We’ve all had that moment when we crest the hill right before the pullout of our favorite fishing hole. Maybe we even hold our breath for a split-second in anticipation. If we see that the pullout is empty, no truck already claiming it, no angler down in “our” hole, we may even let out a little “whoop” and a “yeah, man!” Or sometimes we have to exhale with an audible sigh, a slap on the steering wheel, and a “dang it.” (The language used may be different – but this is a family blog.) We’ve all been there. And we’ve experienced both sides of the scenario. What’s an angler to do?
At the Fly Fishing Hootenanny that Angler’s Covey recently hosted, one of our guest speakers, Pat Dorsey, talked about the need to spread out. As the population of the state increases, and as the pressure mounts on our more popular fisheries, we need to head to stillwater fishing opportunities, or to small streams and backcountry creeks, to de-pressure some of our more popular stretches of river.
But we will still need to share the water at places like Eleven Mile Canyon, Deckers, the Dream Stream, and the Arkansas tailwaters. It’s a matter of how we share the water – not when and definitely not if. We are going to run into other anglers on the river.
If you Google “fly fishing etiquette,” the search delivers three and a half million hits. Etiquette just isn’t for the dinner table, it seems. It’s a popular topic on our fisheries.
Here are five answers to the question “how do we share the water?”
- The early bird. To get back to our opening scenario, if an angler has arrived to “your hole” before you did, it’s hers! We can wait for them to move on, or we can move on ourselves to a new hole. Maybe it’s an opportunity to explore a new stretch of the water. I’ve “discovered” productive holes at Deckers because somebody beat me to “my” spot. Oh, and next time, we can get up and be on the road a half-hour earlier. But for now, the other angler gets the spot.
- Watch and observe. When we come to a stretch of the river that is being fished, watch the angler to see what direction he is moving, upstream or down? Move a couple holes up or downstream from the angler to allow him his space to fish a reasonable stretch of the river.
- Ask questions. “Are you heading downstream or up?” “Mind if I fish that run above you?” If the answer is “I’m working my way to that hole, but you can jump on a little further up” – then respect that. I’ve discovered two things about asking questions: 1) it eases any tension that may have been surfacing and 2) the answer almost always is “sure, go ahead.” And it’s amazing – whether I am asking the question or answering one from another angler, just asking breaks down barriers. A mutual respect forms just by asking.
- Don’t camp out. When we have fished a productive run (or a potentially productive one) for awhile, share the wealth. Let another angler have a shot at it. Conversely, the angler who is fishing a hole can stay in that hole as long as he or she wants. That may mean all day!
- Yield to the angler moving upstream. Upstream has the right of way. If we are moving downstream and come up to an angler moving upstream, take a wide path around that angler so as to not spook any fish he may be targeting.
In the past when talking about etiquette, some anglers have commented, “yeah, but nobody does this stuff on the river!” In particular, the suggestion to yield to the angler moving upstream gets eye-rolls and head shakes and even some laughs. “Nobody does that!”
Well, that’s sort of the point. As a community of anglers, we get to set the tone and expectations for the way we act on the rivers we fish. Instead of thinking, “don’t be that guy” who high holes you, who cuts you off, or whose only communication is to flip you off –be the guy who communicates and respects the space of the other angler.
Just as we are all “public lands owners,” we are also the guardians of the public lands we fish – and that includes the way we interact with each other. The fellow angler we met in the tying class, the friendly guy we met at the Hootenanny, that woman we laughed with at the Fly Fishing Film Tour are all the folks we are seeing on the river. They don’t go from “a pretty cool guy” to “the idiot on the river” just overnight.
And neither should we.
For other perspectives on fly fishing etiquette, check these sites:
Fly Fishing Etiquette: Don’t Be That Guyby Kirk Deeter over at Field and Stream
Mind Your Manners: Stream Etiquette 101by Ivan Orsic over at Trouts Fly Fishing
Proper Etiquetteby Pat Dorsey on his website
Fly Fishing Etiquettebrochure by Colorado Cutthroat Chapter of Trout Unlimited