I like gadgets as much as the next fisherman.
Over the years, I’ve sunk money into knot-tying tools, water-temperature thermometers, hook disgorgers — heck, I once even purchased a device used to pump a fish’s stomach to determine what the critter had been eating.
That said, I’m not likely to embrace a gadget some anglers have started to use: a remote-controlled fishing boat.
Somewhere along the line, some clever angler figured out that if he clipped a baited hook or a lure to a remote-controlled toy boat, he could send the boat out and use it to either drop the bait in a likely spot or to troll a lure until a fish strikes it.
Judging from the sheer number of remote-controlled boats being marketed for “remote- control fishing,” the tactic appears to work.
Some of the boats are clearly kids’ toys — small, bright-colored, inexpensive — that can be adapted to tow a fishing line.
Others appear to be more purpose-built and high-end, equipped with bait containers, line-release mechanisms or spring-loaded hook-setters.
On one hand, I can understand why some anglers would want to use them.
They could definitely help shore-bound anglers to fish large bodies of water. One fellow, who years ago had a reputation for catching really large flathead catfish from Burnsville Lake, got his bait to the middle of the lake by wrapping the line around his foot, rowing the bait out to mid-channel, dropping it there and returning to shore.
With a remote-controlled boat, he could have simply clipped the line to the miniature craft, steered it to mid-lake and dropped the bait. Easy-peasy.
In my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with using a remote-controlled boat to transport a baited hook far out into a body of water and leave it there. To me, it’s no different from using a kite, a balloon or even a slingshot to accomplish the same task.
I do have problems, however, with using remote-controlled boats to lure, hook or fight fish. Those scenarios turn the boat into the angler, and relegate the boat’s owner to a less active role.
This is especially true for boats equipped with GPS receivers, which can be programmed to steer the boat without input from an operator. It’s also true for boats powerful enough to tow a hooked fish to the shore.
Scenarios such as those are forcing some state natural-resource agencies to consider bans on the boats. Officials of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks are in the process of crafting just such a measure, mainly because people are using radio- controlled boats and drones to fish in areas otherwise off-limits to anglers.
West Virginia appears to be a bit ahead of the game. While there is no law or regulation on the books that prohibits remote-control fishing boats, Natural Resources Police officials believe state’s regulation against jug fishing would apply to boats that do anything more than tow a line out and drop it.
Jug fishing, if you’re not familiar with it, is the practice of hanging a baited hook on a line attached to the handle of a floating plastic milk jug. The practice was outlawed years ago in the Mountain State. The current regulation prohibits fishing with any “free floating device not attached to the angler.”
This raises a question: Could a boat being piloted remotely still be considered “attached” to someone, particularly if it’s trolling a lure still hooked to an angler’s fishing line?
A sharp defense lawyer might be able to convince a judge that it is. Before that happens, perhaps it’s time for West Virginia officials to draft a regulation that addresses the issue more specifically.