On The Hook: Breaches in fishing’s code of conduct

Bill Walsh
Kenny from South Dakota with a stud tripletail Fishing with Capt Christian sommer using squid.

All sporting endeavors carry with them an unwritten but implied code of conduct. You know, those innate things you do because their the right thing to do in our civilized society and your participative sport. There are no published rules; you conform to the ethic because it’s right and you do it for the love of the sport. 

More:Fishingcast: Conditions for Southwest Florida, March 15-21

Stepping aside from fishing for the moment, perhaps the pinnacle of adherence to code of conduct is clearly evident in the game of golf. Every one of those strokes get counted, even the ones in the woods when nobody is checking; just you. It’s an event that impinges your association with your personal sense of honor.

But golf’s played with an exacting set of rules; mark the ball, don’t ground the club in the trap etc. But then what about sportfishing? What standards are in place to direct conduct in a sport that knows no bounds. Certainly, there are strict requirements as to what species you can keep at what size and at what time of year; but how about the association with each other on the water.

How do we conduct ourselves in this great sport in our association with other anglers? Over the years, I’ve encountered situations disruptive to the sense of honorable conduct and our article this time around will share a few of what are “breaches” in the unwritten log of sportfishing conduct.


This morning it’s a trip with a dad and his two young sons. The boys are still single digit ages and adored fishing back home in the Heartland. This was their first experience on the salt.

Back home, Dad took them fishing at every weekend opportunity between school, soccer and his work. That morning, it was obvious that Dad wanted them to do things on their own. OK, to teach but don’t fish for them.

It was a nice spring morning and we were working the drifts in Capri Pass for pompano and mackerel action and trying to avoid the inevitable catfish.  The boys were the anglers this particular morning and Dad was the coach. He never interfered with their activity, if they did something wrong, they identified and corrected it. Again, he was the coach.

As the morning progressed, the boys had quite a few pompanos strikes but all ended up in cutoffs with faltering retrieves. They were learning and that’s what this morning was all about.

There were about a half dozen boats in our “flotilla” that morning working the same area for the pompano and mackerel. The pompano was tightly schooled, so the boats were close together. Most of the boats were allowing casting distance for the others, save one.

This boat of four anglers made it a point to make a wake when moving around and came close in on their drifts. Too close!

On one of the close passes, we said hello and I said with marginal politeness “A little close, huh?” ... the response was a Long Island salute. Luckily the kids were engaged in the fishing.

We went on and the boys finally were getting the knack and had just landed their first nice pompano and were preening for some photos with Dad when the louts drifted close by with two of them holding up a brace of pompano exclaiming “Is this what the kids were looking for?”

Dad almost came out of his shoes and shouted expletives the kids probably had never heard before as the louts throttled away.


A neighbor who loved to fish, but most always ended up coming home empty handed, lamented one day that he really didn’t know where to fish.

Even after showing him how to use the local hot spots fishing chart at the marina he was still clueless as to how to find the nearshore fishing spots and how to set up and get results.

So, we planned a morning trip a couple weeks later. Just he and I would go “hands on” to get him some results.

Our morning arrived, bright and beautiful, and we headed out to the inshore reefs. We picked a spot known as the First Reef that consisted of bundles of old tires banded together that were spread over a large area in 20’ of water just offshore.

We went over on how to land on the location coordinates with the GPS and anchored up in a good morning incoming tide. We fished for just over an hour on the spot and had good results of a half dozen snapper and a keeper triggerfish. He was elated! He asked me for the Lat/Long coordinates for the spot.

Most charter folks would take a bullet before divulging their spots but, this was a neighbor and nice fellow, so in a moment of compassion, I gave my neighbor the numbers and asked that he pledge not to divulge them to anyone. He promised. He would not give them to anyone, even if he was tortured.

A couple weeks later, I had a charter scheduled for nearshore and had the “bundled tires” spot on the schedule. In the early morning haze, that morning, I saw several boats in the general vicinity of my designated “spot” and as we neared, it was evident that there were four boats jammed with anglers’ right smack on my spot.

I diverted to another spot that morning but couldn’t wait to get in touch with my “fishing buddy” neighbor.

Later that day, I called him and recounted finding four boats on the notorious fishing spot. “Did you divulge the coordinates of the spot?” Was the inquiry.

“Well, when I told the guys at the fishing club meeting about my success, they asked me where I was catching such nice fish. I couldn’t lie, so I told them”

His club probably has fifty members.

I have never seen the spot empty since. I don’t even try to fish there anymore.

As initially stated, there is no specific code of conduct specified in sportfishing as to how to act and make decisions; but what occurs is a true reflection of your character. Stand tall!

More:On The Hook: Apportioning the tide

Capt. Bill Walsh owns a charter fishing business and holds a U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments to dawnpatrolmarco@cs.com.