Fishing Etiquette – How (& How Not) to Behave on the Bank
I’ve been contributing to BadAngling for a while now and there is a wealth of good quality instructional pieces on the site for almost any situation. So when considering a subject for my next piece, it was a challenge to think of something relevant and which I feel I can speak confidently on.
It was this very thought I was pondering whilst out on a day session back in January, when a bait boat appeared from the other side of the lake and slowly made its way past the halfway point, toward a snag I was fishing a few yards up my margin. Words were subsequently exchanged and it made an about turn but it left me thinking, etiquette and sportsmanship can be severely lacking in our sport yet you rarely see it discussed in the media, so here it is. My next topic.
Before I start I should say I am not professing to be perfect, in fact, having grown up on busy day tickets in Oxford back in the 90’s, some of the angling etiquette I saw was atrocious, and some of the bad habits I learnt took a while to reverse. I must confess that have been guilty of casting further than I should have done because the fish were there. Or fishing for carp that others had found before me, without first asking whether or not they minded which on reflection was not the right thing to do. I hope that these days I would think twice before doing this.
Moving from day ticket lakes where you rarely see the same face twice and have little relationship with other anglers, to a club or syndicate environment is very different. Here, most of the other members inevitably become friends which pushes you to think about how you treat each other. We are all passionate about our angling and take it seriously, otherwise we wouldn’t be there.
Small and busy waters can create lots of issues
What is etiquette?
The dictionary would have a different definition but in my eyes etiquette is the way in which you treat others, it could also be referred to as sportsmanship which might be a better term. In fact one of the clubs I am a member of has a ‘sportsmanship’ rule. I think this is an excellent idea, it gives bailiffs flexibility on how to apply this, provided a common sense approach is taken.
There are many things we do on the bank that have an influence on the experience of other anglers. It is simple common courtesy to consider the impact you will have on others while angling.
Winter success on a small pressured water
Some common issues that I’ve seen:
This is a complex subject. No question about it, pre-baiting can provide you with a huge edge, but it can also be disastrous to another angler’s fishing. Imagine you are set up angling and at first light someone arrives and starts to spomb bait out in the swim next door before heading off to work. Not only have they spoiled your chance of a bite, they have left a pile of free food in the swim next door for the fish to find, lessening your chance of a bite even after the disturbance has passed.
When I was fishing my Reading club water I would generally try and pre-bait early in the season (Feb/Mar) and mid-week, this way there was a good chance of the lake being empty. I would also select two or three areas to bait and would only put bait in if there was no-one even remotely close to the area. In reality, I didn’t want to bait if I was going to be seen. This meant I would only bait one or two of the spots most trips, but I managed to keep the bait going in.
He was ruining any chance of an evening bite for me
The second element is the impact introducing large quantities of bait into the lake has for other anglers. For me this is less of a concern, many species usually clear i up and you cannot control how much bait anglers are using. It is always a benefit to know the bait is going, this way at least you know it’s not going to waste.
Of course pre-baiting is a double-edged sword, you risk watching someone else reap the rewards of your labour!
2. Swim rotation or claiming
This is a common issue on busier club or syndicate waters, less so on day tickets due to the angler turnover. On lower stock venues, consistent baiting is often key to success and being able to fish and bait the same swim every week can yield excellent results. The downside to this, of course, is if someone else wants to fish the same swim. Bad feelings can arise, whereby other anglers feel as though a certain swim is off limits because it has been claimed. You will often find anglers telling you where they are fishing or baiting to try and put you off angling there indirectly, or sometimes directly. In the most extreme cases I have seen this lead to arguments and physical altercations.
Didn’t want to step on my toes
On the other hand, I have fished waters where everyone is trying to catch the same fish which is likely to come from a certain swim. In these kinds of scenarios, anglers will do as much time as possible in the favoured swims. In the past I have had to decide whether I fished them when they were available or left them for the angler(s) baiting them. At first I left them alone but after a while you realise that you have to put yourself in the swims which produce the fish you’re trying to catch or you’ll be there forever.
