Opinion: Our waterways are for everyone to share, protect and enjoy


At first, the old man seemed intrigued by the giggles and high-fives as I helped two eight-year-olds, my son Charlie and his friend Iva, reel in their catches. But as we continued fishing from my boat in view of the onlooker’s waterfront home, his body language became aggressive, and was soon matched by his foul mouth. Foot-stomping down to his dock, the man grew even more hostile, escalating from throwing out vulgarities to throwing out a dangerous object. I swiftly got the kids out of harm’s way when he grabbed a pre-rigged rod and fired a heavy, treble-hooked stickbait directly at our boat.

Harassment of any kind should never be tolerated, and that includes the harassment of anglers (and hunters, for that matter). And when necessary, it should involve the police. In my home province of Ontario, in fact, harassment of anglers or hunters can lead to charges under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, which states it’s illegal to interfere with anyone who is engaged in lawful hunting, trapping or fishing activities.


The “mean old man” incident, as my son still describes it eight years later, is now water under the fishing boat as far as we are concerned. It was the first, and hopefully last, ugly encounter we’ve ever had in terms of sharing the great outdoors with others. For the most part, our experiences along cottage shorelines, at public boat launches, on portages and so on have been patient, kind and cooperative. We’re all trying to enjoy the outdoors safely and responsibly, after all, and that’s a message everyone needs to understand.


My family fishes, swims, boats, paddles, camps and even duck hunts hundreds of days of the year on dozens of public lakes and rivers, many of which have seen a monumental increase in recreational activities and shoreline development. And the COVID-19 pandemic added even more pressure and congestion along our waterways.


As demand for the lake lifestyle continues, so, too, must common sense and basic courtesies that promote respect for the environment, as well as for others who also find recreational and mental health benefits on the water. It involves learning how and when to give a wide berth to waterway activities beyond our own. The lake is for everyone.

Responsible angling is the key

There’s simply no time, or value, in being divisive. Fishing organizations, lake associations, local governments and concerned waterways residents should instead work together on tackling issues such as invasive species, pollution, blue-green algae blooms and even public access. On that latter point, let’s address the need for reasonable truck and trailer parking around improved public boat launches that, by the way, shouldn’t burden regular families with outrageous fees.


Throughout my fishing life, I’ve enjoyed making connections with waterfront property owners, many of whom actively volunteer in lake stewardship initiatives, such as water-quality monitoring, loon-nesting counts, fish habitat restoration and community fish hatcheries. Cottagers and year-round waterfront residents are also on the frontline of protecting lakes and rivers by keeping their private shorelines naturalized to prevent run-off and erosion. And many waterfront properties support critical habitat for species at risk, which is another reason all anglers and boaters need to help keep their wakes down.


Frankly, I empathize with waterfront residents. Sure, they don’t own the navigable waters beyond their shorelines, but they work hard to pay their property taxes, and they’re doing their part to protect the healthy waters we all need. I can appreciate their interest in the fishing activities taking place on the lake, often right in front of their homes or cottages. If a vehicle were to turn around in my driveway and idle nearby on the public road, for example, I’d pay attention until I knew my family and property were safe.

Good conversation prevents nasty confrontation. As anglers, we can take pride in our fishing pastimes, which bring strong economic benefits and conservation awareness to many waterfront communities. At the same time, we have a role in promoting landowner relations and bridging the communications gap between those who love to fish and those who have other outdoor passions.

Whether it’s enjoying the lake from a Muskoka chair or from a casting deck, when it comes to looking after our precious waterways and watching out for the safety of each other, we are all in the same boat.