Fishing Alone and Socially During a Pandemic
Be Aware, Diligent and Kind

Harbor Angler Report, July 13th Photo

Fishing can be enjoyable alone or together. Long time anglers have always known this about the sport of fishing. You can use a fishing experience to get some real “alone time” or you can use it as a vehicle to connect with friends, relatives and just other anglers. However, with a highly contagious, potentially deadly airborne virus in our midst, anglers need to take into consideration more than just which bait to use, where to fish or even which way the wind is blowing. You have to be more aware of the people and things around you.

Pretty obviously, fishing alone in a boat or kayak is one of the safest ways to social distant as long as you still remember your safe boating practices. Out on the water, several miles from the nearest person with the wind howling and the sun beating down, you have more chance of coming in contact with the Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia (VHS) virus from a fish than the CoVid-19 virus. And VHS does not affect humans. I spend quite a bit of time on the big lake and the bay in a boat by myself.  I find there are distinct advantages to fishing alone. I can go out anytime I wish and fish as long as I want to. If I get skunked, I don’t have to make excuses to anyone but myself, although sometimes our Westie Dooley gives me “the eye” after a particularly bad outing. If the fish are biting well, I can bogart all of the good spots, even position the boat to my personal advantage. There are some disadvantages to fishing alone. It’s more of a hassle to launch and retrieve the boat at the landing. There is nobody to brag to if I get a nice fish and, although I have gotten fairly adept at “fish selfies”, it is always better to hand the camera over to the other angler while you proudly display your slobasauris.  Tangling with a big salmon or steelhead solo is a real challenge. Attempting to boat a big fish with the trolling rod in one hand and an oversized net in the other, all the while trying to control the boat and avoid the other lines can be a real test of your patience, concentration and your profanity vocabulary. However, there is a great sense of satisfaction if you are successful and you see that silvery mass writhing on the floor of the boat. “I did that all by myself!”

Sharing the boat and the fishing experience with another angler can be equally rewarding. I have done exactly that with a relatively small group of fishing buddies this summer. Not only does this afford the opportunity for some “lively” conversation and getting assistance launching the boat but, you can set out three extra trolling lines. Early on, when we were just learning about the nature of the spread of this type of coronavirus, we took precautions to the point of each of us fishing individually out of our own boat. Once we felt comfortable enough to fish together, we still undertook protections such as donning masks when driving in the truck, keeping separated in the boat and using hand sanitizer habitually. As we fished more frequently together and became confident that we were all on the same page as far as safety measures, we fished more normally, yet avoiding the usual handshakes and back-slaps when a big fish was boated. We respected each other’s space. In this way I have developed a cohort of “pandemic fishing buddies”. I hope this cabal will grow as time goes on. 

The same “respect of space” needs to be afforded anglers and others you may encounter at the boat landing and fish cleaning station. We can still engage in the usual dockside banter: sharing stories, fishing tips and lies so fundamental to the fishing experience. I have come across very few anglers who cannot make their opinions quite clear from well over six feet away. You don’t have to be in someone’s face, and if you feel you do, wear a mask. Be aware that your comfort level may not be the same as the next angler. Be considerate and kind. The guy on the dock might be trying to have a stress-free break from having to worry about the damn virus and just fish. Help him out by respecting his space.

The Baileys Harbor marina seems to have a little different feel this summer. It has been noted by local frequenters of the landing as well as by marina staff. It seems busier, perhaps frenetic and at times chaotic. Part of this is due to the fact that the fishing has been pretty good this summer and the word is out. I have seen many more vessels in the marina with registration numbers beginning with MN, ND, IA and IN than I did all of last season when the bite was not as hot. The great summer weather is a factor as well. We have had a lot of days with good conditions on the lake and that has lured more anglers out on the water. However, in my opinion, one of the biggest factors driving the rush to the water is CoVid-19 itself. As noted, fishing is a great activity for a pandemic. Many people are deciding to get out in the fresh air and sunshine to socially distant on the water.  It a nice activity for a family. Afterall, there are no Little Leagues, sports camps or summer school to engage the kids. Take them fishing. Perhaps people are getting their boat out after a long hiatus. Some have even purchased new ones. Boats sales are way up during this summer.

