The way of the waters
Several years back I published a column that detailed the need for outdoor etiquette as it concerns anglers, hunters and paddlers.
Skiers and bikers have similar standards, which are often delineated by the standards of typical traffic flow. Climbers and hikers have similar protocols, as do backcountry skiers and snowshoers.
Although the respective seasons of these various user groups do include periods of overlap, there remain certain “core seasons” for nearly every type of outdoor pursuit.
On occasion, hikers may stumble upon a hunter, or snowshoers may run into backcountry skiers, but by and large these groups have figured out how to exist compatibly.
Since whitewater paddlers are on the rivers only during high water, they rarely interface with anglers, who tend to avoid fishing the rivers when the water’s raging. However, there are occasions when flatwater paddlers may come in contact with anglers, and conflicts could arise.
While most regular travelers realize the inherent need for courtesy in outdoor
settings, there are a number of unwritten rules that can only be achieved through experience. Unfortunately, there is an extended learning curve in most cases, especially when it comes to water-based activities.
Water always seems to soothe the soul. It makes everyone seem friendlier, and we typically wave to every boat we encounter.
But who teaches novice boaters about the standards of when to pull over and when to wave?
In recent years with the steadily increasing canoe traffic on the Saranac chain of lakes, it is often common for motor boaters to encounter a bottleneck of paddlers clogging the narrow river channels between the locks. Unfortunately, it often appears that nobody has taught the paddlers when to pull off to the side. The rudeness flows both ways.
User group conflicts can occur as easily on the water as they can on the highways, where single-finger salutes have become as common as the once friendly, water-based wave.
Such situations should be handled tactfully in order to avoid either embarrassment or an aggressive response from the parties involved.
I recently watched a classic example of how to effectively handle such conflicts as it played out. The incident occurred late in the afternoon as I was checking out the River Road section of the West Branch of the AuSable River. I had pulled into the parking lot after noticing two fly fishermen working a section of West Branch, located downstream of the iron bridge pool.
Flies were everywhere in the air and the trout were sipping them off the surface. I watched from the bridge as the two anglers laid out long casts. The fish, obviously recent stockies, were very aggressive and they were being caught and released in rapid succession.
I had been watching them from the bridge a few minutes when I heard a rowdy pack of paddlers that were bouncing and banging along, just a few hundred yards upstream of the bridge.
The lead paddler in a red kayak was followed by two solo canoes and a pair of 17-foot canoes which were loaded down with several kids, coolers and a barking dog. The situation had all the necessary ingredients for a classic user group conflict, if not a full-blown disaster.
However, the lead paddler had obviously realized the potential and assessed the situation. He quickly corralled and quieted his motley crew and instructed them to stay tight to the roadside riverbank, well upstream of the bridge.
Then the gentleman asked the anglers for permission to slip behind them, so as not to disturb the rising fish on the far bank. The angler waved them on and they passed by without incident.
The courtesy of a simple request had avoided an otherwise sticky situation, and both parties were soon back at play. Obviously, the lead paddler had prior experience with anglers, as he recognized the importance of avoiding “their pool” at the time.
Regrettably, I’ve witnessed fellow anglers who fail to extend such common sense courtesies. I’ve watched them plod down the riverbank and slosh across a pool that’s already occupied, even when there isn’t another angler in sight along the entire river corridor.
Unfortunately, the “way of the waters” is not as well defined as the well-established “rules of the road.” For the most part, the way of the waters is mostly composed of unwritten, common sense rules that are typically developed through experience.
Too often, the rules are overlooked in our haste to get on the water, or forgotten
in the effort to secure the best pool on the river. In the hope that it may benefit both anglers and non-anglers alike, I’ve listed a few of the more common sense ways of the waters:
– Don’t crowd fellow anglers. If a pool or a section of a stream appears to be occupied, go elsewhere. With more than 30,000 miles of rivers and streams in the Adirondacks, there is no need to share.
– Do not approach an angler unless invited, and never fish in any waters within casting distance of another angler, unless invited to do so.
– If you see an angler resting on a bank overlooking a pool, don’t just jump into the river and start fishing. He may be taking a break and resting the waters to give himself and the fish a break. Be polite and ask if he’s done fishing that section.
– Angling is intended to be a solitary sport, and most don’t care to fish in the company of others. Don’t attempt to chat them up. If they have something to offer they’ll let you know.
– Tread lightly along the banks and in the stream. Studies indicate trout can be spooked as far as 200 feet downstream from careless anglers clanking wading staffs or moving rocks, as they are very sensitive to vibrations. Water amplifies sound and even the rumble of a loose rock can scare fish upstream and downstream for a long distance.
– When moving to a new beat, be sure to walk the riverbanks rather than wading the stream. Never disturb potential fishing waters more than absolutely necessary. Remember that other anglers are likely to take your place when you move along.
– When in a boat or a canoe, take extra efforts to avoid banging oars or making noises that may spook fish.
– Never go through good fishing waters, especially where someone is fishing. If you must, ask permission to go around, and do so quietly.
– When on a pond or lake, avoid trailing behind anglers who may be trolling. They will often have lines trolling 30 yards or more behind as they slowly cover the waters.
– Before passing anglers on the rivers or stream while fishing from a boat, notify them of your intentions to pass well in advance. Pass as far away as possible from their boat so as not to disturb their fishing waters any more than necessary.
– When fishing small streams or brooks, be aware of your shadow and do not stomp along the bank like a hillbilly at a bluegrass festival. Trout are very sensitive to vibrations and nervous of shadows.
Courtesy, good nature, fair-mindedness and a kindly spirit should be the universal attitude between sportsmen at all times.