“At the launch, many would-be boat drivers seem to lose it completely. They take the Me First attitude to an extreme. Many times I have observed a testosterone-emboldened nitwit crowding into an already impatient launch line and lock up crowded launch areas while leisurely prepping the boat.”


Docking calls for a delicate approach and skillful handling. Many skippers have a tough time getting it right even under the best of conditions. Get it wrong and things get bent or broken. Sometimes people get hurt. Cooperation of the crew and passengers is critical. 


Most people consider the etiquette of fishing as something that needs to be adhered to only after the boat gets wet. But there is a much larger picture that encompasses areas of behavior many people have not considered. To my knowledge, many of the following topics have never been proclaimed as part of the etiquette code before. Others you will easily recognize. All are part of the big picture. The intricacies of fishing etiquette start long before the truck.

Like any sport, fishing has its own rules of conduct that we should all follow. Unfortunately, some people don’t. Simply stated, the concept is meant to ensure a safe and pleasant experience for ourselves, our guests and everyone we come into contact with. It also suggests how we should responsibly manage our resource. Its essence is common courtesy and common sense. It doesn’t matter if you are going to a lake, river or saltwater, the basics of etiquette are the same. None of us is perfect and we could all learn to do a better job. Consider the following as maintenance for the brain.





Most of us expend a lot of energy to ensure that our next fishing trip is going to be a positive experience. We plan the trip meticulously. We work through an extensive check list to ensure that everything associated with our journey is going to function properly and that all of our gear is stowed securely. Before we hit the road, many of us even go so far as to check road, weather and fishing conditions. However, in spite of our efforts, somewhere along the way, we sometimes encounter one or more thoughtless, careless, or simply unprepared clowns, seemingly only doing their best at making us crazy.

Most of the upsetting behavior that I see on the road or on the water is centered around what I call the Me First attitude. This brain bubble, often driven by testosterone, makes us act as if we were a little bit nuts. It leads us to do things that are irrational, thoughtless and sometimes dangerous. It seems like many of us simply turn off our critical thinking skills when we turn on our truck or boat. We fail to check or maintain our operational systems and essential gear. We fail to take the time to stow our cargo properly. We pull out too closely in front of oncoming traffic. We double down on that dangerous tactic by refusing to pull over and let backed-up traffic safely pass. Sometimes we act out our frustrations and purposely make other drivers nervous by following too closely. We honk our horns, flash our lights and make risky passes.





At the launch, many would-be boat drivers seem to lose it completely. They take the Me First attitude to an extreme. Many times I have observed a testoster-one-emboldened nitwit crowding into an already impatient launch line and lock up crowded launch areas while leisurely prepping the boat. Once afloat they fail to clear a path for the next boat. Often they simply leave the boat unattended on the only ac-cess to the ramp.

On the water they travel at unsafe speeds. They crowd other boats and they leave the helm unattended while moving. All of these thoughtless acts cause a lot of frustration to other drivers and fishermen.


Rules of the Road

Towing a boat isn’t all that complicated but there are a lot of parts that must all perform flawlessly for a safe and enjoyable trip. It is our responsibility to make sure that all of those pieces work and that everything is stowed properly before we even leave the driveway. Few things are as dangerous as trailer lights that don’t work. Nothing says ‘I’m an idiot’ like a hail of improperly stowed gear creating a debris trail of cooler lids, life jackets, empty cans and plastic bags littering the highway, like a trail of unsightly bread crumbs. Few things will ruin your day like burning a wheel bearing or blowing a tire due to lack of maintenance.


Being on the water is just like being on the roadway. Everybody needs their own space. 


One of the most infuriating encounters on the road is a slow mover that won’t yield to backed-up traffic. When you are towing it is sometimes necessary to go slower than other traffic. Keep a close eye on the rearview mirror and give faster traffic an opportunity to pass. Find a safe spot and pull over at your first opportunity. Let that traffic go by before one of those angry auto pilots attempts a risky pass that endangers lives. They will really appreciate your courtesy. It may take only a few seconds and you are much more likely to reach your destination without being the recipient of abusive language, the middle-finger solute or even bullet holes in the boat.


