Excuse me, is this spot taken?

When it comes to fishing public waters, everyone deserves their own space. Photo provided by author

Spring has sprung. The weather is pleasant and fish are biting. It’s the time of year when large numbers of people are taking advantage of our aquatic resources and this has more than likely happened to all of us one time or another. If not, then you haven’t spent much time on the water. You’ve staked out your favorite honey hole and before long someone decides to fish the same spot. So what are the pros and cons of defending your turf?

The topic of encroachment is something few people want to talk about, and rightfully so. It can make some folks heated and in a few cases has ruined what could have been a great outdoor experience.

There was one time in particular I will never forget. Excitement was high as I launched my boat on a small, southern Indiana lake. Dawn had barely broken when I anchored next to a submerged brush pile. Before long I was plucking crappies like vine-ripened tomatoes.

Two guys on the other side of the lake saw me pulling in fish and immediately motored over and dropped anchor like I wasn’t even there. One fellow even started casting within spitting distance of my boat. At first I was surprised, then shocked, then angry. All they had to do was ask.

I tried staring them down but neither would make eye contact. I then asked sarcastically “what are you guys doing?” Again no response. Back then I may have been a little hot-headed. But in one of my better times of judgment, I finally just gave up and left.

Although there is no law against this type of infringement, it still doesn’t make it right. There have been other times when luck was on my side and fishermen approached in a friendly manner. Not only were they encouraged to fish the same spot but we shared lures providing the best success at the time. And the converse has also been true. There have been times I have struggled finding fish only to be aided by other thoughtful fishermen who enjoyed sharing their insights. Through the years many friends have been made on the water.

There is an unwritten code among all of us who enjoy our outdoor resources, especially in the areas of fishing and hunting. We all know it and understand it. But, like a lot of the good old things, the code is fraying under the pressures of our modern world. Still, most sportsmen abide by it, or at least try to.

So how close is too close when sharing the waters with others? It’s all about common courtesy. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. A critical element of this code is respect – for the resource, the rituals and your fellow sportsman.

You arrive at your favorite spot and you find someone already there. At the very least your plans have been altered. But you could make it worse and crowd the angler who got there first, ruining the experience for both of you. Why not just look for another spot? There are more than likely many other places that hold good numbers of fish. In the long run this actually makes you a better angler because you may find another “honey hole” and you’ll instinctively fish harder.

If by chance you find yourself being crowded by someone, you have choices. If you don’t mind confrontations with the possibility of a serious throw-down, then have at it. Go ahead and give the intruder a piece of your mind hoping to at least make him feel guilty so that it won’t happen again. But never let it get out of hand.

I have fished popular salmon rivers where there was an accepted method of rotation when numerous anglers were fishing a particularly productive pool. Everyone knew it, understood it and respected it. Even most serious tournament anglers know how close they can get to another boat without causing a problem.

Everyone who enjoys wetting-a-line on public waters has the same rights as you and I. My hope is that all anglers get along on the water. After all, we are in this together and the better everyone gets along the stronger we become as one cohesive group. But we need to adhere to the unwritten code of common sense and respect for others when it comes to crowding. If we can’t adhere to proper ethics then we are going to invite even more regulations. In the end we will find ourselves in another version of the modern world we thought we had left.

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John Martino
Martino is a well-known outdoor writer throughout Indiana and has served as longtime outdoor columnist for the Kokomo Tribune newspaper. Martino has won numerous awards for both his writing and his service to youth, conservation and the community. He recently retired as Superintendent of Parks and Recreation for the City of Kokomo and now works as Ivy Tech Executive Director for Facilities for the Kokomo region.

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