Fly Fishing Etiquette 101
by Debbie Shipman, Tumbling Trout Shop Manager
Start at Home. If you plan to fish in a popular area, you should understand that it’s popular for a reason. Whatever attracted you to that fishing venue likely attracts others, and you’ll have to share the stream. Fishing etiquette is always important, but even more so when you’re fishing a crowded stretch of river. Plan to get up early and get out there ahead of the crowds, or fish late when others have already packed their gear and headed home for dinner. Alternately, do some research online and talk to the local fly shop about other, less popular places to fish that will offer more solitude. (If you plan to fish the renowned South Park region of Colorado, this atlas is an invaluable tool: https://www.tumblingtrout.com/product-page/lesser-known-fly-fishing-venues )
Be Respectful. Don’t crowd other fishers, and don’t spook the fish by being loud. That includes wading in the river, where sounds carry much further than you might imagine. In your mind, someone else may be in YOUR spot, but that is not the case on public water. If someone else is fishing your lucky hole, move on and take it as an opportunity to polish your skills. Get away from the tried and true for a while and try out some new techniques, a new fly pattern or practice a cast you’ve been wanting to perfect. Focus on the insects hatching around you or on training your “wildlife eyes” to see the fish more easily. Fishing an area that seems less promising than you prefer may force you to be more stealth as you approach the water. Be patient, and you’ll probably eventually get to fish your lucky spot, but if not, you may just develop some skills that help make it more likely to find other “lucky” spots.
Don’t Assume, Ask. You’ve been patiently hanging around downriver waiting for the person fishing in the spot you want to move along, and notice that they are sitting on the bank rearranging their fly box. Is this your chance to get in there? Maybe. Maybe not. They might just be resting the fish and plan to step back into the water in a few minutes. You can wait to find out, or you can ask politely - and don’t be noisy about it. If they are done fishing the spot, your loud voice isn’t going to do you any favors if the fish are all riled up before you cast your line.
Be generous. As much as you love your lucky spot, don’t be a hog and camp out there all afternoon. There’s probably someone downriver patiently waiting, practicing their cast and identifying insect hatches until you finally get out of THEIR lucky spot.
Don’t crowd. Chances are you go fishing to get away from crowds, not to be part of them. Give other people enough room to fish, and if you’re not sure that the spot you’ve picked out is too close to someone else, once again, don’t assume, ask. By the same token, if someone crowds you, don’t assume they are being intentionally rude. Maybe they are new to fly fishing and don’t have any idea that they are crowding you or scaring away the fish. Instead of telling them not to do whatever it is that’s bugging you, tell them what they should (according to fishing etiquette) be doing differently. Strike up a conversation, and even though you didn’t go out there to make new friends, maybe you will anyway. Maybe your excellent modeling of river etiquette will be the reason someone else practices (and passes on) proper etiquette. Be the change you want to see on the river.
Respect the River, Respect the Fish. The sport we love requires a healthy ecosystem and a healthy fish population. “Pack it in, pack it out” is not just for hikers. Whatever you bring with you to the river, take it with you when you leave. Dispose of trash, including line and tippet, in proper receptacles if available. If not, take it home. Learn proper fish handling techniques; the goal is for that beautiful fish you caught to live another day to be caught again or spawn more fish, making the fishing even better. Don’t stress the fish unnecessarily. Wet your hands before handling fish, and limit the length of time you keep them out of the water. Snap your photos, and be quick about it. If you want to take a fish for your dinner, make sure you follow the size and species regulations for the water you’re fishing.