It probably goes without saying that I spend a lot of time fishing from a jet ski. It also goes without saying that I was also a rookie just a few years ago, and I have had to learn by trial and error.
The learning curve can be slow, and can be fraught with lessons, both good and bad. You’ll know what I mean when you lose your favourite fishing rod over the side, or perhaps you run aground and nearly go over the handlebars, or you accidentally hit the pontoon at the ramp and scratch up your new craft. Don’t feel too embarrassed. I’ve done all of those myself!
I don’t like to travel in a large group of jet skis. I’d prefer to stick with 3 or less people in a group. I guess the reason is that before I became a jet ski fisho, I use to think of jet ski riders as a bunch of rev-heads on water bikes. This image came from my early years spent surfing, fishing with other boaties, and while owning a boat myself for a while.
When jet skis started showing up at my favourite surfing locations during the 80’s, all we saw were idiots ripping up the waves, disturbing the swell, and making a hell of a lot of noise. We use to yell at jetski riders to “go away”. Well, maybe slightly stronger language was used as you can imagine by testosterone-fueled teenagers!
Jet skis are a very fast and maneuverable craft. But the rider behaviour of a minority of new watercraft captains seems to have messed it up for many that followed. Rules were introduced to cater for the bad minority, but more importantly to save lives. Even today, the image of the jet ski rider has not improved that much amongst the general water users.
There are now many waterways in Australia -and across the planet - where you cannot legally ride a jet ski. There are places where boats are welcome -but not jet skis! Think Sydney Harbour, parts of the Noosa River, and several other areas around our country.
The bad behaviour of minority of early jet ski users ruined it for all that followed. There are still others out there today doing further damage, generally because of an obsession for speed on the water, but equally so the inability to follow the legislated rules.
I turned to jet skis purely for fishing. It made a lot of sense for the type of fishing I wanted to do, the practicalities for storage, and ultimately the budget. I didn’t choose a jet ski for touring or tow sports. I’ve never towed someone behind a ski. I was also acutely aware from the beginning that I need to be extra careful around other water users due to the bad name that people that rode jet skis have given us all.
When you go fishing on a jet ski, breaking rules- either accidentally or on purpose- will likely feed that bad image of the jet ski rider and their craft. I figured it was time that someone makes a list of rules that we -as the new breed of fishos who happen to ride jet skis- should strive to follow. This is also could be a list of “good fishing etiquette” that newbies may not know -but should! Ultimately, we need to ensure that we are all ambassadors to this fantastic and healthy pastime, and maybe in some small way we can each improve the image of jet ski rider in general.
I’ve put together a short list of the basics. Take a read, have a think about them. I have added examples of where I have messed up -or others have done it to me - so I can honestly vouch that these many of these things do happen!
Leaving the Ramp
- Prepare your ski and gear before you back down the ramp. This is simply so that you get your ski off the trailer as quick as possible and not hold up others. This is not the time to be loading the fishing gear on the ski and strapping it down. The aim should be to take as little time as possible with the car and trailer on the ramp itself.
- Keep to the speed limits when approaching or leaving the ramp. Generally there will be “no-wake” zones with 6 knot limits around public ramps. This is for safety, for the comfort of others, and to minimise the risk of damage to other boats by the wake/wash.
- Slow down - go completely off the plane- in confined channels, around small boats, kayaks, paddle boards- and especially swimmers! Jet skis create a lot of wake for their size, and monohull boats and yachts will feel your wake if you are anywhere near them. So, if traveling through confined moorings or narrow channels, and especially before sunrise (people sleep in boats), please keep off the plane as much as possible. Simply use “no wake” modes on your ski if you have them, slow down and enjoy the scenery until you are well clear of other vessels or people.
- Follow all navigation and legal rules. The one rule I see broken most often is not passing on the correct side of oncoming craft. It’s quite easy - just remember to turn to starboard when approaching other craft head-on.
- Make sure your ski is legal and you have all of the legislated safety kit. Check and re-check your kit each time you go out.
- Do yourself a big favour and revise the navigation beacon rules so that you know which side to pass them in a channel. This might stop you running aground! That can be an expensive- or even fatal- mistake. Getting stuck on a sandbar with an outgoing tide can end your day of fishing very quickly too!
- It’s a good idea to look at a navigation apps before you go out on unfamiliar waterways. Check out the channels and any hazards, and work out your best course. Get Navionics on your phone, or if you have a Garmin sounder, the Active Captain app can be very helpful for planning that next trip.
- Be friendly to others- wave hello, have a chat, ask what they caught, etc. Fishermen love talking about fishing!
On the water
- Stand-off rules: keep at least 60M from any other watercraft, person or object when on the plane. Check your local legal distances. This is the law. 6 knots or less when close to people.
- If I am traveling to a spot and I am on a course heading that I see may intersect with other craft anchored, drifting, or obviously fishing, I will veer off and try to keep at least 100m from them. It’s a big sea, so a couple more seconds to give them room takes no effort. That way your noise and wake will not affect them. Don’t ride past closely to see what they’re doing! If you’re really that curious, stop 100m away and watch. Bring your binoculars if you must!
