Flats Boat Etiquette, Being A Good Fishing Partner

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Photo by Louis Cahill

By Louis Cahill

The reception to my last fly fishing etiquette post was so positive I thought I’d dive in a little deeper.

Flats fishing from a boat is a team sport. Whether you’re out fishing with friends, out with a guide or on a trip to a fishing lodge, you’re never out on the boat by yourself. Usually you are sharing your fishing time with another angler. It may be a friend, a spouse or a complete stranger but regardless of who you’re fishing with, one thing is the same. How you behave on the boat affects their fishing experience.

I’ve seem some pretty thoughtless things done on flats skiffs. Usually out of ignorance and often ending in embarrassment. Neither angler, or the guide for that matter, needs that. With that in mind, here are a few simple rules to help you be a good boat buddy.

Be Quiet!

Rule number one. First, last and always, be quiet. Saltwater fish are easily spooked and the noise of cooler lids, camera cases and beer bottles banging against the hull travel for great distances in the water. Don’t be a busy bee. Your buddy’s fishing time is not your chance to get a few things done around the boat. Be still. Rocking the boat moves water and fish can hear it. Keep your shoes off. Sock feet are quiet feet. Be obsessively quiet. You never know when you’re about to see the fish of a lifetime.

Don’t Be A Bow Hog

Share the fishing time fairly. It’s not fair to stay on the bow all day, even if you’re not seeing fish. The worst is when two anglers of very different skill levels get paired together. All too often the better angler spends the day watching his partner blow shot after shot. When it’s his turn to fish, he gets up, catches his fish in five minutes and is back in the chair for an hour.

There are some “rules” for lack of a better term. They vary a little and guys who fish together often sometimes have their own rules but they are all something like this.

1. 3 strikes. If you take 3 shots you sit down, fish or no.

2. Switch on fish. You catch a fish, you sit down.

3. 30 Minutes. You’re on the bow for 30 min, you sit down.

These rules keep it fair for everyone.

No Tantrums

I have seen guys completely lose it on the boat. Throw their rods, scream, pound the deck. There is no excuse for childish displays of temper on a fishing boat. It spoils your partner’s day. It spooks fish. It screws up everybody’s attitude and it’s a great way to get your ass kicked. If you are unhappy with your performance, sit down and take some time to get your head straight. Don’t be an asshole to your fishing partner or your guide.

The Guide Is The Boss

They don’t call him captain for nothing. It’s his boat and his rules. He’s responsible for your safety as well as your fishing. If he tells you to sit down or put on your life jacket or reel up, don’t give him an argument. He has his reasons.

Don’t Do The Guide’s Job

All too often, good intentions lead to bad behavior. You may think you are helping by calling out fish positions or giving directions but the odds are good that you aren’t. There are plenty of times when anglers see fish that the guide misses. Guides are human too. But there are many more times when your guide is not directing an angler to a fish for a reason. He may see a much better fish a little further away. He may be responding to an angler who doesn’t handle pressure well. He might want to get the boat into position or wait for the fish to move before getting his angler worked up. The guide is a professional. If he wants your help, he’ll let you know. Let him do his job. He’s out there every day.

No Religion or Politics

Don’t ask me if I know where I’m spending eternity when I’m on the bow, unless you want to spend the rest of the day on some shitty little key. Flats fishing requires focus. You can’t fish and argue at the same time. Everyone has an opinion. Nobody cares what yours is. Keep the conversation friendly.

Don’t Get Sloppy Drunk

I like to have a few beers during the day. Most guys do, but spending the day on a boat with a knee crawling drunk is no fun. Basically, stay sober enough to follow rules 1-5 and you’ll be fine.


The golden rule. Respect your partner. Respect your guide. Respect the water and the fish. Do this and just about everything else will fall into place. Best of all, everyone will respect you too.

Stick to these rules and you’ll have more fun on the water, more fishing buddies and better fishing. You’ll be the guy everyone wants to fish with and that’s not too bad.

Please add your comments!

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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20 thoughts on “Flats Boat Etiquette, Being A Good Fishing Partner

  1. since it’s usually windy, “supporting” angler assist in line management for fishing angler, keep line untangled, in the boat, etc.

  2. 30-minute Rule, addendum: Consult your guide before switching out at 30 minutes; there may only be a couple more minutes before the guide was going to move. It isn’t worth switching, and the commotion of switching for the last couple of minutes isn’t worth the change for change’s sake and can cost you both a shot at a fish. Let your buddy have the bonus time, you’ll get it back in both fish karma and the guide degree of “engagement” because they appreciate being consulted on things like this!

  3. I agree with all the suggestions and have one more thing that really pisses me off. I’m quiet as a church mouse when not up front but as soon as I get my turn my partner starts talking to the guide often non stop and often about things other than fishing. It’s bound to take the guide’s attention off of maximum searching. Recently I was bone fishing with a friend and as soon as I got on the bow the conversation turned to hunting, which obviously both of them liked to do. After about 20minutes of this continual bloviating I looked back and said F….. the hunting…let’s concentrate on fishing…they got the point and things were good the rest of the day.