An amazing common from a popular swim I was in two minds about fishing
These days I look at it like this, if you’re setting out to get something going for yourself you should probably do it in an un-favoured swim. If you pick the best swim on the lake, I don’t think you have any right to gripe when others fish there. If however, you create a feeding area with regular bait application in a swim that others have left alone, then you have every right to be unhappy if others try to capitalise on your hard work. I think many anglers would never even consider this as an etiquette issue, especially if they aren’t at the lake regularly, so it can be a tricky one.
3. Swim boundaries/Poaching
This should be a simple one but it seems to come up over and over again…. Aside from the bait boat incident which I mentioned at the start, the one which really sticks in my mind was at Walthamstow in November a few years ago. We fished Lower Maynard, which is a large water, shaped sort of like a banana but a bit wider at the bottom. We fished half way up where it is about 190-200 yards across; I was fishing at about 80 yards, so comfortably my side of half way.
At lunch time I had a bite and landed a good fish. After putting it back, whilst I was sitting with a friend next door I saw the guy opposite leathering a lead as far as he can toward me. Considering 100 yards would put him on top of me, he was taking the… Clearly he was casting to the area I was fishing because I had caught one. I shouted over to him, he stopped and neither of us caught any more.
A lovely Walthamstow linear
I have many examples of this but in honesty the solution is very simple. Speak to the angler you risk encroaching on and check where he is fishing. Assuming they aren’t being ridiculous, work around them, they were there first so it shouldn’t be that hard really!
I should say the one exception to this rule is when the angler in question is a good friend. In this situation it is actually very good angling to catch one from their swim, even better if they see it happen and of course you should remind them regularly afterwards. There is a great example of this in the last chapter of my Pingewood article!
It’s also worth thinking about what you do within your own swim and the impact this has. If you’re casting and spombing early in the morning, even within your water, this could have a dramatic impact on the angler next door. I would always leave the rods until the morning period has passed, there is no need to re-cast as soon as it gets light if nothing has occurred but it’s a sure fire way to irritate the other anglers around you.
4. Bucketing swims
This is something which goes on a lot and it’s generally an accepted practice if you are planning on moving or fetching your gear from the car. Personally, I see no issue with going for a walk round and dropping a bucket and I think most anglers would probably agree.
But this is not the case when a swim is reserved for an angler who is not on the lake. We’ve all been there, on our way to the pond with a mate already set up… ‘just drop a bucket in there for me mate’.
Clearly it does go on but it’s not really fair on anglers at the lake looking for a swim and it could land your mate at the lake in trouble.
When you fish particularly busy waters and day tickets, it is common practice to have to wait for someone to leave a swim before you can angle. It is incredibly annoying being repeatedly asked ‘when you leaving mate?’ early on a Sunday morning and then having someone hanging around behind you for the day, waiting for you to leave.
Unfortunately, on many day ticket type waters this is the way things are. I remember earlier this year seeing a swim bucketed for a week, only to be re-bucketed for a further full week as soon as the angler moved in to it. It seems crazy to me but if this is the way things are done you have little choice but to do the same or miss out.
One in the net as part of a run of fish from being left alone to fish the same swim for several consecutive trips
I fish a few day ticket waters where there is a draw for swims in the morning, this is a very civilised way to manage things as you don’t have to be there super early to queue (although I like knowing if I am willing to get up first, I get first pick), I’ve done this on Walthamstow complex too and it is fair. In other instances you might have a walk off, meaning anglers leave for swims in the order they arrived. This is fine but I’ve had young anglers go running past with a bucket planning to claim a swim, which is clearly not on but amazingly it does happen!
I’m starting to feel like I’m on a soap box here so probably time to stop, I’m sure you get the idea. To a lot of anglers this is all obvious and common sense. But, if you’re just starting out, or never fished a venue where you are alongside the same anglers on a regular basis, perhaps there are some lessons here. I can think of many times when other angler’s behaviour has damaged my angling, and a few where mine has damaged others. These days I think I am far more conscientious, still extremely competitive but never to the detriment of other anglers enjoyment.