boat sunrise

WaterLine file photo by Capt. Josh Olive

A boater crosses Gasparilla Sound at daybreak. While a lot of the romance of fishing is often tied into images of solitude, the reality is we’re often all up in each other’s business.

Scattered around Charlotte Harbor are a number of community fishing spots where boaters will often stake out a spot and target fish hiding in shoreline cover. Some of the best-known include the mouth of Alligator Creek, the entrance to Turtle Bay, the lower half of the west wall, and the Burnt Store bar.

If the weather is nice, these areas will often draw a large number of boaters and fishermen. They’re good fishing spots, but they’re also along the path between busy ramps and other good fishing spots. Naturally, where there are lots of people in fairly small areas, there’s always some level of conflict.

I enjoy studying human behavior. It’s interesting because we’re all flawed. There are two things that amaze me about this particular situation: First, how close to the channel or main running areas boaters will anchor to fish; and second, how angry they will get when other boaters go by.

There’s lots of blame on both sides. The truth is that whether you’re the guy who’s anchored and fishing or the guy running from one spot to the next, you should be using common sense and caution at all times.

There are a lot of areas that have major blind spots — for example, the curve at the tip of Cape Haze when you’re running near the shoreline hooks around to go into Turtle Bay. In these spots, a smart angler knows to stay close to the shoreline while fishing so he won’t get run over by boats coming through.

But a lot of anglers seem to have not figured it out. They anchor where the boats run through and get mad at passing boaters, and they also get mad when they’re running through and other fishermen have anchored where they want to run.

Now, we all have to share the water, and there are a lot of places we like to fish that don’t have much maneuvering room. In those cases, we simply have to live and let live. The only time I think an anchored fisherman has a right to complain is when they’re on a spot that offers plenty of open space and yet another boater decides to take a shortcut.

For example, if you’re parked on the west wall (which is pretty wide open) 50 feet from the mangroves and fishing the shoreline, if someone chooses to cut between you and the trees, you have a legitimate beef. If you want to throw a harsh word or a middle finger, I’d call it justified. (But remember that anything beyond that can get you arrested.)

There’s a silver lining to getting buzzed on the flats: The prop wash of a passing boat can really fire up the bite for a few minutes. All that turbulent water disorients baitfish, sweeps crabs and shrimp out of their hiding places, and generally creates havoc among small swimming things. This creates an opportunity, and predators know it. You can take advantage as well by being ready to toss a bait into the scrum. It might be the most excited the fish get all day.

If you’re the guy running through, you should be doing what you can to minimize your impacts on the folks who are fishing. Go around at the maximum safe distance. If you have to cut closer, do what you can to reduce your wake and the disturbance you create. That doesn’t mean cutting the throttle just as you go past and pushing an even bigger wake. It means planning ahead and slowing down well before you pass your fellow anglers.

Even though the common run-through areas are often unmarked, we have to expect that those areas are going to be used for navigation. On the flip side, every boater is responsible for his wake and any potential damage it does. Jackass behavior on either side is bad for all of us.

In an ideal world, we would all work to educate one another. If someone is anchored in the wrong spot, wouldn’t it be great if you could just tell him? No cussing, no screaming, no threats, no accusations against anyone’s ancestry — just, “Hey, buddy, you’re kind of in the way here. If you were anchored up 50 feet that way, it’d be better for us going past and your fishing would be disturbed less.”

Yeah, I know — that’s not how the world works. None of us like to be told we’re doing something wrong, and most men have a particular problem being told we’re screwing up when we’re with our friends.

I’ll leave you with a parting thought: If you run into a guy who’s a jerk, but the rest of your day goes OK, then you ran into a jerk. But if every guy you run into all day long is a jerk, then I’ve got bad news: You’re the jerk. Deal with it.

Robert Lugiewicz is the manager of Fishin’ Frank’s Bait & Tackle and a co-host of Radio WaterLine every Saturday from 7 to 9 a.m. on KIX 92.9 FM. Call 941-625-3888 for more information about the shop or for local fishing tips, or visit them online at FishinFranks.com.

Robert Lugiewicz is the manager of Fishin’ Frank’s Bait & Tackle and a co-host of Radio WaterLine every Saturday from 7 to 9 a.m. on KIX 92.9 FM. Call 941-625-3888 for more information about the shop or for local fishing tips, or visit them online at FishinFranks.com.

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