Shallow Flats Ethics

From TFF Conservation Chairman, Mike Frankoff –

This initiative was recently published in the Swan’s Point Landing newsletter.

A handful of local Rockport fishing Guides from the Flats skiff, Airboat, Kayak, and flats activist communities got together behind closed doors earlier this spring to discuss the extra impact of growing user groups on the shallow water flats of  the middle Texas Coast. Chronicled by Corpus Christi Caller Times Outdoor Writer David Sikes, these early “Frustration Forum” talks cooked down a large amount of input into some basic guidelines for all user groups, first to acknowledge their “footprint ” on the shallow water fishery and how it meshes with other groups. This is a ” grass roots” effort  to promote and develop respect and civility, along with responsible stewardship of the increasingly pressured flats in the Rockport  area. Group leaders came to the realization that change will have to come at water level, by example and education, as nothing is going to come from legislative efforts in Austin. Regional public meetings will be scheduled to move this initiative forward.

Shallow saltwater flats provide unique, world-class fishing opportunities in our Texas bay waters. Their growing popularity makes crowding an inevitable part of the coastal fishing experience. These areas are also an easily disturbed and an easily damaged resource. Courtesy and respect are especially important in how effectively these areas can be equitably shared. If anglers take care in how we access these areas, and respect the space and efforts of other users, future generations will be able to share and enjoy these special places long into the future.

All Flats Fishing Methods
Respect both the present and future fishing opportunities of your fellow anglers. Shallow flats are easily disturbed.  Fishing such areas is an activity that requires quiet and stealth. Try to reduce your impacts whenever possible to improve fishing opportunities both for yourself and others.

Do not let your personal conveniences, or your equipment’s capabilities, cause you to disregard courtesy and conservation. Everyone has the right to utilize the resource; no one has the right to monopolize it.

Know before you go. Observe an area and factor in tide and wind conditions before entering it to avoid conflicts with others, and/or destroying I disturbing resources. Before fishing new areas, learn the local customs and protocol. Knowledge and simple communication often help prevent conflicts.

Respect the space of other users. Pay attention to wind direction and the fishing lanes I directions of others around you.  Do not crowd or fish across someone else’s lane/path. A minimum distance of 200 yards between boats/anglers is considered ethical on shallow flats.

If you choose to fish a channel or cut that provides common access to another body of water, then you should stay to one edge or the other, never anchor in a way that blocks access to others and accept the fact that other boats/anglers may be interrupting your fishing by traveling through. Just as everywhere else, if fishermen are actively catching fish, make an effort to leave them undisturbed and seek an alternate route if possible.

Shallow Draft -Motorized Watercraft
Avoid joy riding and taking short cuts through shallow flats.
A large source of complaint among Texas bay anglers is the practice of “burning” flats and shorelines by shallow draft boaters in an effort to locate fish. Whenever possible, shut down your main motor and wade, drift, pole or troll so as to reduce resource damage and disturbance. This provides a better, more sustainable, fishing environment for all.

Wade Fishing
When possible, avoid running your boat far onto a flat to begin a wade. Anchor on the edge of the flat and then wade in to fish.

When you’re finished wading, turn your boat perpendicular to the flat and motor directly away from it.  Avoid running along the edge of the flat when you leave.
Make yourself easily visible to boaters by wearing a bright-colored shirt  and/or hat.

Paddle Craft
Be Visible: Use required lights when paddling in the dark and wear bright clothing or hats. When motorized craft approach you should assume that they do not see you and make an effort to be seen. (Wave your arms or a paddle to get their attention.)

Paddle craft users have the ability to cover much more water than those wading, drifting, or poling. On a crowded flat, you should consider this, and make sure that you are not cutting off other users. Give other anglers a wide berth (200 yards if possible) when paddling to/from a fishing spot. Even though you don’t have a motor, you can still spook their fish if you get too close.

If you paddle an area for something other than fishing (e.g.: birding, sight-seeing) be aware that many may be trying to fish, and give them adequate space and quiet. Be aware of waterfowl seasons and stay well clear of duck blinds with decoys.

Poling Skiffs
Learn the layout of a flat before trying to fish it from a poled skiff. Understand how to easily enter, fish and exit an area before you go. Factor in tide and wind conditions to ensure easy entry and exit. Avoid whenever possible running I motoring far onto a flat before you start poling.

If you pole onto a flat, be prepared to pole back out if there’s not a deep water exit or channel on the other end. Poling in, then spinning up and running out, can be just as disturbing as running straight in. When you’ve poled to the edge of a flat to leave, turn your boat perpendicular to the flat and motor directly away from it. Don’t run along the edge of the flat when you leave.

Guides and Tournament Anglers
Shallow flats have become a popular venue for guiding and professional fishing tournaments. It is easy to forget, while involved in a professional tournament for cash prizes, pre-fishing, or while guiding an expensive charter, that all users have equal rights to our bay waters. By virtue of your professions, you have the opportunity to teach and influence a large number of anglers that book your charters and follow the tournaments that you fish. Make sure that you convey the right message with your actions, endorsements, and promotions.

Tournament rules which pertain to etiquette during the tournament should also be recommended and voluntarily applied to the pre-fishing period prior to the event.

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