- Leave the ego at home. Just because your ski can do 100km/hr doesn’t mean you should. You’re fishing, not racing. If you want to do donuts, or go fast to prove your ski is 5KM/hr faster than your mate’s ski, do it well away from any other watercraft users, the shoreline, and in fact out of sight of others please. Oh, and do us all a favour and take your fishing rods off the ski first!
- Be extra careful riding around shallower reef or wrecks. Aside from the obvious dangers, often there may be spear fishermen in the water. They can be quite a distance from their boat/kayak/ski, or they may have even swum from the shore. I have had two near misses when a spearo surfaced suddenly in front of me. Luckily I saw them with enough time to take evasive action. In one case, the person was even towing a divers buoy with visibility flag to show their location, however the small 50cm high flag was not very visible until the very last moment because of a moderate swell running. His buoy was also many metres behind where he actually surfaced due to the currents in that location. So, I would strongly recommend keeping a very wide course when riding past such locations. If you are riding past any shallow (<20m deep) reef or rocky area and the shore, slow down, and if you see a diver’s buoy/flag/boat, go off the plane until you are well clear.
At the fishing marks
- When approaching your fishing marks, and especially where there are already other craft fishing, go off the plane at least 100 metres away and move in slowly, preferably at idle speeds. This is really important if approaching as a group. Groups of jet skis on the plane look like the Spanish Armada is approaching! The others there will appreciate your courtesy.
- Don’t go too close to others already fishing. Give them plenty of space. They were there first. Yes, I know they don’t own the water, but put yourself in their shoes. Would you like it if a boat came over the horizon to your spot and ended up sitting 5 m away when there were no other boats within sight? The sea is big, and fish do not generally all congregate in just one spot. Have a fishing plan with alternate marks in case your favourite is taken.
- Again, stay off the plane when within 60m of any craft fishing, even if repositioning for a new drift. The noise and wake is a serious downer for others. Plus, I repeat , that it is the law for PWCs in many states.
- Keep engine noise down generally. Jet skis are noisier above water than below, and probably upset other fishos more than the fish! But there is no need to antagonize others by high revving the ski when moving around other fishing craft. Fish are also sensitive to any noise and vibrations, so don’t make it any harder to catch them.
- If the fishing location you choose is a very small area (wreck, FAD, small reef, etc) be prepared to share. If it’s a FAD, you may need to take your turn to troll past or get in closer. Did you know that the bigger fish are likely to be further away from the FAD anyway? Better yet, try another spot and come back later if there appears to be too many people at the location.
- If fishing a “bust-up”, where bait has been rounded up and pushed to the surface by pelagic fish, never drive directly over the active school on the surface, and don’t ever approach from the rear of the school’s direction of travel. Both will make you unpopular with other fishos! The engine noise will cause the fish to sound, and they may leave the area completely. The fish will normally be feeding into the wind, and the birds will also be flying into the wind so they can hover over the bait school. Ride well around the bust-ups and the birds to the side, and then get well upwind. Allow the school to come to you, or move slowly in towards it. You’ll also find you can cast further with the wind behind you!
- If there is another boat or jet ski fishing the bust-ups, wait your turn or move to another area. You might just need to wait a minute or two for the other boat to “hook up”, after which time you can then move in and take your turn.
- Keep an eye behind you if drift fishing. It’s quite possible to drift into an anchored boat! I know- I once came close to hitting a very expensive boat myself. I was sitting facing into the wind with the ski facing sideways to the current, and did not realise the drift was so strong. The last time I saw this boat it would have been 200 m away. I only realised the near miss as I passed within 3m! I had to apologise to the people who were onboard. I had to start the engine to clear their lines. Very embarrassing, and almost a direct hit!
- Watch what other craft are doing before going near them. Are there any divers out? Are they actually moving and maybe trolling? If so, where are their lines? Do not cut across their stern. If you must, leave at least 100m as they may be trolling lures or bait quite a distance behind. I once was very surprised to see some large skirted lures going past me within 2m of my bow when I passed behind a boat. In this case the large fishing boat would have been around 150m away! Yikes!
- In a similar vein, NEVER drive up directly behind (or even slightly off to the side) of a another craft that is trolling. Your engine noise will likely affect their chance of a hook up, so you might get some verbal abuse! You may also end up hooking up their lure(s), and worse still you could get their line in your intake grate! Just keep away from other craft…it’s quite simple. Twice I have had boats come up from behind me while I was slow trolling live baits. Both ended up cutting my line that was out back at around 50-70m. With one of these boats, I am pretty sure at least 50m of 50lb braid plus the wire mackerel rig ended up wrapped around their prop!
- If approaching another craft to have a chat to the captain, when you get close (within 60 m) go off the plane and check out what lines they have in the water. Again, you could end up snagging one or more of their lines- or worse still an anchor line- if not careful. There are so many places on the rear of ski that are magnets for fishing lines - the rear step, your sounder’s transducer, and other ski fittings, not to mention the vacuum like effect of the intake gate on your ski. Try to approach down-current of the other craft. That will be the safest side to approach.
At the end of the day, jet ski fishos may still suffer from the stigma caused by a history of a minority doing the wrong thing. It will take a lot of good jet ski captains to change the attitude of others. But by thinking about the above simple rules when out fishing, you may find people far more accepting and friendly!
So, strive to get an “A” for “ Ambassador”, not “A-hole”!
If you agree, disagree, or have more tips, please comment! I can’t have thought of them all!