When sharing a skiff, experienced anglers know that your responsibility does not end when you step off the deck. You may be taking a breather, but it’s not time to zone-out and ignore what’s going on.
Here are a few suggestion on how to be a good partner when fishing from a boat on the flats. Each of these suggestions reflects mistakes I've made in the past. Therefore, these are the things I try to do now with the goal of making myself a better fishing partner:
1.) Try to help your partner when you are not fishing. Watch his line, untangle any knots, make sure his leader doesn’t catch on a mangrove shoot or get hung up in the skiff. If your partner has a fish on, watch the line so that it plays out cleanly. Pay it forward… if for no other reason than it builds up good fish karma which you may want to redeem later.
2.) Pinch your barbs (or round them off as some anglers prefer for soft-mouthed species). Pinching your barbs isn’t only for the safety of the fish, it’s also for your partner ...and of course, your guide!
3.) Establish when you will switch off. Decide if it's every 20 minutes.. 30 minutes… after each hookup or fish? Whatever you mutually decide, stick with it. Don’t hog the deck and push the rules. If you have five fish and your partner none, bend the rules a bit and give him a chance to get off the snide.
4.) If you expect the guide to give you his total attention when it's your turn to be on the deck, afford your partner the same opportunity. If you are both fishing hard, don’t engage your guide (or your partner for that matter) in idle chit-chat when you aren’t on the deck. This will distract your guide and lessen his ability to concentrate. Let the guide find fish and focus on your partner’s success. If your partner wants to take a less hardcore approach, that’s fine... chat away. But give your partner the opportunity to choose which way he wants to fish.
5.) Center-up on the seat. If you are not in the center of the boat, it makes it harder for the guide to pole. If you want to stand and help search for fish, center-up then too. If it is very windy, ask the guide if it is OK to stand. It may be harder for him to pole in a stiff wind with you standing. If the guide is working harder to pole the boat, it may be more difficult for him to find fish.
6.) When you step off the casting deck, put your rod tip down and toward the rear of the boat. If you need to change your fly or tippet, do it, then put your rod away. By no means leave your rod sticking up. If your partner hooks it with a back cast when he is on a fish, that is on you.
7.) If you get out of the boat to take a photo or land a fish in the mangroves, make sure you clean both your feet and shoes before re-boarding. Most guides hate mud in their boat. If your guide is muttering to himself about your muddy footprints, he won’t be focusing on finding fish for your partner.
8.) Try to be quiet when you are not up. If you need a drink from the cooler or want to mess with you gear, do what you need to do when you first change from the deck, then try and be still. Don’t bang the cooler lid, dig in the ice or constantly be zipping and unzipping zippers. If fish can feel your fly line hitting the water or hull slap, they surely can you moving around in the boat. Notice how quietly the guide is poling. He is doing this for a reason.
9.) Try not to confuse the guide's instructions to your partner by adding your own. Yes, it’s exciting, but two sets of instructions may make it harder for your partner to decipher. If you know your partner is hard of hearing, make your relayed translation of the guide’s instructions short and sweet.
10.) Don’t complain or whine about the fish you didn’t see, lost or screwed up. Nothing will ruin a day faster than a fishing partner who complains the whole time. Try hard not to get frustrated when things aren’t going well. Keep a positive attitude. Having said that... if you miss a big fish or come unbuttoned, scream your head off, yell at the stars, shake your fist. Then get over it!. Sulking is not pleasant either.