At the Launch

When you get to the launch area, use your powers of observation to notice if there is a waiting line. If you are unsure, ask. If there is, get in at the tail end of the line and use your wait time wisely. This is the time to prep the boat. Remove the tie downs, make sure the plug is in place, move the mooring lines, unlock the motor, pump up the fuel pressure, load the coolers, don your life jackets, use the restroom, prepare and load the fishing gear. Most launch sites have a staging area. Even if there is no waiting line when you arrive, this is the place to ready the boat for launch. Stay out of the launch lane until you are ready. Don’t wait until you are holding the launch hostage to do your chores.


On the Dock

Once you have launched, clear a path for the next boat immediately. Move the boat as far from the launch as possible. Be prepared to move it to the opposite side of the dock when conditions are crowded. Never leave the boat unattended when dock space is limited. Make sure that the person attending the boat has the skills to move your boat away from the launch lane. Don’t clutter the dock with loose gear or lines. This is a real safety hazard. Do your best to make sure that your engine is going to start and run before you get to the water. Regular engine maintenance goes a long way toward having a good day on the water. If your engine will not fire quickly, get out of the way. Either move the boat out of the immediate launch area or just go home and get the maintenance done on your own time.

Get proficient on the ramp. Many people only launch their boat a few times each summer. If you are not practiced at launching or loading it can take a maddeningly long time to complete the task. If you are not good at it, accept your limitations and put in some practice time in off peak periods. Everyone will think better of you. Burning daylight, waiting for an unskilled equipment handler is not an approved spectator sport. On the flip side, if you encounter someone who is having trouble, skip the sneers and jeers and offer to help.





If your floating device does not require the improved launch or dock, look for an alternative. If you plan to use a float tube, canoe or a small aluminum car topper then you probably don’t need the improved launch. When there is a waiting line and there is a reasonable alternative, use it instead.

Many launches have limited parking. When it’s time to park your rig, use an appropriate parking spot. Don’t take up any more space than is necessary. Many times I have encountered crowded parking lots where some twit couldn’t manage to get his rig inside the lines of his chosen parking slot, thus making the next slot un-usable. I have also witnessed people who, for some incomprehensible reason, park their rig in a truck-trailer slot but then uncouple their trailer and park it separately in the next slot designed for coupled trucks and trailers. Then there is the bean brain that parks his car or truck in a slot designed for coupled rigs when single slots are available. Many times I have noticed a lonely trailer parked in a crowded launch area, left by a camper who is staying put for an extended period. If you plan to camp near a lake or river for an extended period, your trailer belongs at your campsite or in some other overflow area, not in the launch parking lot. I always wonder, did these people just leave their brain at home or is their critical thinking in critical condition.


On the Water

Once you are on the water and away from the dock your impact on others does not stop, if anything it gets even more intense. High speeds and large wakes make it very uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous for others. Practice safe speeds whenever you are in proximity to other craft. Many boats push a larger wake at 10 mph than at 25. Slow down anytime your wake is going to influence other boats, near the launch or on the open water. They don’t need to be tossed around by your man-made tsunami. Fish in Cooperation with Other Boats Being on the water is just like being on the roadway. Everybody needs their own space. When you choose to anchor-up amongst other boats, make sure that you are far enough away from your nearest neighbor so as to not infringe on what they may consider their space. As a rule of thumb, leave at least three times the distance of their longest possible cast. The more distance you leave, the better. Approach your selected spot very slowly. Before you drop the hook take a good look around. Make sure that you are not placing yourself in someone’s trolling path or drift. While it is true that an anchored boat has the right of way over a boat under power, that does not give you the right to anchor in their path. Sometimes they aren’t paying close attention either. They can get a bit irritable if altering course to miss you is their only option. When you do drop the hook, do so as quietly as possible. People in your vicinity will not appreciate your disturbance. Neither will the fish.


Most of us expend a lot of energy to ensure that our next fishing trip is going to be a positive experience. We plan the trip meticulously. 


If you choose to troll or drift for your flashy foes, do so with a sharp eye on other boats. Remember that if you are under power, you are low man on the right-of-way totem pole. You are required to give preference to all other craft that are either anchored, drifting, or under sail.

On crowded waters with an established trolling pattern, go with the flow. Don’t be the jerk that moves across the grain and tangles more gear than your average tackle store. This bonehead move will cost everybody a lot of bottom time, not to mention expensive gear. Last summer I watched in disbelief as one contrary moron tried this move and tangled the gear of five different boats before he was “catcalled” into submission.

