Angling etiquette – the forgotten protocol, just ignored out of ignorance or convenience? What is angling etiquette? Is it just someone’s hopes and beliefs or is it a set of manners and values all anglers should follow?
It’s my experience that if you have the right social skills during your normal life then they carry through in all your chosen pursuits. So is the ability to conduct yourself in the right manner and to a set of unwritten standards all part of your social upbringing? Do angler’s that haven’t had the guidance of a family member or are poorly educated automatically find the concept of angling etiquette difficult to accept? The “I don’t live to any rules,” spoilt child syndrome.
The answer to the last point is definitely, No! I grew-up in one of South Yorkshire’s deprived areas where the culture of survival was the only important factor. My school’s greatest achievement was actually getting you to go. However, they did do a good job of keeping the remand centres and prisons well supplied.
What is important is guidance at a very early age. I learnt basic angling etiquette as a child from my grandfather. These were simple; never run on the bankside, don’t talk loudly, give other anglers space and always take your litter home with you. These basic rules would be a good start for most anglers. I then learnt to respect nature and its diversity by spending time on the bank and observing. I also found if you were pleasant and respectful to all your senior anglers they were more than willing to guide you on the more pressing issues of how to catch fish.
Regardless of your chosen discipline of fishing you do need to know and be able to recognise some of the basics like weed types, bankside animals and fish species. For instance, some years ago I was fishing close to a young angler of about sixteen years old. He had all the gear – three rods, a bivvy etc – looked as though he knew what he was doing and was certainly very quiet and behaved himself impeccably. However, during the night he came and woke me up and asked if I would help him identify a fish. I agreed and walked with him back to his swim. As he was walking he began to describe what sounded like a Tench. The fish was lying on the bank on an unhooking mat, luckily it had stayed there and yes, it was a Tench. It then became apparent this lad could only identify one species of fish, Carp.
Surely one of the first points of angling etiquette is the ability to identify most of the British indigenise species. I didn’t blame the lad for his lack of knowledge; I suppose the Carp fishing industry and all its publicity has created anglers that just start Carp fish. I do feel sorry for these anglers because they will never be able to understand the thrill of anglings’ progression, that ability to find pleasure from stick float fishing for Dace or small Chub, that thrill when you catch your first net of Bream or Roach. These targets and achievements will have been reduced in relevance by instantly becoming a Carp angler. I did help the lad by lending him my copy of ‘The Observer’s Book of Freshwater Fishes’ by T.B.Bagenal.
I started Carp fishing during the hot summer of 1976 mainly because most of the match clubs I was involved with cancelled their schedules. I did manage to fish both the juvenile nationals that year and get placed, but that’s another story. I had, at the time been very lucky as fishing for my local town opened doors, especially for specialist coaching. I was exposed to some of the great names in angling history who not only knew how to fish, but were also bastions for the sports image, anglers like Ivan Marks were not just champions, they were men of principles and high standards of bankside etiquette. However, I was about to learn that each specialist branch of angling has further rules that are woven into its own etiquette.
I learnt most of my early Carp angling etiquette rules from three anglers. However, with hindsight they did have a tendency to mould the principles for their own ends. It would be nice if every angler followed some form of etiquette based around common sense. The principles I learned all those years ago are still my guide today and they are as follows:
Always respect another angler’s space and don’t invade their privacy unless invited
A few years ago I was fishing a busy day ticket water of about twelve acre’s. The lake was about 120m wide at one end and over 200m at the other. This particular day there was three of use fishing the narrow end in a 2:1 staggered pattern on either side. The idea being each angler had his own strip full width of the lake. The bailiff also had an unwritten rule that no one was allowed to fish over halfway. This particular day I was fishing the far side and all of us had caught. This lake was renowned for takes at around 9.00am so most anglers were always hovering over the rods at this time. It was around this time that I noticed another car turn-up in the car park and an angler loading a barrow-up. This didn’t represent any problem because the lake was relatively empty apart from us – the only other angler fishing was some 250m to my left. However, what happened next I didn’t expect.
The first angler he came to on the side closest the car park he quickly grilled regarding action and fish caught which the lad quickly obliged. He then pushed his barrow some 15m past him and stopped. He was now halfway between two anglers both on his right and left and me directly opposite. I can remember thinking only an idiot would consider fishing there, especially when there was several acre’s of empty water, but what happened next amazed me.
Out came the marker rod and with one almighty cast a lead and float landed directly between my two lines some 35m out from my position. Before I could gain my poise and control my rage this marker float was followed by a spod. I was now walking round to this angler to give him a lecture on angling etiquette, but was met in transit by the bailiff who immediately said, “I know Dave I’ll tell him to pull back”. I told him not to bother because I was now going to pack-up. However, what I couldn’t understand was why the bailiff hadn’t gone directly to him and pointed out the error of his ways, but came to pacify me first. I listened to him tell the lad that he had cast over halfway which was an unwritten rule, but what disgusted me was he didn’t mention that he had probably spoilt all our chances that day and that he was out of order even considering fishing from that position.
