Recently I was standing on the deck of a good friend’s center console, chasing working birds with a half dozen or so other boats. One school dove but another popped up, and as my friend moved us closer to the fracas I had a moment of internal cringe as we came bit too close to one of the other boats for my comfort. Someone on that boat shot us an unhappy glance, and my buddy looked over at me and said, “I didn’t get too close to him, did I?”

boats fishing in a crowd
In certain angling situations boats are expected to get closer than in some others; judgement plays a big role in determining how close is too close.

A discussion ensued.

I know this friend quite well and have spent a lot of time on and off the water with him — he’s a quality guy and there is zero doubt in my mind that he would never knowingly upset another angler. In fact, he’s about as non-confrontational as a human being can be. And in my experience, 99 percent of the time that two anglers do get confrontational, it’s the result of one person not realizing they are doing something that could upset someone else. And, the someone else they’re interacting with probably has too short a fuse.

The next time you’re tempted to raise your voice to another angler, stop and ask yourself: is there any possibility the behavior I’m interpreting as belligerent is really just a mistake? Is it possible that the person I’m getting angry at doesn’t even realize they’re doing something I might consider to be belligerent? If the answer is yes, there is a possibility, then chances are that’s exactly what’s going on.

So back to the original question: just how close is too close? It’s a judgement call. Every situation is different and everyone has a different answer. The rule that I personally try to live by is that if I can cast close enough to tangle with another angler, I may be a little close for comfort. If a boat or a person is within my own casting distance, I’m too close. But there are plenty of exceptions. Fishing along the crowded banks of a public-access river, for example, it’s not uncommon to be elbow-to-elbow at some times in some places. When multiple boats are chasing pods of breaking fish everyone expects to get a bit closer than usual since the pods come and go; no one “owns” them, and you may roll up on a boat that rolled up on you moments ago. The “close enough to tangle” rule goes out the window, and single casting distance becomes more the norm.

Naturally, there are many other scenarios and situations where the conditions dictate different behavior. When 200 boats descend on the Bay Bridge, most people would agree that you can’t expect everyone to stay100 yards apart. But when a boat is anchored up over a wreck 50 feet long with no one else in sight, most of us would also agree that it’s obnoxious to roll up on them and try to anchor on the same wreck.

Again, it all boils down to judgement. And again, it’s exceedingly rare for an angler to intentionally do what they would themselves interpret as bad form. So the next time you’re tempted to give someone a piece of your mind, remember: you don’t necessarily know what’s in theirs