Give preference to fishermen who have a fish on. Many times large fish are uncontrollable. If you see that a neighbor has a fish on, get your gear and/or your boat out of the way. Many large fish and a lot of gear are lost because other fisher-men refuse to clear a fighting path. Pay attention when you hear the call of the wild: “Fish on”.

Give the other guy lots of room. Sometimes when I’m trolling or drifting flies, my gear can be a hundred feet or more behind the boat and very near the surface. Run up too closely behind me and you risk not only my ire but also tangling a C-note’s worth of line in your prop. Likewise, if you cross too closely behind me, expect the same result. Even if tangling gear is not a danger, driving your boat over the top of where someone else is actually fishing is going to put you on top of the donkey list. On the salt or on lakes, fish are usually widely scattered and there is no reason to crowd other boats, it only makes people uncomfortable, spooks fish and causes problems.





If you move close enough to another boat that they feel compelled to waive you off, there is usually a good reason. Even if their reasoning is not immediately apparent to you, don’t dismiss their action as unwarranted. Respect their wishes and move off. From the opposite perspective, you do not own the water. Getting there first does give you preference for a particular spot, and that should be respected, but you do not hold exclusive rights to the whole area. Expect and calmly tolerate other users. If you require exclusive rights, dig a pond in your back yard and fish there.


Keep the Noise Down

Noise travels across the surface of water much better than on land. It is very easy to disturb others with loud noises emanating from your group. Loud music, loud conversations and especially loud conversations that include profanity often offend other users. Many people take their children to the water to teach them positive concepts. They will not appreciate your obnoxious expletives.


Safety First

Safety on the water should be a constant concern. Always have someone minding the helm. Oftentimes when trolling your attention can be directed elsewhere, it may be a fish on, the need to re-tie gear or grab a fresh coffee. Whatever the reason, if the boat is a moving object, someone needs to be driving. Even at slow speeds it can take only a few seconds of inattention to get into trouble. Pay attention, to avoid a collision or tangled gear. Invest in your own safety. Always wear a life preserver, even on calm waters. Accidents happen quickly and one miss-step or unexpected wave can have you over the side in a split second. Excessive speed and large wakes are a major cause of accidents.

Like oil and water, alcohol and water do not mix. If you plan to drink alcohol you have no business behind the helm. Alcohol plays a major factor in a high number of boating accidents.


Brad Baker,, scored with this Willamette River spring Chinook. Brad’s boat wouldn’t start that morning. He immediately moved the boat to the end of the dock, out of the way of other traffic, and then had a buddy quickly give him a jump start.


If you notice that another boat is in distress, offer to help and commit to doing whatever is necessary. If they need a tow and you can safely accomplish it, do it. If you can’t, offer to contact someone who can. If there is a medical emergency, offer to do whatever is in your power. If you see an illegal act that is endangering other boaters or wildlife, report it. ASAP.


The Pull Out

When approaching the launch area, caution and courtesy are paramount. This is often a congested area and fraught with danger. Once again use your powers of observation to access the situation before barging in. Approach the area slowly. There is often a waiting line for the takeout. Sometimes boats will be orbiting and other times simply holding station. If there is a line, heave to and wait your turn. Otherwise you might bear the brunt of some pretty ugly comments or even become the subject of an evening news cast. Neither scenario could be considered a good thing. When it is your turn, get the job done quickly and get out of the way.

A few years ago I was at a local lake waiting my turn to pull out. There were five boats including mine, orbiting off the end of the single-lane launch. We were all in smallish boats in the 12- to 17-foot class. While in the holding pattern, we became aware of the roar from an inboard jet, moving in way too fast. As the skipper of this beautiful but imposing, 24-foot Duckworth came in hot we were forced to scatter like a covey of quail to avoid disaster. This salty dog charged right through the middle of us and forced his way onto the dock, just as the proceeding boat was pulling out. The pumpkin head then proceeded casually through the parking lot and disappeared. His innocent wife was left aboard to face a tidal wave of inquisitive remarks. It quickly became clear that her boat skills were limited to that of being a passenger. She meekly proclaimed a lack of skills that would have enabled her to move the boat in any manner. Later it became clear that she also lacked the skills to back the trailer down the ramp or drive the boat onto the trailer. I could not help feeling a bit sorry for her as she was obviously feeling some pressure from other boaters. After a few minutes, the master mariner returned to his truck, still in no great hurry. After a couple of attempts, he managed to position the trailer close enough to the desired location to make loading possible. He then casually sauntered from cab to cockpit, stowed a few pieces of gear and made a couple of feeble attempts to drive the boat onto the trailer, third time’s a charm. The return trip from cockpit to cab was accomplished with no more urgency than a walk in the park. This weekend warrior seemed completely unaffected by the tension that he was causing.





