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Golden Rules for 'Spot-Lock' Sportsmanship

With GPS-enabled trolling motors able to "anchor" a boat, the right of way can be complicated.

Golden Rules for 'Spot-Lock' Sportsmanship

The boat in foreground is "anchored" using a GPS-guided, bow-mount trolling motor. Assume they’d like the same space you would in the same circumstances.

With the rising popularity of GPS-enabled trolling motors being used as a substitute for an anchor, a new dynamic joins the conversation about the proper etiquette surrounding the right of way or one’s expectations regarding temporary ownership of a spot. Since the ability to drop your trolling motor and engage the Spot-Lock requires much less of a physical investment than lowering an anchor and pulling it, you might visit many more spots using your trolling motor in a day which increases the likelihood of an eventual conflict of interest with other boaters.

Since there are no actual rules that can be reasonably enforced regarding the amount of space you should give to a boat at anchor it’s ultimately left to courtesy and common sense for you to decide who’s crossing the line. So, what is the expectation both of the first person to a spot as well as any subsequent arrivals on a public fishing spot? Simply put, it’s complicated.

I have a policy that works well for me. I try to avoid a conflict that’s going to suck the fun out of the room and spoil my own day as well as the day I’m trying to provide for my guests, so I’m less likely to argue most days. If there’s not enough room for multiple vessels to effectively fish an area, rather than waste valuable fishing time, I’ll initially try to have a civil conversation about the situation. If an offending vessel insists on squeezing in on me, I’ll move on. This conversation, however, very often reveals the offending party to be an inexperienced boater unaware that they’re doing something wrong. Turning a potential argument into a teachable moment is pretty common on my boats these days.

With that in mind, how should you handle an encounter with somebody at anchor as opposed to Spot-Locked with a trolling motor? There are a lot of variables to consider.

First, are you firmly planted in one spot with your trolling motor or creeping around an area? There’s an obvious difference. I treat a boat holding position with a trolling motor the same as an anchored boat. Regardless of the method used to hold position whether it’s a physical anchor, Spot-Lock, or stemming the tide with your main engine(s) as long as they were at the spot first, I give way to them.

Here’s the rationale behind this policy. This rule applies in a situation such as a known wreck site or reef location in the open water. If we both know a wreck but I beat you to it, until I decide to leave, I expect you to work around me. I’ll typically just move on to a different spot if I get there and find another boat anchored.

What if a person is trolling in circles over a wide area around a spot? Can someone expect everybody to yield the right of way if they decide to claim an entire area?

This is where it gets tricky. In a situation where an entire fleet of boats are trying to drift a large area such as Boca Grande Pass, it’s accepted practice to fall into line and take your turn drifting with everyone else. If you miss the fish with one drift you wait until the drift is complete and try again. Where you’ll run into some static here is if a guy starts marking the tarpon below him and tries to stop and sit on them with the trolling motor. This causes a traffic pile up and forces everyone else to adjust their drift around the offending boat. In this instance you shouldn’t be surprised if everyone wants to throw hands with you.

By contrast, if you are circling a wreck with your trolling motor in open water, an arriving boat yielding the space required to avoid someone running up on your lines is a reasonable expectation. If the area is too small for two boats to circle it together without a conflict or tangle, the late-arriving boat should move on. Consideration for others and situational awareness goes a long way on the water.

There is no doubt that trolling motors are an invaluable tool on a boat that requires location management these days. Common sense needs to be applied to each scenario on a case by case basis. One thing I can assure you of, once you have one you won’t want to go without one ever again. Just remember, the water belongs to everyone equally; how you choose to treat others out there is up to your good judgment.


  • This article was featured in the February 2024 issue of Florida Sportsman magazine. Subscribe here



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