Angling Etiquette

Angling Etiquette
A fun day of fishing with family or friends begins with anglers who follow the tenets of angling etiquette. Showing courtesy and respect for your fellow fishermen goes a long way toward making an outing memorable. (Keith Sutton photo)

It happened decades ago while I was fishing with my Uncle Guy. We were jigging shoreline cover when we saw some guys in a big bass boat approaching. The men clearly saw us, but they passed without slowing down. The big wake they threw nearly swamped the wooden johnboat from which we fished. And the good bite we’d been enjoying all morning abruptly ended.

When things settled down, Uncle Guy spoke.

“You said you wanted to get you a boat and motor someday, didn’t you?” he asked.

“Yes, sir.”


“Well, when you do, remember to slow down when you pass other folks on the water,” he said. “An upright angler shows respect for his fellow fishermen and boaters. He’s never in such a hurry he can’t slow down and show some common courtesy.”


After incidents such as that, Uncle Guy often talked about “the upright angler,” upright being his synonym for ethical or principled.

“An upright angler always gives his fishing partner a chance to fish the best spots,” he’d say while swinging my end of the boat around to the spot where fish were biting.

“An upright angler always takes fishing line, food wrappers and other trash home with him,” he would say as we picked up garbage others had left behind.

“An upright angler takes care not to spill gas in the water when he’s topping his outboard motor tank,” he’d note, topping off his own tank.


“An upright angler takes only the fish he needs to eat and puts the rest back for another day.”

Thing was, Uncle Guy didn’t just talk about the upright angler. He was the upright angler. During the years I fished with him, he taught me more about being an honest, ethical fisherman than I’ve learned in all the years since.

Although he never used the word, what Uncle Guy was talking about and teaching was etiquette. That’s basically the same etiquette, or good manners, our moms and Emily Post tried to teach us when we were kids.


The word comes from the French “estiquette,” or ticket, which described small cards written or printed with a list of dos and don’ts that told 18th-century followers of French kings and queens how to behave among all those fancy-pants courtiers. By the time “etiquette” was imported into English around 1750, its meaning had broadened into our modern sense of “how to behave properly in a given situation.”

In the context of fishing, etiquette is a set of guidelines encouraging demonstrations of courtesy and sportsmanship, regardless of how competitive the activity may be. You could say it’s a one-word way of describing the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Things would be a lot better if we all observed proper etiquette and became upright anglers. So in memory of Uncle Guy I’ve put together a list of things we all can do to make fishing more enjoyable for everyone. By following these guidelines, we set a good example for others to follow and leave positive images of anglers and angling for those who don’t fish.

The Fish

  • Keep no more fish than needed for consumption and legally allowed. Do not wastefully discard fish you keep.
  • Use tackle and techniques that avoid the capture of, or minimize harm to, unwanted fish or fish illegal to retain.
  • Use proper methods for releasing fish that won’t be retained.

Other Anglers and Boaters

  • Treat all anglers, pleasure boaters and other people you meet with courtesy and respect.
  • When waiting to launch your boat, load all gear, disconnect boat straps, take off your motor-tote and be ready to launch when it’s your turn. Don’t delay others who are ready to launch.
  • Turn off your headlights while waiting in the launch line. Keep your parking lights on. This prevents you from blinding others backing their boats down the ramp.
  • Keep a respectful distance from other anglers. Don’t encroach on someone else’s fishing spot.
  • If you see someone signaling for help, respond immediately. Fishing can wait. A day will come when you, too, need assistance.
  • Before fishing private waters, obtain permission from landowners. Never trespass.
  • Observe all the rules of safe boat operation. Watch your speed and your wake. Don’t run too fast for conditions. Keep a safe distance from bank fishermen, jetties and other boats.

Leading By Example

  • Read your local fishing regulations guide cover to cover each year, and stick by the rules—all the rules—year-round. Insist that fellow anglers do likewise. Obtain proper licenses. Obey creel and possession limits. Use only legal equipment and methods of harvest.
  • Should you observe illegal fishing or boating activities, report them to the proper authorities.
  • Join, support and volunteer your time to an organization involved in water or fisheries conservation.
  • Promote public awareness of the measures taken by anglers to conserve natural resources and protect the environment.
  • Share the joys of fishing with youngsters. They are the future of fishing. Teach them the feeling of satisfaction that comes from being an upright angler. Discuss the importance of being a responsible angler. Explain your personal code of ethics, and encourage them to “do the right thing” when enjoying the outdoors.
  • Spread the word. Now that you’ve invested time reading this article, you’re aware of some of the ways one person can make a difference. Here’s another way: pass this story on to other people. Or at least pass on what you’ve learned. As you inspire friends and family, they’ll inspire others. Our ability to have a positive impact will grow proportionately.

By following these principles of conduct each time you go fishing, you give your best to the sport, the resource and yourself. Actions like these really do speak louder than words. Upright anglers can make a difference.

Looking for fishing shows on Outdoor Channel during the months of October – December? and “Stihl’s Reel in the Outdoors” both air in the last quarter of the year. Check the schedule for updated air times.

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