Whatever the reason there seems to be a lot more, let’s call them, novice or less experienced boaters and anglers showing up at the landing this summer and some of them have not been behaving all that well. Perhaps it is the unfamiliarity with marina etiquette or just the stress from all the stuff that is going on in the world right now, but problems have been noted by all who use and run the marina. These problems have ranged from the hilarious (Have you ever watched a guy try to back a boat for the very first time at a tight landing?) to the much more serious (Marina staff has had to replace very expensive garbage disposals and shut down the fish cleaning station due to abuse).

So, in the interests of making the time on the water enjoyable and stress free for everyone, I offer these procedural points for using the boat launch, fish cleaning station and other marina facilities. Consider them a gentle reminder for experienced boaters and a primer for those new to the water.

  • Launching your boat: Be sure you are confident you can back your trailer into the water. Don’t do it for the first time at 3 O’clock in the morning on the first day of the K/D Salmon tournament. Practice at home or during a less busy time. Have your boat ready to launch before you get to the landing. Don’t remove the travel cover while five other boats are waiting to launch. You may become the target for crude invectives. Once your boat is in the water, move it to the end of the dock and get your rig off the landing as quickly as possible. And don’t forget to pay the launch fee. This is vital income for the maintenance of the marina. If you think the $6.00 fee is exorbitant, try paying $12.00 in Egg Harbor.
  • Parking your rig: Baileys Harbor has provided two convenient parking lots for vehicles with boat trailers. One is Brann Park, the grassy field behind the Lakeshore Adventures building, and the other is next to the fire station on Park Road. The town has been more tolerant this season allowing rigs to be parked on the street due to the construction at the fire station. If you do park on the street, do it away from local businesses so there is adequate parking for patrons. A little longer walk won’t kill you.
  • Leaving and returning to the marina: Go slow, idle speed and no wake. Watch for other boats and leave plenty of room. Many larger vessels use the marina and they cannot stop on a dime. Nobody wants to witness a T-bone in the marina basin.
  • Getting your boat out of the water: Once you return to the marina, if the landing is filled, wait your turn. Don’t be “that guy” who jumps the queue. Relax and enjoy your additional time on the water. Once the trailer is backed into the water, ease your boat on. There is a prohibition against “power launching” your boat onto the trailer. There is a sign at the end of each dock reminding you of this and a hefty fine for violators. The last thing the marina staff wants to do is impose those fines. Power launching is destructive to the marina basin and the landing ramp. (If you don’t see how, watch this YouTube video.) Between you and me, you probably won’t get into any trouble of you use your motor to ease the boat onto the trailer. However, do the last loading manually. Build up those biceps.
  • Getting off the landing: Once the boat is secured to the trailer and the trailer is out of the water, get clear of the landing area as quickly as possible! You do not have to prepare your boat for the five-hour trip home right then. Drive onto one of the nearby side streets and complete the tasks of affixing the tie-downs, storing tackle and removing the beer cans. And DO NOT leave your rig parked in the middle of the marina while you are cleaning your catch. More invectives will be forthcoming.
  • Cleaning your fish: Baileys Harbor has provided an excellent fish cleaning station for those anglers who were fortunate enough to put fish in the box. Use it respectfully. Since the coronavirus restrictions, plastic shields have been installed between the stations and anglers should stay back six feet while waiting their turn to use the station. All fish remains should be directed into the disposal. Make sure you run the water and feed in larger fish slowly headfirst. Avoid allowing your filet knife, hats, beer bottles, cell phones, watermelons (yes someone did) or other extraneous garbage to enter the disposal. The disposals are very expensive to repair and replace. Finally, follow the sage directive from your mother or your spouse and clean up after yourself! Even a little bit of fish guts left by each angler can cause the fishing station to become really disgusting, not to mention unsanitary. You may not have to deal with the stench the next day, but those of us who use the facility regularly do. Recently, the marina has been forced to close the cleaning station during the evening hours due to abuse by anglers. My wife is not at all pleased when I have to clean a slimy salmon in the kitchen sink. Clean up after yourself!

With consideration and kindness, we can all get through this pandemic fishing together safely, be better for it and put fish in the box.

I experience an odd sensation each time I return from several hours enjoying the space and beauty of the open water. I forget that we are in the middle of a global health crisis. Everything seems so natural and comfortable that I have to remind myself of the reality of the situation when I return to “the world”. I love that feeling. I just hope that next summer, I won’t have to come back to the landing to the same reality as this summer. Until that time comes, in the immortal words of the philosopher Red Green, “Remember, I'm pulling for you. We're all in this together”.


Stay safe and sane.

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, Bruce

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