Tempers were flaring and I was afraid that something disastrous might happen. It was frightening to see how steamed some people were. After all, this launch crowder wasn’t killing babies. Even though I was a bit disgruntled as well, my thought was that some of the reactions were a bit out of proportion. The angry crowd reminded me of an Old West lynch mob.

To help defuse the situation, after I got ashore I took the opportunity for a friendly boater education session. I cautiously approached the couple to help them understand their blunders. I introduced myself as an outdoor writer, mainly just to establish my credentials as someone who should know what he was talking about. I have to admit that there was also just a tiny bit of an implied threat that if they chose not to listen, then they might become the subject of a very unflattering article. I proceeded in a calm and friendly manner to point out their errors. The lady turned beet red with embarrassment and started apologizing almost immediately. The male at first started to bristle but soon came to the realization that I was trying to do them a favor. Once he understood, he too apologized and offered a promise to be more observant and better prepared in the future. After I reported back to the gathering crowd, everyone seemed to feel better. When you witness bonehead stunts, you have a right to be miffed but keep it in perspective.


Being a Guest or Client Onboard

Being an invited guest aboard a boat may seem like the opportunity for a carefree excursion. There is no reason that it can’t be a very enjoyable, rewarding adventure. Just remember that being an invited guest is an honor, extended by a skipper that deserves your respect. Realize that as a guest you do have certain responsibilities. The first of which is to show up on time. Don’t expect any skipper to wait for your tardy tush. Secondly, listen carefully to the skipper and follow his or her instructions to the letter. It’s the skipper’s responsibility to keep you safe. Nearly all boat skippers these days have gone through a fair amount of operational and safety training. Never argue with the skipper over operational or safety issues if he is instructing you for your own safety. Quickly comply with the skipper’s wishes, then wait until the skip-per has some free time to ask any ques-tions that may still linger in your mind. Just remember to phrase your questions in a respectful manner. Every skipper does things a little differently. Just because your buddy operates a certain way, don’t expect this skipper to do the same. Just comply with the skipper’s instructions and fit in as agreeably as possible.


It’s always a good idea to be courteous and not fishing right through someone’s water without permission.


Ask permission to board. The skipper may be performing tasks with which you may interfere. Once aboard, ask where you should position yourself and your gear. Keep the amount of gear you bring to a minimum. Space is often at a premium aboard a boat. Inquire about whether there is anything that you can do to help with the chores. Keep your trash under control. No skipper relishes seeing his boat being trashed. Never let trash over the side. Nobody wants to see your garbage on or in the water they fish. Besides being unsightly it can be a hazard for propellers, water intakes and wildlife.

To quote a well-known axiom, “there is no such thing as a free lunch”. Understand that your skipper has invested multi-thousands of dollars in his equipment and that operational costs get very expensive, offer to help pay fuel costs for both boat and truck. Offer to help pay for ice, bait/flies and other consumables like leaders. Always bring enough food and beverages to supply yourself. It is always appreciated if you also bring enough extra to offer to the skipper.





Before the trip, ask if substances like alcohol or tobacco are allowed on board, respect the skipper’s wishes or risk being left ashore. Ask if you need to bring your own fishing gear. Most skippers have a specific method of fishing so your gear may not be compatible. If that is the case you may be required to use the boat’s gear. In that situation be very careful. It may be very expensive. If you break it or lose it over the side, through negligence or accident, you need to replace it. Stand tall and cheerfully accept your responsibility without any whining. The same goes for any equipment on board. A good rule of thumb is to not touch any onboard equipment without discussing it with the skipper first.



