Many of you may have heard of stream etiquette … but have you heard of flats etiquette? In order to deliver the best info on how to navigate the flats responsibly and respectfully, we caught up with Key West fly fishing guide Brandon Cyr. These are the 6 tips for flats fishing etiquette.
Tip 1: If Someone’s At The Spot, Keep Moving
With more and more people enjoying the sport, it’s only a matter of time before you show up to one of your favorite spots only to have someone else already there. The way you handle this situation is very important, and the solution is simple… keep moving on! If there’s enough room, slide behind the boat without getting in their way. Then, turn your attention to a new section of water.
At the end of the day, fishing in new areas helps improve your skills as an angler. While we all feel connected to a handful of special spots, being forced to try new areas will push you to learn new spots on that tide— giving you more options in your playbook in the long run!
Tip 2: Learn About The Local Fishing Culture
As with any fishing scenario, each place you visit will have a slightly different fishing culture, and a slightly different approach to the way anglers interact on the water. Figuring out the local etiquette is an important step in having an enjoyable time in the fishery while respecting the environment and people around you.
The best thing to do in order to learn about the local culture is to stop by the local fly shop. Fly shops, being cultural hubs for the local fishery, provide a great window into the way that the respective fishery functions. You’ll learn a lot just by visiting the shop and listening to the way that the guides talk about fishing in the area. This is also a great opportunity to ask guides specific questions about etiquette in the area. Since guides have a vested interest in having more respectful anglers on the water, they will be more than happy to provide you with information on this matter… Information on their favorite spots, however, is another story.
Tip 3: Keep Your Distance
When encountering another angler on the flats, there’s some important things to consider. Is there a channel separating the flats that you’re on? What is the “line” that the other angler is pushing on? Are you interrupting their flow of fish? Will they have enough room to work as they want to? Each scenario will have different answers to these questions, so it’s always a good idea to reassess each situation. It’s always better to stay on the cautious side and leave more room than necessary. If you feel like you’re too close, you probably are.
Tip 4: Don’t Boat Over Prime Fishing Territory
A common thing we see down here in the keys is people “burning flats” (driving on plane over shallow water). Even though this practice is well-known as a bad thing, it isn’t just the new DIY anglers that are making the mistake. There’s also experienced guides that will do this. Sometimes people get lazy and don’t want to run the extra mile or two around the flat, so they “jump” the flat instead. This leads to blowing fish out (which you may not realize are there) and possibly tearing up the flat. At the end of the day, most of the decisions you make behind the wheel should be consciously driven with the goal of limiting your footprint on the environment you’re in. We are all lucky to be able to enjoy this beautiful ecosystem, so do your best to respect it.
Tip 5: Approaching Boats in Channels
If you’re trying to get to a spot that requires you to drive by someone fishing in a channel (or on a channel edge), if at all possible, find another route (even if it’s 15 minutes out of your way). If you must go through the channel, slow down to an idle to pass the angler/guide. In most circumstances the angler/guide will wave you through. For me personally, I’d rather have someone just run through when I wave them through. But, the courtesy of passing on idle is greatly appreciated.
Tip 6: If It Feels Wrong, It Probably Is.
Most mistakes on the water are followed with the statement “I wasn’t sure.” Some of the best advice I’ve ever received is simple, yet massively effective… The concept of “just go with your gut.” Typically if you have to question whether or not you’re doing the right thing, you probably aren’t. Follow your moral compass and go back to your elementary school days where you practiced the golden rule: “treat others as you would like to be treated.”
If more anglers can abide by these tips, flats fishing will be more enjoyable for everyone. Try to keep some of these tips in mind the next time you venture out there. Thanks to Brandon Cyr for taking the time to share his experience!
Stay tuned for more installments of the Fishing Etiquette Series.