Always respect your environment and never damage plants or wild life wilfully
You could write a book on this subject – it is hard to be present in any environment without doing some damage. It is how you limit it that counts; keeping to paths and always fishing from prepared positions will reduce your impact. Careful fishery management is always the answer.
Fish for yourself with your own knowledge
This is going to seem a hard concept to follow for many of today’s Carp anglers, but I come from an era or angling group that made all their own baits and would never copy anyone’s regardless of success unless invited. I hear anglers pontificate about what counts and what doesn’t, so let me introduce another aspect – none of them count unless you catch them with your own bait, made or prepared by yourself. How could they when someone else has contributed to the capture by making your bait? I take pride in that if all the bait companies and supplies disappeared tomorrow I can still put together bait which will catch me Carp. Is this art or etiquette now lost to most anglers?
I remember one angler who I have greatest respect for who in the late 1980’s was fishing Harfield during the ‘Richworth Tutti Fruity’ phase. This angler always made his own baits and couldn’t allow himself to buy something prepared and made by someone else. The lake was being taken apart by this bait and really anyone could catch, little skill was needed; however he refused to use the bait point blank on principle and fair play to him. The point I’m making here is, I couldn’t tell you any of the names of the anglers who jumped on the bandwagon, but I will always remember his name and principles. Don’t be a clone, be an individual.
Don’t fish at all costs
This can mean so many different things. I have seen so many Carp anglers throw away their lives for Carp fishing, lose families and friends. With time they also start to show all the signs of mental instability, which can only be attributed to long periods of poor mental stimulation, something commonly found sitting behind rods. Is it worth that amount of effort for a fish? My opinion is definitely, No!
Some of our high profile anglers will have other problems created by the need to be successful. Any sponsorship brings problems so they are always fishing at a cost – usually their livelihood. Without naming anglers I have certainly been witness in my early years to some appalling behaviour by some of Carp fishing’s greatest names. Was this need to drink heavily and take lets say illegal substance, created by the need to escape the reality that Carp fishing can be, boring. All things have a cost, it’s how far you are willing to go?
The other aspect of fishing at all costs is in places you shouldn’t; these include snags, out of bounds areas, at extreme range and around corners. Only someone who has lost all respect for his chosen quarry fish’s for them in places or under conditions, which could damage or ultimately kill them. Just remember one cut or flesh tare can lead to infection and death.
You should never think it’s your right to fish regardless of circumstances. I have seen this abused so much. What gives anyone the right to spoil another anglers fishing just because they want to fish?
For example, last year I was fishing a small shallow 9 acre lake which does not take angling pressure well. The lake only contained around 25 fish so it was quite easy to find yourself at the end where the fish weren’t. My first year I learnt the lakes unwritten rules or fishing etiquette, one of which was if you turn-up and there is already four anglers fishing, move on. You aren’t doing yourself or the existing angler’s any favours by adding to the lakes pressure. To me that was a fine rule and one, which I was, total comfortable with. However, not all of us are reasonable people.
Late one Sunday night after most of the anglers fishing were settled in for the night, along came a new member and, despite my explanation regarding the done thing, he didn’t agree with these principles and obviously didn’t understand etiquette. He was going to fish regardless and decided to plant himself in the middle of us all and whip the water to a foam with his marker float almost into dark. Guess what, we all blanked for two days, me sticking it out just to prove a point. What makes this worst is the fact he his sponsored and a representative of a bait company, but some of it did make sense when he told me later where and how long he had been fishing. Certain types of water, mainly heavily fished day ticket waters create anglers that don’t understand or appreciate any aspect of angling etiquette, out there it’s a dog eat dog world.
I always go fishing knowing I might not be able to fish on my first venue choice. I have been known to travel 180 miles to my chosen venue to just drive straight away, why? Because my presence would only have a negative effect on the water and reduce the chances of the anglers already present. A noble gesture or just plain common sense, I’ll let you decide?
The last one in this group is poaching. No respectful angler should fish venues he hasn’t gained permission to fish. This just sets a bad example to all young and future anglers.
Conduct on the bank side should always be done quietly and inconspicuously
Whenever I go to any venue I always try and consider what I would want other anglers to do. You should walk around quietly and once you have done whatever you are there for, leave. I’m not antisocial in anyway, but I hate been pumped for information by strangers, especially when they miss the social niceties. Formal introductions I always believe are a sign of how someone views you, it shows respect and usually means this person knows the basics behind bankside etiquette.
Bailiffs, fishery managers and owners play a major role in setting examples of acceptable etiquette and shouldn’t just be money-taking rule enforces. Never confuse lake rules and angling etiquette they are different. If a lake owner’s goal is to fill every swim he owns regardless of any potential problems, remember he is showing no respect to you or any angling etiquette.