On the lake where I spend many of my fishing hours there's a sunken island that draws walleyes from spring until about mid-summer. It isn't a secret spot. From opening day until some time in July there's seldom a night when somebody isn't there. It's that lake's "community hole."
On a recent evening I pulled up to the spot after four other boats already were there. After noting their positions, I picked an opening and prepared to anchor. I didn't notice that one of the other boats wasn't anchored but was backtrolling. I was 20 yards away and about to anchor in its path.
This happens all the time at the community hole. One minute you're alone and can effectively backtroll, the next minute a half-dozen other boats arrive and you either must pick a spot, drop anchor and hope you've guessed right or, if you want to continue backtrolling, weave between the other boats and hope for the best. That's protocol at the community hole.
The fellow in the other boat saw it differently, however. As I was about to anchor he called out, "I hope you're not planning to anchor there?"
"Yes, I am," I called back.
"Can't you see I'm working this area?" he said. "You're right in the way."
Must be a newcomer, I thought. I pulled ahead a few yards -- onto the top of the sunken island -- and anchored there.
But I didn't surrender the breakline to the backtroller. I tied on a jig and minnow and after he made a pass I tossed it into his wake. Bam! A 19-inch walleye was on the line. The backtroller made another pass. Nothing. I tossed my jig and minnow in his wake again. Bam! A 21-incher was on the line.
It was apparent my jig and minnow was more effective than whatever the backtroller was using. I've seen this many times on that spot. One night the guy with the slip bobber catches the fish, another night the guy pitching jigs catches the fish, and still other nights the backtroller weaving between the bobber guy and the jigger has the luck. That's life at the community hole.
But on this occasion the backtroller wouldn't go quietly into the night. After he made several more fishless passes and I had landed another smaller walleye, he reeled up and gunned his boat just a few yards past mine at full throttle.
Nothing like a pleasant evening at the community hole.
Later, after the other boats had headed for shore and I was left alone, I thought about what had transpired. Who was right and who was wrong? I had conceded my original choice of spot to the backtroller, but effectively fished it anyway. Was his anger justified?
I relayed an account of the incident to Jim Kalkofen at In-Fisherman. As director of the Professional Walleye Trail, Kalkofen has dealt with many questions of ethics over the years.
"The first thing you should have done was get his boat number and turn it into the warden," Kalkofen said. "I guarantee you he'll get a ticket. That type of boating behavior is uncalled for."
But other ethical questions are involved here. What was proper protocol for this particular situation?
"If you see somebody trolling you shouldn't pull up just ahead of him and start trolling yourself," Kalkofen said. "Nor should you anchor right next to somebody."
So perhaps my actions were borderline unethical? No, I didn't start trolling ahead of the backtroller, but I did fish the water he was fishing. If he had anchored I certainly wouldn't have tossed a jig and minnow right next to his boat. But since he was trolling and I was anchored I figured it was all right to fish the water he had vacated.
"Why didn't you just leave and find another place to fish?" Kalkofen asked. "If the fish are biting in one spot they're probably biting somewhere else, too. Over the years I've found some of my best spots because where I wanted to fish was taken.
"At a tournament if somebody is on a good bite in a particular spot we expect everybody else to leave it to him. That's the professional thing to do."
So maybe I should have moved on that night. On the other hand, I thought I was observing the accepted protocol for that spot. Many times I've been the backtroller who was cut off by the boat anchoring. I've also had guys pull up to that spot after I already was anchored there and proceed to backtroll so close to my boat that I could reach over and grab a beverage from their cooler.
In retrospect, I could have tried for bass that night, or hit a crappie spot I know was hot at the time. But my fixation with walleyes for the first half of the fishing season leads me to pursue them even when the going gets crowded.
The right attitude when fishing makes all the difference.
"We have to be gentlemen when we're on the water," Kalkofen said. "I always tell young people, 'Out here on the lake we're in God's outdoors and we must treat it as reverently as if we're in church."
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