How-To: Bad Habits to Avoid

Learn to avoid these bad habits to become a better mate.

May 23, 2016
Loose loops of line on a reel backlash
Never reach into a backlashed reel or try to pick out loose loops while trolling. Loops should be pulled out from the rod tip. © Scott Kerrigan /

Loose Loops Sink Mates

Backlashes happen. The more you fish, the more you will see, so learning how to deal with them is going to result in more caught fish and fewer injuries to your fingers. Keeping the spool free of loose loops helps keep backlashes to a minimum; however, freeing up those loops in the wrong way can result in a lost fish or worse, a severe injury.

I see far too many mates trying to pull loose line directly off the reel while we are trolling. That is a big no-no. Always pull the line from the rod tip and make sure it lies down in a safe manner away from your feet or anything else the line can get caught on or overboard. You never know when you are going to get a bite, and with heavy line coming tight very fast, it might catch on something or someone. I once saw a mate almost lose a digit when a stray loop of 80-pound line came tight around his finger. Luckily, he only needed a lot of stitches and not a new finger.

Safety Belt

I started using younger, less experienced mates over the last year. Some of the mates have had a year or two on the water under captains as a first or second mate, but I am seeing some bad habits that should have been taken care of in their first year. One of these is a safety belt—all deckhands should wear a belt around their waists while fishing.

deckhand wearing pliers and release knife
All mates should wear a tool belt complete with pliers, a bait knife and an emergency release knife. © Scott Kerrigan /

The belt should hold a number of important tools, such as pliers, a bait needle, a bait knife and the all-important safety knife. I don’t know why, but it seems like all the new mates want to leave these tools on the rocket launcher and spend half the day running back and forth from transom to chair or stopping to ask for someone to hand them a tool. This is unacceptable. If you get in a situation where you are pulled over, either by a fish or a dock line, having the right tool could save your life, so wear your tool belt.

Proper Step Box Setup

This one might seem petty, but it has hurt many people and it’s the first thing you should have learned as a boat washer, let alone as a mate. It surprises me how many mates don’t know this basic tip. It’s your step box; always have the lid open up outboard.

Proper step box setup
While it may seem like a little thing, putting the step box down as shown with the lid opening inboard can cause a person who steps on the outer edge to trip and fall. Dave Ferrell

If the lid to the box opens inboard, as a person steps too far inboard on the lid, it can lift, and the angle of the lifted lid lets the foot slip, sending the person downward. Usually, the person’s backside hits the covering board at a high rate of speed. Not a good feeling because someone did not know how to set up a simple step box, so take care, the person you save could be you.


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