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Stream Etiquette: Respect Your Fellow Angler

Over the past couple winter months, I have been fortunate to be out on the water a substantial amount.  This winter has been abnormally cold by southeastern winter standards. I have hit the water some mornings with a couple inches of snow on the ground and no other anglers in site.  I love it!  For me, fly fishing is truly about these solo trips to recharge and enjoy the beauties of nature all to myself. 

A couple hours into one morning, though, the streams are blown up by a handful of anglers.  It’s just enough to make it tricky to navigate.  I tell myself, “woosa. Big rivers; lots of water; plenty of fish”.  In no time at all, a pair of fishermen are working their way down the river keeping a close eye on my every move.  I can see them licking their chops at the run I am fishing.  I go to make a cast upstream and see two indicators dragging into my pool; no chance at all to catch a fish.  These guys are just testing the waters to see what they can get away with.  I glance up at them and they are giving me the same look my dog gives when there is a cup of queso dip on the coffee table.  She knows it’s off limits, but “o’, it’s so good”.  

Unfortunately, I can’t go a full day on the water without running into an angler with poor etiquette.  Both fly and conventional fishers.  In most scenarios I believe it’s naivety. People just don’t know or understand.  So let’s dive into this topic here. No judgement, just discussion.

How close is too close?

Let’s start by saying that if you are asking this question, you are most likely too close.  Unlike conventional anglers, we fly anglers need a little more space to get jiggy with it.  But to answer the question, it really depends on the size of stream you are fishing and how many people are out that day.  On a busy Saturday afternoon, it may be more acceptable to fish 25 yards upstream of an angler than on a Tuesday morning when no one else is out.  It is important to be communicative with the people around you.  Before you throw your flies in, be sure and ask if they are working up or downstream.  Ask if they mind you slipping in behind them.  That is the most courteous way to handle the too close situation.  Don’t keep getting closer and closer hoping to scare them off.  Or even worse, start a confrontation. 

Another issue I have come across that falls under the “too close” umbrella is how to pass on the bank while an angler is in the water.  “Well just slip on past him, right?” No!  We want to be cognizant of how we approach and ultimately move past them.  As I get closer, I always try and say a couple words to them, letting them know I am there.  I have made the mistake of not saying anything and scaring the living sh** out of them; for sure taking years of their life.  It’s good to take into account where he or she is fishing.  What angle is the back cast?  Could I get in the way of that? Also, am I too close to where they are fishing?  Could I possibly spook the fish?  Stay back off the water.  Fish can see up on banks very easily.  We have all been in that scenario where someone trucks down the bank and stands right above where you are fishing.  Finally, as you pass another angler, ask how their day is going.  Ask what their plan is on the water so you can avoid getting in their way.  Just be friendly!

What are the fish biting on?

This is an interesting one. I never in a million years would have thought this fell under the fishing etiquette tab.  I had a gentleman get very disgruntled with me when I asked him what fly he caught his fish on.  He stated that he worked hard to figure it out and he wasn’t about to give that up.  I understand his feelings for sure.   He was a prideful, by the book angler.  I say that with respect.  When I figure out the fly the fish are hammering, I want to get my mega phone out and share it with everyone.  That is the guide in me.  I wanted to note this one so it can be on everyone’s radar.  Maybe it’s best to not come out and ask what people are using.  Maybe this is the scenario it’s best to “beat around the bush”.  I really enjoy trading flies with people who tie themselves.  That could be a ticket in.

Stream Regulation – Trash – Odds and Ends

Lastly, there are just some topics that most everyone knows and few ignore, but they bear repeating.

Stream Regulations

If you are going to fish a stream, know the regulations… PLEASE…  Nothing is more frustrating than going to a catch and release stream and seeing someone pull a stringer full of power baited trout out of the water. 

Clean up your trash.

This should go without saying, but I am amazed at the amount of garbage in and around streams.  From beer cans to worm containers, if you pack it in, pack it out!  Litter is one of the main reasons landowners post their land.  It is not everyone, only a select few who ruin it for everyone.  Go the extra mile, fill your net with garbage on the way back to your car.

Park with others in mind.

Be courteous to others when you are parking and starting your day.  On some of our more remote streams, parking/pull offs are at a premium.  There can be one pull off for two miles off water. You can imagine how frustrating it is when you get to the pull off and one truck is strategically parked to take up all three spots.  Or even more upsetting is when I saw two young guys choose to park in a handicap spot only because it’s closer to the stream.  People, be smart, and be kind.  Do unto others as you would have them do to you.

Stream etiquette is never top on the list to write about, but it’s crucial to teach anglers today so generations to come have a more enjoyable fishing experience.  These “manners” are not just for other anglers, but also the millions of other people that visit our watersheds.  Respect the water, respect the fish and most of all, respect each other.  

Stay Smooth!

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