Gateway to fun or frustration? It’s up to you

Boat ramps should be gateways to a wonderful time and memorable experiences on the water. But the actions of others, either through inexperience, ignorance, arrogance or sometimes outright illegality, can diminish or even ruin the day.

Happily, it’s pretty rare to have a day ruined by what happens at a boat ramp or even on the water. But it’s equally rare to find a Texas boater who, filled with anticipation for what the day could bring or happy at the end of one, hasn’t rolled up to a launch site only to have that positive vibe shattered by the actions of others.

With the Fourth of July holiday approaching, and with it one of the biggest boating weeks of the year, boaters should prepare for and maybe figure a way to address some of the things they are likely to encounter.

Boat ramps, like any other public place, see the same full, wide range of human behavior. Most often those behaviors are positive, encouraging, amusing and even endearing, confirming that sharing a common connection to waterways and the life in that water means sharing common behaviors that reflect respect for both fish and fishers.

But then there’s the behaviors that are anything but respectful. Most are just annoying. Some are frustrating, angering and, frankly, incomprehensible.

The annoying behaviors manifest themselves most often on crowded weekends when ramps on Texas reservoirs, rivers and bays are busiest and many of the boaters are inexperienced.

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Dreaded ramp hogs

Most experienced boaters are happy to overlook inexperienced boaters’ poor trailer backing skills that add a couple of minutes or more to boat launching or retrieving times. All of us once were just as inexperienced.

What we can’t easily overlook are boaters who back their trailers down a ramp to launch or retrieve their vessels, then spend 10 minutes transferring gear — rods, tackle, ice chests, etc. — from vehicle to boat or boat to vehicle and prepping the boat by removing tie-down straps, messing with the drain plug, connecting and priming fuel lines, and generally doing what should have been done in the launching area’s parking lot before even approaching the ramp.

There’s no good way for waiting boaters to handle this situation. Any attempt, no matter how deferential and friendly, to educate the ramp hogs of their transgressions and how to prevent them is likely to be met with harsh stares. At best.

The only non-confrontational option for dealing with laggardly launchers is patience.

There is no such option for another thankfully less common but certainly not uncommon situation at launch sites. At least a half-dozen times in the past year, I’ve arrived at a launch site at the start or end of a day only to find bank-fishers on the ramp’s docks, their fishing lines crisscrossing the launch and/or the water around it. In one instance, the bank-fishers had parked their vehicle so it blocked the ramp preventing access or egress.

Why people think fishing around a boat ramp, their lines blocking in the path boaters are forced to use to launch of retrieve their vessels, is a good idea, I can’t say. I’ve tactfully asked a few. Most of their responses, if any, were not printable and didn’t address the question. Again, patience is a virtue. They’ll eventually crank in their lines when it becomes clear they are about to be shredded by a boat’s propeller.

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Too much music, litter

Patience doesn’t work with another increasingly common situation anglers face at ramps and, especially, on the water. Music. Loud music. It seems increasing numbers of boats, including a surprising percentage of center-console fishing boats, are equipped with considerable sound systems. And some of their owners are prone to use them at high volume.

Look, I love music as much as the next person — probably more. But there’s a time and place for everything. Fishing is not that time, and the bay, lake or river is not the place. Sound travels incredibly well over water. It may come as a shock to some of the song blasters that occupants of all the boats strung out along the South Galveston Jetty or drift-fishing a couple of square miles of scattered reefs in East Galveston Bay don’t share your desire to hear broadcast music while they’re fishing. We’d much rather hear the natural music of the place. If you’re listening to loud recorded music while fishing, you’re missing the point of fishing. And you’re damaging others’ enjoyment.

Boat ramps are, in my admittedly anecdotal experience, also seeing an increase in another example of bad behavior — in this case, one that’s illegal as well as disturbing.

Litter — cans and bottles, bags and food containers, dirty diapers and all manner of refuse — long has been a problem at boat ramps. And that’s bad enough. But some ramp users have taken to using the ramps, water around them and even the parking areas as dumping grounds for fish carcasses.

Most of the carcasses are of fish filleted then simply tossed into the water where they float and wash onto the ramps or surrounding shore. It creates a foul mess, of course. But also backing a trailer over the carcasses to launch a boat can result in a fish fin puncturing a tire. I once watched a fellow at a bayfront launch changing a tire he said had been punctured by the icepick-like dorsal fins of a sheepshead carcass that had washed up on the ramp.

And it’s not just fish carcasses. A couple of months ago, when we pulled up to a launch on the Intracoastal Waterway near Sargent, the ramp was blocked by the floating, fetid, randomly butchered carcass and whole hide of a cow.

Another situation, this one with real legal consequences and potential ramifications for a whole group of anglers, also occasionally crops up at boat ramps, mostly during summer and mostly on rivers and a handful of reservoirs. This one involves “rough fish” killed by bowfishers.

Bowfishing for non-game fish and non-native species is perfectly legal in Texas, and can be a wonderful, challenging outdoor activity if pursued ethically and legally. Removing exotic species such as grass carp, armored catfish and tilapia can be helpful to a fishery.

But properly using and disposing of arrowed fish, many of which are rightly or wrongly considered less than desirable on the table, seems beyond some bowfishers, despite Texas regulations prohibiting “leaving edible fish or bait taken from public waters of the state to die without the intent to retain the fish for consumption or bait.”

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Bowfishers take note

There are cases of bow-killed fish being dumped in trash containers at boat ramps and, in some egregious instances left on boat ramps or in the parking areas of the ramps. Such instances are not common, but they are not rare, either. Over the past year or so, I’ve seen three instances where bow-killed fish — alligator and longnose gar, smallmouth buffalo, common and grass carp, tilapia, bowfin — were left in boat ramp parking lots. In one instance, about two dozen fish were purposely lined up and placed on the approach to a ramp, where boaters planning to launch would be forced to move the rotting fish or back over them.

The people who do this are not representative of most bowfishers. But their actions do bowfishers, already under fire from some quarters concerning their targeting of alligator gar, a disservice that could well see their recreation face increased regulation.

Admittedly, I’ve become something of a curmudgeon concerning behavior of anglers and boaters at boat ramps. Blame a lot of that on advancing age and the “you kids get of my lawn” attitude that seems to come with it. But most of it comes from wanting everyone who accesses Texas’ lakes and bays and rivers to have the best possible experience.

Patience, respect for the resources and for other Texans and simply following the law would go a long way toward making boat ramps much more pleasant places and the portals to wonderful experiences they deserve to be.