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Fall Fly Fishing Etiquette and Ethics


Fall fishing offers some great opportunities to hook up with some big fish throughout our South Platte drainage.  The Dream Stream, Cheesman Canyon and Deckers, and Elevenmile Canyon are all renowned fisheries and for good reason – beautiful water holding hungry fish.  For these reasons, Jon Easdon, Director of Services here at the Covey, reminds us of the etiquette and ethics that contribute to a good day on the water and ensure healthy fisheries for the future. 


Sharing the Water

One of the most frequently asked questions by new anglers is related to ethics on the river. Usually it’s a question of how much space to give other anglers, or what the correct approach is on a river. Move upstream, downstream, and who has the right of way. Generally, the angler working upstream has the “right of way”.


Sometimes this is hard to figure out and my rule on the river is to simply communicate with other anglers. If I feel I may be getting too close to someone I will ask if its okay to fish above or below them. A couple of quick questions – “Are you heading up or down stream?” or “Mind if I fish that hole up (or down) stream from you?” —  can save both anglers from “river rage.”  You’d be surprised how many people will accommodate your request.


Staying off the Redds

The other aspect regarding etiquette comes in the spring and fall months. The spawning months are touchy. I’ve seen fistfights on the river because of this. Recognizing an actively spawning fish is very easy — if you know what to look for.


Trout will build spawning beds (redds) in the river. The “redds” are easily identified by a perfectly cleaned patch on the river bottom. Typically they are in shallower runs in the river. They look like big ovals. Often times the female trout will be sitting in them, or they will be paired up with another fish.  Don’t fish over the redds or, equally important, walk through them because it’ll spoil the eggs or crush the young fry. 


When fish are exhibiting active spawning behavior, they are not eating. Active spawning behavior consists of being paired up with another fish, chasing other fish around, or sitting on a redd. Since fish are not feeding during this time, most anglers will end up snagging these fish if they fish to them. 

spawning fish diagram

As exciting as it can be to see a monster trout in a foot of water, those fish NEED to be left alone. A big female trout is exactly the type of fish we want to see reproduce. Hooking/snagging and playing these fish will cause them much stress and often leads to them blowing out their eggs outside of their redd.  This completely eliminates their chances of successful spawning and even impacts their own survival because of the amount of energy being expended at a vulnerable time.

spawning fish diagram


There are plenty of other feeding fish in the river if you just take the time to look.  Head down stream where fish may be feeding in another riffle ready for nymphs or egg patterns.


If we can all respect these fish and refrain from stressing them during their spawn, we can help ensure their populations in our fisheries. It may also prevent you from getting knocked out by an aggressive angler trying to protect these fish.


It’s a win-win situation.


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