Docking calls for a delicate approach and skillful handling. Many skippers have a tough time getting it right even under the best of conditions. Get it wrong and things get bent or broken. Sometimes people get hurt. Cooperation of the crew and passengers is critical. Preparations for docking need to be completed well before you reach the launch area. Loose equipment needs to be stowed. Decks need to be cleared. Fishing gear needs to be organized so that it will not get damaged or interfere with docking. Mooring lines need to be positioned properly, etc, etc. Ask the skipper if there is anything you can do to help.

At slow speeds the maneuverability of most boats is diminished. For proper docking, the boat needs to stay on an even keel. When your skipper starts his final approach, stay put unless the skipper directs you to move about. Your weight unexpectedly shifting fore and aft or from side to side can adversely influence the boat’s trajectory and helm control. Offer your assistance to the skipper. Docking is often a team sport.





When the Fishing is Done, the Work Isn’t

Once the boat is recovered and safely sitting on the trailer or secured in its slip, certain chores need to be accomplished. There will be equipment that needs to be unloaded or stowed. There may be a certain amount of cleaning to be done. Decks, hull and trailer may all need to be washed down. Garbage will need to be collected and disposed of. Engines may need to be flushed. Protective covers may need to be installed. Fishing gear may need further cleaning and organizing. Batteries may need to be charged. Consumable supplies may need to be replenished. The day’s catch may need to be sorted, cleaned and packed. Don’t say your goodbyes until the skipper assures you that all is in order.


Good Times!

If you had a good time, let the skipper know! If you enjoyed your trip make every effort to show the skipper that you appreciated his skill, expertise and information. Few things are more rewarding to a skipper than high praise from his passengers. Sometimes action speaks louder than words. Offering to buy the skipper a cold beverage or even dinner once you are ashore is definitely an action that speaks very loudly. If you are on a charter, a cash tip for skipper and deck hand is always appreciated.


Like treasured pictures on the wall, fond memories of wonderful adventures become etched in our minds and help us remain on a spiritual even keel. 


Etiquette or Ethics

There is sometimes a fine line between these two groups of ideas and I am not sure where the next subject lies best. It could justifiably be placed in either or both. Bringing home a limit of large fish is a goal shared by most fishermen. However some sportsmen like to hedge their chances by culling the catch. In theory there is nothing wrong with this practice. The problem is in the implementation. Releasing small fish in the hopes of catching a larger one is common and accepted. I have seen many people do it properly and with respect for the recourse. Unfortunately, I have also seen many who do it carelessly with little regard for the life they hold in their hands. Generally speaking, salmonids are a delicate lot as compared to many other species. They do not tolerate rough handling or extended periods out of the water. If you want a released salmonid to survive, then you need to be very, very careful. If at all possible don’t remove the fish from the water. The use of barbless hooks is very helpful if you plan to release fish. Don’t use a net if it can be avoided. If the hooks are deeply imbedded in the fish’s tongue or throat, just cut the leader. Consider replacing leaders as the price you pay for culling the catch. The hooks will more than likely rust out in short order. If the fish must be removed from the water, the best way is to first wet your hands, then gently tail it with one hand and use your other to support its belly. Never squeeze the fish’s body or gill area. I find stainless-steel forceps very helpful in removing hooks. It is best to have a friend remove the hooks while you hold the fish. If a net is required, a rubberized net will drastically lessen scale and slime loss. After hook removal get the fish back in the water ASAP. Pitching the fish back over the side like a sack of potatoes is unacceptable. Remember that fish given a chance to grow may become a real prize the next time. Upon returning the fish to the water help it out by holding it by the tail in an upright position until it recovers. If it doesn’t recover and it is a legal fish, you own it. Like it or not. If it is not a legal fish and you killed it, shame on you.

