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Posted by on Aug 6, 2014 in Fishing, Sailboat Racing, Sailing | 0 comments

Fish vs. Sail: Sharing the Water in Flyover Country

Sharing the water of Iowa's Lake Okoboji is even harder than sharing a larger bay or ocean.

It was only the first day of our regatta, the US Snipe Nationals, but already the organizers were frustrated. The predicted perfect breeze for racing (10-15 knots) hadn’t materialized, and the 5-8 knots that had showed up was shifting farther east than expected.

In order to set a longer course away from the tree-lined shore, they asked us all to sail to the northwest. So the entire fleet of Snipes headed toward the new location. Where we found one lone bass boat, with two fishermen casting. (I wish I had a picture, but I was busy sailing.)

Snipes meet fishermen on Lake Okoboji

Snipes tend to travel in flocks, which make them a major fishing obstacle. Photo: Roberto Guaragna

Now Snipes are only 15 feet long, but a flock of 33 of them makes for a big obstacle. So when the race committee dropped anchor only 100 yards upwind of those two poor fishermen, I wanted to call Lenny Rudow. Because before he started working with me, all Lenny knew about sailboat racers was that they liked to set up a course right on top of him, whenever he found a hot fishing spot.

“I’ll be out there, minding my own business and catching fish,” he told me a few years ago. “And all of a sudden I’m surrounded by sailboats. And they expect me to move!”

Well, Lenny, it happens in flyover country, too.

We all crave water access, and this lake (the only significant body of water within several hundred miles) provides summer fun across a range of watersports for anyone lucky enough to spend a vacation here: fishing, sailing, water-skiing, kayaking, paddleboarding. With no established lane lines or stoplights, it’s hard to know where one sport’s boundaries end and another’s begin.

Sharing the water is even more important on lakes, where the acreage is limited to a few square miles. Obviously this lovely piece of clear, drinkable water was as desirable to those displaced fishermen as it was to us sailors—though the fishermen probably weren’t wishing for more wind like we were.

There were no angry words or gestures from that bass boat as they motored away to a different spot, though I did see the guy standing on the bow shake his head—a clear if silent expression of “Here? Really?” Okoboji Yacht Club runs a lot of regattas, so like Lenny, this guy had probably seen it all before. Hopefully someone will take the time to explain to him why we moved, so he doesn’t think it was just to interfere with his perfect day of fishing.

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