A friend (Dylan Wier of Gulf Coast Nation) brought this story to life when we were talking about surf anglers fishing and beachgoers swimming at the beach while we were on a deep sea fishing trip. At first, I thought that this story would cause anger & discontent, and then I realized that we should discuss this situation, as it will be a constant occurrence for all of us especially coming into the summer.
So many times, as we scroll through our Facebook feeds in our fishing groups, and we see a story about an angler having a run-in with a beachgoer. Each time, the angler reported that they packed up their stuff and moved on, but the comments that followed the post were almost always on the combative side. Finally, a few cooler heads have prevailed and posted the law for Florida to help the local angler understand that they too have a right to be there and fish. There is, however, a delicate balance.
Two occasions come to mind when this story started with a perspective from two anglers that I know and respect highly. One is Mr. Paul Vancelette (author of Fishing as I lived it), and the other is Mr. Tony Faggioni (owner and creator of FishGum Bait). Paul had a day at the beach where he had swimmers all around him, and this is how he handled it:
"The short version of this story is that I was surrounded by swimmers, boogie boarders, chest wading folks walking the surf, and a thousand folks who had never seen a surf cart before.
I found an interesting piece of beach that turned into a cut in an intermediate bar that had a heavy flow of water working its way out to sea. I thought I had moved far enough away from visitors. I started catching whiting and hardhead catfish almost immediately. I was using fresh dead shrimp and pieces of shrimp flavored Fishbites. Today, even the naked hooks got bit on my single-hook Mortician rigs.
But by 9:00 AM, I was already asking folks to move over on each side of me. Nothing else in the water looked interesting enough for me to move. I was catching fish, hoping for Pompano. Never happened. By 11:30 AM, lots of zig-zag sandbars were beginning to show, which simply brought more people directly in front of me.
I don't think I came across any "Locals" today. Wisconsin, Ohio, and Virginia got verbalized to me as I politely answered questions about my cart and gear. The parking lot plates had an additional variety of folks' home states. And this was only Thursday. Spring Break Part II, I guess.
By the time I wrapped things up, I was miserable but keeping a smile on my face. It was a hard push in the upper softer sand because most beach areas were covered. I was catching fish perpetually on both tides, slowing down a bit at slack dead low.
I won't go back there, it simply wasn't fun or relaxing. The whistle I wore around my neck got used a lot today, unfortunately.
Some swimmers coming back in towards me said they didn't mind lifting my lines to go past them. Ugh...... I didn't know where to begin explaining that the lines should never be disturbed.
The log entry in my fishing book is full of asterisks and a note to never go back there. I only saw a few others fishing today, they were catching some whiting as well. None of [them] had any trophies coming in, but if you wanted a meal, the fish were biting.
I released everything I caught today, telling each fish to go find a different beach" –Paul Vancelette
Tony had a couple sit down directly in between his rods to enjoy a beach day. He handled it differently and showed it in his video here:
Surf Fishing and beachgoers are going to be a hand-in-hand experience no matter where you fish. The difference between the Panhandle and the East Coast of Florida is only the color of the water. I would also imagine that it is precisely the same situation no matter where you are surf fishing in the world. The question is, how do you deal with this? As you’re reading this, I hope you see yourself on the beach with your lines set up, and they have been going off all morning since you got there. A family of four shows up with their kids, and they sit directly next to your last pole (let's say 10' away). What are you going to do? The answer to this question ultimately rests on your shoulders.
I had this happen the other day when I was fishing at Opal Beach here in Navarre, and I had planned on running into beachgoers. Sure enough, at about 10:00 AM, a lovely family of five showed up and parked right next to me. I greeted the family, let them know where I was fishing, and asked them to please be careful while swimming. This family was very accommodating and thanked me for letting them know where my lines were. They spent the next two hours swimming and having a blast. They only ventured in front of my pole closest to them once, and their mother was quick to remind them to come back to where they were before. I appreciated it and thanked them.