The most prolific offenses I have seen are on trout lakes. For the most part, trout are the smallest in the salmonid family. Simply because they are smallish they seem to garner little respect from some less-than-sportsmanlike fishers. All too often, I have witnessed numerous belly-up trout surrounding an anchored boat where the occupants were using bait and continuing to fish. Using bait to catch trout is not a bad thing, it works well. Using bait when you plan to release or cull your take is bad, very bad. The reason for this is clear. Bait-caught fish are almost always hooked deeply. The hooks more often than not lacerate or rupture internal organs. During hook removal, the fish is often roughly handled and kept out of the water longer than it can tolerate. Then it is pitched back into the water with no help in recovery. Sometimes the fish will go belly up immediately and sometimes a roughly handled fish will manage to right itself and swim off. All too often it won’t live long. If you choose to use bait to catch your limit that is OK by me, just do it in a sportsman-like manner, resist the impulse to cull. If you catch it, keep it. When I witness a boat surrounded by belly-up fish, or I see a down-wind trail of white bellies acting like a pointer to a guilty party, I get a little steamed. These people deserve no more respect than any other poacher. For your own safety, never confront a poacher yourself. These people have already exhibited a penchant for acting irresponsibly. If you confront them, they will almost undoubtedly get belligerent. Let the law do its work. Report senseless abuse when you see it and feel no guilt. When the warden catches up to these spoilers, it’s ticket time! For wastage and/or over limit, as well as a number of other possible infractions, that will ruin their day for sure.





Invasive Species

Invasive species are a growing problem in Northwest waters. Over the last few decades invasive species have destroyed the ecosystems of many legendary water bodies. Most notably here in Oregon are the trophy-trout fishing in Diamond Lake and Crane Prairie Reservoir. Both of these travesties seem to be deliberate but vary in type and severity. In Diamond Lake the illegal use of the tui chub as live bait eventually caused the complete collapse of the ecosystem and water quality. That lake has now been rehabilitated and is making a successful come back. However the cost to wildlife and the state were tremendous. On Crane Prairie, illegally introduced largemouth bass nearly achieved the total destruction of the trophy-trout fishing by exhausting the food supply and limiting the success of natural spawning. That lake seems to be on a slow comeback but it may never fully recover until it too is rehabilitated by the state.

Both of these environmental disasters were deliberately caused by misguided and self-absorbed people that were interested only in personal gain. The damage done was extensive and costly. Unfortunately there are a small number of people out there that will continue to act irresponsibly no matter what the cost to others. Little can be done to stop these midnight marauders but if and when they are caught the punishment should be severe. If you witness a similar criminal act, notify law enforcement immediately.

Finally, invasive species like snails and certain water plants can be transported hundreds of miles by hitching a ride on your boat hull or trailer. A thorough inspection and wash down can greatly reduce the chances of infecting a water body with destructive, foreign critters.


Fun of It All

Fishing is supposed to be fun. Many people, including myself, believe it is also therapeutic. Like treasured pictures on the wall, fond memories of wonderful adventures become etched in our minds and help us remain on a spiritual even keel. Admittedly there are a lot of moving parts, both physical and mental, that require our attention. Get both aspects in sync and everybody has a great time. Fail to do so and you get disaster. It is often small details that promote a fishing trip to greatness or turn it horribly wrong. A random act of kindness, given or received, may well establish itself as the high point of a fishing adventure. The next time your patience is being tested by someone’s ineptitude or thoughtlessness, keep it in perspective. It’s hard to have a good time when your blood pressure is boiling. Our fishing resources deserve to be treated as precious gifts, with honor and respect. Likewise we need to treat each other with that same sense of honor and respect. Remember, etiquette starts before the truck.






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Missed one that is a very frustrating problem I encounter frequently. People who park on the ramp or on the side of the ramp (Boaters and non-boaters) in the area created to allow boaters to turn around and drop the boat closer to the water rather than having to back down hundreds of feet to the water. I wish there was a hot line I could call with their license # and a picture of the violation. Maybe if the area’s had “No Parking on or next to the ramp” in 3 foot letters that would help but I seldom see anything bigger than a small sign, if that.

Joseph Bandolas

Really well writen ! I agree that every boater should recieve a guide about boat etiquette when they renew registration !

Vern Coblentz

Very well written article. I believe that “ramp etiquette “ guidelines should be provided to every boat owner each year when the boat is reregistrated and when purchasing a boat. Far too many boat owners are inexperienced and just don’t realize what they are doing impacts other boaters.

Bill Macaras

Wow, what a great insightful article. This should be a must read for anglers of all types to read and keep posted on their wall. Slow down, think of your fellow anglers and enjoy the experience. Now if the “recreational” boaters could follow same!!!


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