- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 31, 2002

What's become of the most wonderfully relaxing, soothing recreational activity in the world fishing? Increasingly, it is being turned into a potpourri of hot tempers, bad manners, poor sportsmanship and, occasionally, a kind of competition that goes against the very grain of what sport fishing is supposed to be about.
Let's begin with my colleague Eric Burnley, the editor of a regional publication, the Fisherman. Burnley last week wrote an editorial on the subject of having to get along with various water-user groups. Besides lambasting do-gooders who would think nothing of closing down every mile of Atlantic or Pacific ocean shore to anglers and others because a couple hundred yards of some coral reef habitat looks to be ailing, Burnley also took on his constituency, the sport fishermen.
"Millions of people who have never held a fishing rod in their hands crowd our beaches every summer," he wrote. "They have just as much right to swim or lay on the sand as we do to fish. Unfortunately, [these activities] are mutually exclusive. We don't want to fish on a beach that is crowded with swimmers, and they don't want to get caught in lines or step on hooks."
Burnley's sensible solution: "Serious [surf] fishermen work the tides at dawn and dusk when the swimmers are gone. But a few uninformed anglers will try to fish in a crowd, giving all of us a bad reputation."
In other words, be considerate of others; go ahead and do your thing before the beach blanket bunch has its first cup of coffee, then yield the sands when it is clear that your casts and hooks could injure surf swimmers. In recent years the lack of such sensible thinking has been a problem.
On the subject of poor fishing etiquette, a friend and I recently cast our lures from my skiff toward a promising shoreline in a Southern Maryland creek when a bass boat approached at a fairly high rate of speed, slowed down just enough to plop itself in front of us no more than 50 feet away. The boat's occupants then proceeded to cast their lures in the same manner we did but also slowly edge their way toward us. Given a lot of space hundreds of yards maybe that might be OK, but when there's plenty of unoccupied, productive shoreline available elsewhere, common decency dictates that you do not maneuver your boat so close in front of an approaching craft whose movement plainly indicates that it intends to fish the very area the other boater now has claimed as his own.
Such behavior has grown to epidemic proportions hereabouts, especially on the tidal Potomac River which, because of its nationally renowned bass fishing, beckons anglers from all over the country.
And what, pray tell, has become of friendly fishermen? Have they become an endangered species?
One of my favorite fishing pals anywhere, Bob Rice, belongs to a dying breed. Rice is one of those people who has a kind word for everyone. When he meets fellow fishermen, he customarily extends a warm greeting, asks if the waters have been good to them, and is always ready to share catch information. Clearly, Rice is a civilized human being and figures it's the only way to behave.
The other side of the coin belongs to a wide array of boater-anglers for whom rudeness and ill manners are a hallmark.
One particular boat owner that I keep seeing on local waters seems to prefer playing the ignoramus. You can raise your hand in a greeting and he'll go out of his way to ignore you. Is he alone in this? No, in fact his boorish behavior has become accepted practice de rigueur in this part of the world.
It even extends to a group of pier fishermen at one local launch ramp who ignore approaching boats, forcing the boaters to dodge curses and fishing lines far out in the water even though there's a sign on the pier that asks the anglers to reel in their lines and yield to approaching boats who want to load their craft back onto trailers and leave the facility. The ill-mannered pier fishermen aren't remotely interested in the fact that the very pier they stand on was built not with anglers' license money but with boating fees and waterway improvement funds.
But all this is fluff when compared to the big-money bass tournaments that blow into town with several hundred competitors who, for the sake of a buck, have no problem acting like ogres as if they had a divine right to local waters.
"Hey, fella," one of them shouted at a friend not so long ago, who, incidentally, was on this particular fishing spot before the tournament pro arrived. "How about not fishing this stretch? I'm in a tournament, and I need this place," said the out-of-towner to the angler as if the local man should automatically abort his fishing plans because Mr. Bigshot from Bullbutt, Texas, had arrived and now was taking charge.
My friend declined the offer and suggested Mr. Bigshot find another place.
Then there was the local fishing guide who, in the company of two clients, had a bass boat approach him and begin fishing so close to the guide's boat that the new arrival's dog jumped into the fishing guide's craft. This is no joke. It actually happened. We can't repeat the exchange of pleasantries that followed this dunderhead's nerve. This is, after all, a family newspaper.

Look for Gene Mueller's Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday, and his Fishing Report every Friday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected]

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