Now, lets be real here for a moment. This is absolutely the most ideal ending that I could have hoped for. In reality, their swimming so close to my lines likely spooked all of the fish on that pole and they had no idea about it. The other people swimming 30 yards from my other end rod likely shut down swimming on that end too. Granted, I sent my other two rods out about 130 yards but nothing was biting at that range. So my fishing day was done. Do I blame the swimmers? I guess I could and what would that accomplish? I could have packed up my gear and moved 300 yards to the West where I would have had a huge chunk of real-estate and no swimmers to even worry about. I chose to stay.
So what are we to do when these situations become harassment? By that, I mean the stories you've read about where people are told to "get off my beach" when it is a public beach or have their lines pulled by swimmers to taunt them into doing something physical about it (yes, this happened). To better help me get to the bottom of this, I reached out to FWC. They put me in touch with Amanda Nally, Public Information Specialist for Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Division of Marine Fisheries Management. I honestly cannot thank you enough, Amanda, for taking the time to reply to my questions that I believe will help out in the future.
How does one report being harassed, and whom do they call?
"They should call the Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC or by cellphone they can be reached at #FWC or *FWC. Wildlife alert calls are directed through our dispatch centers. Depending on the seriousness of the situation, they can also call local law enforcement. "
This is the text of the law for Florida (this section might be worthy of a screenshot):
379.105 Harassment of hunters, trappers, or fishers.—
(1) A person may not intentionally, within or on any public lands or publicly or privately owned wildlife management and fish management areas, or in or on any public waters:
(a) Interfere with or attempt to prevent the lawful taking of fish, game, or nongame animals by another within or on such lands or areas, or in or on such waters.
(b) Attempt to disturb fish, game, or nongame animals or attempt to affect their behavior with the intent to prevent their lawful taking by another within or on such lands or areas, or in or on such waters.
(2) Any person who violates this section commits a Level Two violation under s. 379.401."
(b)1. A person who commits a Level Two violation but who has not been convicted of a Level Two or higher violation within the past 3 years commits a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.
What steps do you recommend to handle this situation?
"The first thing I would recommend is to try to avoid this situation all together with planning. So, for example, try to pick beaches that are not normally crowded or fish only during low-traffic times of the day or even low traffic times of the year. Avoid fishing near swimmers or popular swimming areas."
"But with that in mind, everyone should be able to enjoy the beach and recreate in the ways they enjoy the most. For some, that is fishing, but for others, that is swimming, sunbathing, surfing or paddle sports. The key is to try to give way to others where we can. But if someone does come up to you while you are fishing purely to harass, my suggestion is to try to handle it diplomatically and calmly. Move to another area if needed, or call FWC."
If a swimmer steps on my hook while swimming, what should I do?
"Help that swimmer seek medical attention if needed."
What should I do if someone is staying at a house/condo on a public beach and telling me I am trespassing on their property when I am fishing at the high water line?
"I would recommend the same diplomatic approach used in question 2. I would also recommend they contact the FWC or local LE [Law Enforcement] for assistance if necessary."
What does the FWC wish more anglers would be aware of while fishing from the surf with people wanting to swim?
"The information in the answer to question 2 I think is the most important information we'd want to share. We use this same language in our Shore-based Shark Fishing Educational Course, which is a great resource for anyone fishing from shore, whether they are targeting shark or not. You can find this course at MyFWC.com/SharkCourse"
We are all human and will react to an event that is happening to us. How we respond, though, is the key to the outcome. For example, if something were to happen on the beach between a beachgoer and an angler, the headline would read "Local Angler does" (depending on the severity, Florida Man/Woman) and not "two people at the beach get into a fight." It's the same thing I always told my Marines before going out for the weekend that the spin would always read "Marine" first before anything else in the headline. I feel the same would apply here.
Am I saying pack up and leave where you are fishing if a situation arises between you and a beachgoer? Absolutely not! I am saying exercise the best judgment you can and attempt to have a conversation knowing what the law states to educate the person confronting you. How the situation unfolds from there, only the beach will know.
Have you had this situation happen to you? Tell me about your experience and thoughts of it in the comments section here or on the thread you found this on. Thanks for coming by and reading today! If you'd like to request something to be investigated or written about, please send me an email to email@example.com, and I will get on it. Thanks again, now go forth and do good things!