs to attract and hold concentrations fish, mainly crappie and bass. They typically mark the sweet spots on GPS for easy relocation on the next trip.

It’s hard work sinking brush. It’s also pretty easy for other anglers to locate them using modern electronics. Frustration sometimes sets in when the angler who built the brush pile arrives and finds a stranger already locked down on the spot.

Opinions will vary as to who is right or wrong, here. But it doesn’t really matter in the eyes of the law.

There is no such thing as a private fishing hole on public water. Once a brush pile leaves an angler’s boat it automatically becomes fair game for anyone to fish. It’s usually best to move on and find another spot rather risk getting into argument. Anglers who harass or interfere with others on the water are in violation of state law. The offense is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 and up to 180 days in jail.

 Don't Pitch Plastics or Line: Used soft plastics should be retained and disposed of properly once you get to shore, not tossed into the lake. Bass and other game fish are prone to pick up discarded plastics and swallow them. This can cause blockage and digestive problems.

Do the same with old fishing line. Discarded fishing line can take years to deteriorate. It can cause serious outboard problems by causing prop shaft seals to wear prematurely should it get wrapped around the propellor.

Keep Boat Lanes Clear: Boat lanes can be great places to wet a hook, especially when the fish are schooling. Just remember that boat lanes are meant primarily for navigation, not fishing. Always be prepared to clear the way for approaching boat traffic.

Give ‘Em Some Room: When motoring from one spot to another, always be mindful of other anglers who are actively fishing. If stumps or other obstructions prevent you from maintaining sufficient distance, the courteous thing to do is reduce your speed to idle rather than running by at high speed.

Boating and fishing are supposed fun. Use some common sense and courtesy around ramps and on water will help keep it that way for everyone.

Matt Williams is a freelance writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be reached by e-mail, mattwillwrite4u@yahoo.com.

Fishing participation exceeds 50 million for second time in 14 years

From RBFF Reports

A recent report from the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation indicates 52 million Americans ages six and up went fishing in 2021. Down slightly from 2020, fishing participation exceeded 50 million for the second time in 14 years, posting gains over 2019 and supporting a six-year upward trend.

 "We were all hoping to hit our goal of 60 million anglers by 2021, said RBFF President & CEO Dave Chanda. “Still, there are plenty of positive numbers to celebrate in this year's report. An additional 2.3 million Americans went fishing last year compared to pre-COVID-19 years. More importantly, our key audiences for growth, including women, Hispanics, and youth, continue to participate at historically high levels."


• In 2021, 52.4 million Americans went fishing, up 4.5 percent from 2019.

• 12.9 million youth (ages 6-17) went fishing in 2021, up 14 percent over 2019.

• 4.7 million Hispanics fished in 2021, up 7 percent from 2019.

• 19.4 million women went fishing in 2021, up 8 percent over 2019.

• 86 percent of current fishing participants first fished before age 12, demonstrating the critical importance of introducing fishing at a young age.

• Americans primarily fished to enjoy the splendor of nature while escaping the usual demands of life.

"While our efforts to engage diverse new audiences continue to yield strong results, our leaky bucket remains an issue," said RBFF Senior Vice President of Marketing & Communications Stephanie Vatalaro. "2021 saw 11.7 million new and returning anglers, yet 14 million lapsed out. Together with our state and industry partners, we're working to strengthen retention efforts in 2022 and beyond."

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