Let an empty boat ramp be your goal - not your fear. Photo from the Oregon Fly Fishing Blog - a great read.
In the first two posts on this topic (one, two), I've hit two "secrets" of the successful public land user - know what public land exists, and don't be afraid to go deep to have a high quality experience. But the next (perhaps, last?) part of the equation is the most common sense and somehow still the most elusive to actually master.
Time. If you access public land or water at the same time everyone else does, your odds of having a successful outing will be drastically reduced. When do most people get out and enjoy public land? Reams of wildlife management literature have been dedicated to the topic, and generally speaking, people get out when work and family constraints will allow them. One universal common time for crowding is Saturdays.
I hope I'm not breaking your heart here, but I might as well say it. If you want to have a high quality outing on public land, you need to stay home with your loved ones on saturday and fire up that weed eater. Depending on your area's general religious persuasion (and hence, blue laws), Sunday may or may not be significantly less crowded in your neck of the woods.
Note: if your personal situation lends itself to a "weekend warrior" requirement, you probably need to go in a different direction than my posts are sending you. Specifically, you either need to buy/lease some private access so you can enjoy your weekend, or you need an extreme attitude self-adjustment (something I am utterly incapable of) so that you don't have an emotional meltdown when your saturday afternoon boat trip is...umm....not aided.... by 10 guys from the local bass "tournament" swamping your boat every 15 minutes as they zoom up and down the river.
But let's just say you have a flexible schedule (more or less), 7 days a week. I didn't say "dream schedule" so I am thinking more of those of us who can pick and choose our days off, a few weeks ahead of time (although if you're like me, your schedule eventually gets locked down and you have no flexibility when "the day comes"....groan). Let's take a look at when other people will be using the public resource, so you know when to steer clear:
Any opening or closing saturday - 50% of all hunting occurs on saturdays!
Any 2-day season
Holidays and the day before holidays
Opening day / opening week (40% of all fishing, 25% of license purchases)
Saturday mornings, sunday evenings
First 60 days of season (gradually declining throughout)
Warm weekend days in the fall
Surfing / Kayaking
Weekends when gloves and hood are not required
Days when easily predictable large swells/flows will max out
Warm days when park fees are not collected (off-season)
Given those things, I bet you can chart some possible "days off" on your work calendars. Obviously, you don't know what the conditions will be. While it causes me great anxiety, it's exciting to know that I have a tuesday off, and my options include wood duck hunting, bow hunting, bass fishing, trout fishing, and kayaking. On almost all occasions, the weather conditions will be perfect for one of those activities. Although, I've written before about missing the mark! Here, recently, is where I hit it.
The bottom line is that - at least on the coasts, and within 90 miles of big population centers elsewhere in the USA - it is becoming impossible to expect public land, beach, or water to produce high quality memories if one doesn't widen their options of public access, go as deep as possible on the site, as far from other users as possible, and make a real effort to do some "Tuesday Morning Fishing or Monday Goose Hunting." Figure it out, know the laws, do some scouting, and then GO!!!
I hope each one of you has a day this fall or winter when you first think, "I just can't believe that no one else knows about this place!" Then you'll remember portaging the canoe, belly-crawling through briars, and the 3 mile paddle with 4 dozen decoys in your lap. Your next thought will be more accurate, "I don't believe I'm the only one who's not too lazy to search, scout, take a day off work, and paddle/hike my butt off for this great hunting/fishing spot." And then, as you collect your birds, fish, or photos from the day, maybe you'll actually be proud of what you accomplished.