Outdoor Corner: To Wake or not to Wake

Lyle Johnson

I am 67 years old, and my family has owned property on the waterfront for more than those 67 years. Fishing (hunting, trapping, etc.) camps were the first buildings to occupy space along the banks of our waterways for many hundreds of years, I’m sure.

Those camps were used for sustenance purposes, as it allowed the users to stay in the location where the fish and game could be harvested for consumption or sale. Somewhere along the line somebody decided to “spend the weekend” at the camp just for the enjoyment of being in the outdoors.

Preston Heath is pictured with Attorney General Jeff Landry and the gators they harvested on a hunt with Dream Hunt Foundation and Dreams Come True.

That spurred the beginning of small recreational camps that families constructed just for the enjoyment. That’s what our family had for more than 50 years. The family eventually sold that camp, but that wasn’t the end of our river life. I bought a lot on the Diversion Canal, one of my brothers has a camp in Stephensville and my father-in-law had a camp on Belle River.

My grandfather built the fourth camp on Chinquapin Canal when I was 6 years old. My memory at that time was still developing, so I don’t know exactly when it started but one source of contention pretty much has always been boat traffic.

Chinquapin Canal was dug about the same time as the Diversion (maybe earlier) for flood relief. That created a shortcut to Blind River via the Amite River without going out to Lake Maurepas. That made it a very popular waterway for boat traffic early on.

The wakes made by fishermen or recreational boating caused lots of bank erosion that introduced bulkheads. That made the wake problem even worse as the waves just go back and forth for longer periods of time. The traffic eventually led to the creation of the first idle zone in that area back in the late 1960s or early '70s.

Back then, the traffic was limited to folks fishing, either recreationally or commercial. Motors that propelled those boats were 20 hp or less. With the popularity of boating in general and watersports on the rise, the numbers of boats increased along with the horsepower on the back of them.

Boating etiquette back then was for all traffic to come to an idle while passing a fisherman as to not disturb their fishing efforts. That was the norm as most folks passing another boat were fishermen that expected the same courtesy.

Two of my grandsons, Parker and Justus Johnson hold up their personal first fish they caught fishing with their dad, Wesley in a neighborhood pond.
Two of my grandsons, Parker and Justus Johnson hold up their personal first fish they caught fishing with their dad, Wesley in a neighborhood pond.

With boating just for the pleasure increasing those courtesies began to fall by the wayside for a multitude of reasons. Ignorance was one, but not the only one. Some felt the right to go fast without slowing down was their right and you can’t slow down while pulling a skier.

This led to hard feelings, some verbal altercations and even a few of them led to physical and criminal issues. This wasn’t limited to this local area as it became a problem anywhere there were waterways. Both sides had their views. The rivers were made to fish in so my rights are more important. The other held on to the thought pattern that waterways are public so I can do what I want.

As time went on folks not only built camps on the water but homes were added to the mix. In the beginning the Diversion Canal became a very popular location for waterfront homes. I would venture to say that homes now are in the majority on waterfront properties these days.

Fishermen have pretty much given up the waterways to recreational boating as far as boat wakes are concerned. Most boaters still slow down in our narrow bayous and canals. But in larger waters such as the Amite River , Blind River or the Diversion, you’re pretty much on your own.

So the contention has relocated from fishermen to property owners. Verbal arguments on social media waterway groups are a pretty regular occurrence these days. I belong to a few of them so I hear it all.

My experience is somewhat unique as it started out in the fishing group. Recreational boaters and water skiers were “trespassing” on our ability to fish in peace so to speak. Although I knew in my mind they had the same right to be there as I was, boat waves were and are very aggravating to an angler.

Now I own property and a home on the water. I still fish plenty and I enjoy watersports as an owner of two jet skis. But the issue of contention is still boat wakes. I resolved when I bought there that boats and wakes would be a part of our lives and I’m ok with that within limits.

One of the very common misconceptions is that the only place boaters have to be concerned about the wake they produce is in an Idle Zone. Most boaters and even law enforcement are woefully ignorant of this. The U.S. Coast Guard is not.

One of the biggest times the arguments are really heated is when the water is high and local officials close the waterways. Some property owners voice their concerns when boats are operated during this time while boaters claim the rivers should never be closed.

No matter which side of the coin you fall on, one thing should bring caution to the conversation. A boat operator is responsible for the wake their craft produces even outside of a No Wake Zone, especially if it causes death or injury to people in another watercraft.

A little common sense and a large dose of courtesy is usually the answer to plenty of the issues we face in life, even this one. But those things are unfortunately in short supply these days. So until next time, remember to keep the slack out and set the hook hard. Have fun in the outdoors, be safe in the outdoors and may God truly bless you!