  4. Love the list. Only disagree on the part about doing the guide’s job. I feel like you should be looking for fish, all the time… on the bow and off. The more eyes the better. No?

    • if the guide gives instructions, reply so he knows you hear him.
      I fish with a friend who is deaf in his left ear so i repeat what ever the guide says, letting the guide know of course before we fish.

  5. Pingback: Being a good fishing partner | Bonefish on the Brain

  6. Great article. I also think calling out fish is a plus, it’s kind of the game within the game and I’ve found that guides appreciate it. I would add to the list: managing your buddies line, and no aerosol sunscreen (guides hate it because it discolors the boat).

  7. Wade fish for bones. Its more challenging and both guys can fish at the same time. The guide wanders back and forth but usually stays with the person who has been catching fewer fish that day. Also, this allows the guide to say , “I need to go check something in the boat” He then spends 45 minutes talking with his girlfriend on the cell phone while you figure out where the fish are.

    Burns less fuel, nice and quiet and more like a “fair chase” hunt too. Wade when possible.

  8. Thanks for the aerosol spray advice. I use it to keep from getting cream on my line but didn’t realize it discolored the boats. I’ll be sure to use it outside of their boats and my boat and apologize to any guide I’ve offended ;

  9. Excellent article. It sometimes helps if you have a sense of the guide’s perpective when sightfishing from a boat. After several trips to the Bahamas I had gotten to know my guide pretty well. Over 3 years he took me from blind casting into schools to working cruising fish to concentrating on large singles and doubles.
    One day we switched roles for a time and I climbed the tower while he went
    wading with my gear. I was able to spot and lead him to a 6 pounder. This gave
    me opportuntiy to observe how far away you can spot fish and their direction and speed. Most amazing was watching that fish key into the fly, adjust course and nail it. It was a lesson to me in terms of the intense attention and concentration
    and communication that a professional bonefish guide must bring tomhis craft.

  10. I am sure that this will draw fire, but sometimes (not always), talking about eternity while on the bow makes the moment that much richer, and catalyzes focus because you meditate on the fact that some day, you won’t be around any longer to listen to that line fly across blue sky. You may not always be around to hang out with your friends. So, you better make your shots count, and you better care about where they are headed after they die

    Also, I feel that beer tastes better when discussing eternal consequences.

  11. Boat There are certain customs and traditions that help us, as boaters, get along independently while respecting that right for others. Just as there are social norms you’re expected to know on land, you’ve got to know certain basic rules of boating etiquette if you’re going to be spending any time at all on the water.

  12. Etiquette for guides to follow

    1/ Dont turn up at the dock in Hawaii for a days bone fishing with a spool of old rotten fluorocarbon and rusty hooks.. The tropics are a tough environment for Fluro
    Your clients time on the bow well turn out to be a day of regret

    2 / Don’t market/sell your Argentinian lodge and guiding services when you don’t actually own a lodge nor offer a guiding service
    Your client won’t get to spend anytime on the bow of the boat when they turn up and find out you don’t have any form of business – and you are no where to be found.

    3 / Don’t sell flies to your international clients then never supply them.
    Your clients won’t have a chance to catch any fish standing on then bow without a hook on the end of their line.

    4 / Don’t claim to be a FFF certified casting instructor when you are not.
    A angler will soon pick your casting skills are not stacking up. A quick search on the iPhone and client will soon find out you are not on the FFF website.
    Your client won’t become a better caster if you mislead them.

    5 / Don’t claim to be affiliated with a major tackle brand when your reputation has hit rock bottom. Your clients and booking agents have abandoned you but your still getting endorsements from Hatch maybe this will help you rebuild your career.
    Your client won’t buy that reel brand when they know there is a association You are not assisting those endorsing you in any way and I sure won’t be casting from the bow with my new Hatch reel.

    6 / So you say you are a member of Team Sage. Great that will bring in the bookings.
    If your skills don’t stack up and you are not on the Team Sage website there is no real benefit for the client on the bow of the boat.

    7 / So your guiding gig has come to a end and you need some money badly
    Just tell international anglers you have taken over the guiding business you had been working for.
    Invoice them and they will send their money – right. Wrong you will get caught out
    But hey its a easy $300000 and the people you have scammed are in another country you know your safe somewhere between Mongolia and the USA
    Anyhow it is the clients fault if they ask to many questions regarding who is responsible for making sure they get to stand on the deck of the boat.

    8 / Etiquette surrounding tips
    So your a guide and you have been working your butt off all season. All your customers have had a great time and you know they have paid the lodge / boss a substantial amount in tips – right.
    Dont bank on it as there seems to be to many guides not receiving the tips left by the client.
    As a client you thought you had been doing the right thing.
    Maybe it is about time to see a change in tip etiquette – the guides should be handling the money after all it is them you have trusted in all week to put you on the fish..

    So many things to consider before you even get on the boat with the guide.

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