A Bay For All Seasons
By Lefty Ray Chapa
Boaters, birders, kayakers, wade fishermen and airboat operators are involved in intricate overlapping interests of resource enjoyment and protection, social behavior and imagined rights-of-way along the Texas coast. Trying to get all involved to give a little so that everyone wins is a challenge.
Gordon and Jamie Spears are fifth-generation duck hunters and run a duck hunting operation during the winter months that relies on airboats to get their clients out to the blinds. For safety's sake, they would like to see kayakers with lights (already a nighttime requirement, but not always present) and/ or a tall bicycle flag (not a requirement) to denote their presence. Invariably they will encounter a kayaker paddling or wader fishing before sunrise.
"Giving a kayaker a wide berth is not a problem,” Gordon says. “It is the ones that we don’t see until the last second that are dangerous for both parties.” He adds, “Airboats have no reverse or brakes, so trying to prevent a last-minute collision is usually impossible.” He further adds, “We have even gone out of our way to avoid a kayaker— which costs us more fuel—rather than being labeled a bad guy on some Internet forum.”
Amancio Cantu has been kayak fishing the shallow water flats for over 15 years. He says boaters still do not know what to do when they encounter a kayak. He recalls an incident where a passing boater actually slowed down abruptly to pass him, unknowingly creating a bigger, bulging wake he had to overcome. Had the boat continued with just a little more separation, both could have shared the channel comfortably. He would like to see some sort of mandatory boater and kayaker education, especially for first time watercraft owners.
Todd Fleming is a first time boat owner, but prior to that he cut his teeth fishing the flats with a kayak. He now sees two sides of this issue. In the past he entered a cut with his kayak to access other areas beyond the entrance. Often other kayakers were fishing the mouth of the cut and he received several unmentionable outbursts and hand gestures for disturbing their fishing. “Some kayakers do not realize they are wrongly blocking a waterway path,” he says, and adds, “Now, doing the same thing with my new, bigger boat, their reaction is worse.”
Fleming also understands the need to not damage the seagrass. Seeing the grass from kayak level, he gets it: “No grass, no fish.” In selecting a boat, he wanted something specifically with a shallow draft and that was easy to pole over the grass. From his kayaking experience on the Spoonbill flats, Fleming has seen the prop scars up close and vows to avoid creating one with his boat, whether he is in the Redfish Bay State Scientific Area (where it is a finable violation) or other non-protected shallow flat.
“I wish everyone had the same view about the seagrass being that important,” he laments, “whether it is paddled over, walked on or boated over.” Wade gently, avoiding grass when possible; paddle or pole your boat over it. Wading fishermen contend their peaceful bubble is destroyed when an airboat pierces it by simply passing by. Fortunately, that noise only occurs for a few months of the year during the duck season in fall and early winter, but it is still annoying to many, especially when an airboat comes inconsiderately close. When leaving a fishing area, all fishermen should refrain from doing several circling “donut” maneuvers to get up on plane. The resulting prop scars from uprooting the Egret seagrass last a very long time.
Besides the grass, all of these groups need to be aware of approaching a bird rookery too closely during the late spring and summer nesting season. The points of an island or a sudden drop-off close to the edge of an island might be a good fishing spot, but wildlife groups recommend staying away at least 50 yards. Disturbing nesting birds endangers the survival of eggs and young birds. Sharing, caring and communicating would eliminate the damaged grass beds, the confrontations and the frayed feelings between all of those that have a stake.
On the water try to learn what your impact will be whether it is created by a boat wake, a paddle stroke or wading on the seabed in regard to other anglers or the environment. If the impact is adverse, adapt using a different method or tactic. Self correction and self policing is better than having your guilty actions recorded by a cell phone and instantly uploaded to a fishing website. Some view public chastisement by thousands of Internet views as a better punishment than a misdemeanor conviction witnessed only by a handful of people.
A better alternative would be for everyone involved to hold up to each other the universal “peace sign” of two fingers, rather than one.
Lefty Ray Chapa is an award-winning photographer/writer and a lecturer on Texas fly-fishing opportunities.