Etiquette

I’m not talking about where you’re supposed to put the salad fork or what to do with that fancy napkin at a restaurant. I’m talking about how to interact with others streamside to avoid conflict. If you are newer to fly fishing it is important to understand what to do when you approach a stream where someone is already fishing. It is equally as important for more seasoned fly anglers to understand how to address breaches in etiquette without being jerky, which can easily deter new anglers from the sport. The following are examples of common occurrences.

So what to do when you’ve gotten up early, drove a decent distance, and arrived at your desired location only to find a car (or two) parked at the bridge? If the other angler is preparing his rod and wadering up dont hurry up to get on the water first! Ask which direction they intend to fish, upstream or downstream. If they fish up, you fish down and vice versa. If there are multiple vehicles at a bridge or parking area consider heading to another access point or even another nearby stream.

It is acceptable to fish at an access where there are multiple parties fishing but then proper stream etiquette becomes even more important. If you begin fishing and cross paths with another fisherman you should always ask which direction they are headed. It’s ok to ask how far upstream (or down) they plan to fish. Some people won’t mind as they only plan to fish within a few hundred yards or less from the access point while others may plan to fish all day over a longer distance. If the other fisher only plans to fish close to the access point ask, “is it ok if I put a little distance between us and head upstream?” Be respectful if they say no or if they plan to fish a ways upstream. If you do forge ahead stay out of the water to avoid sending sediment downstream and stay a decent distance away from the stream to avoid spooking fish. Give them plenty of space, often at least a couple hundred yards if not more. Always say “thanks” and “good luck”. It is also ok to fish behind someone although I’d recommend staying out of sight if possible.

Many fisherman enjoy the sport for the solitude it provides. Sometimes small talk is welcome and sometimes it is not. After determining what water one plans to cover I often ask, “seein’ any fish today?” and “what are they eatin’?” If someone gives one word answers and keeps fishing politely wish good luck and move on. They are not trying to be off putting, they’re just there to fish. If they turn to you and gove a more detailed answer it’s ok to bs a little. I’ve gotten invitations to fish alongside others, recieved a few flies, gotten leads on new streams to explore,  and met some of my best friends by making small talk on the river.

More seasoned anglers would do well to remember what it was like to learn the ropes in a sport that has an elitist reputation and can be cold to newcomers. It is ok to address breaches in etiquette while on the river. I even argue that it is important. First off be mindful of your own level frustration. It’s not ok to be a jerk about it. Take a few deep breaths so your frustration doesn’t color your communication. Then ask the other person where they plan to fish. Explain your plans and be flexible. Suggest they fish the other direction, suggest they give you some distance, or even offer to let them begin where you’ve crossed paths and give them some distance.

It can be incredibly frustrating when someone is fishing too close for comfort. When this happens to me I typically approach the other anglers and make small talk. It is especially important to note how long they have been fly fishing. I will offer up my spot and ask if I can offer a few pointers (and often a fly or two) as well. I follow that up with “hey man, can I give you one more piece of advise? I’m not trying to be a jerk but I wanted to let you know you were fishing a little close for comfort there”. “In some places it’s not uncommon to fish more shoulder to shoulder but around here it’s generally not done just because there’s so much water and so little pressure.”

Of course some people just have poor etiquette and dont care to change. When you approach someone who fishes too close for comfort and they don’t show receptive body language it’s just best to say good luck and move on.

Variations in etiquette exist depending on the popularity/fishing pressure, proximity to urban areas, and even the season. For example it is not abnormal on heavily fished streams to have multiple people occupying a small (hundred yard) piece of stream. The same goes for opening day. Now what is acceptable on opening day on a heavily fished trout stream may not be acceptable on an isolated stream during the height of winter. Ultimately good communication and a willingness to be flexible are the hallmarks of good fly fishing etiquette. Oh yeah, and don’t be a dick to those using conventional gear!

Is there fishing etiquette that applies to time spent off the water? Yup. In the digital age it is easier than ever to publicize a trout stream. It’s not uncommon to read about larger, more well known rivers being presented as the next hot vacationland destination. Naming streams is a tricky topic. A good rule of thumb is that for every person you tell about a good spot at least 4-5 more will hear about it. When a stream is shared online its exposure becomes infinite. Naming watersheds, counties, or general geographic areas is often considered acceptable. It is best to be vague so next time you head to your favorite stream there won’t be cars parked up and down the roadside!

Some other pointers

1) Pack it in, pack it out-pick up litter on your way out too.

2) Respect private property-this means following stream access laws, rules as they pertain to easements, and livestock.

3) Don’t get drunk and loud!

4) If you keep fish know the regulations.

Where to fish?

I’m often asked where I fish. I tend to give very general responses like, “the Blackfoot watershed”. Why be evasive? Because while our small streames are becoming increasingly fragile too much added pressure can have a detrimental impact on trout populations. In the digital age providing too much detail in a blog post or highlighting a stream in a YouTube video can funnel weekend warriors en mass to your favorite spot.

Of course as an author of a fishing blog I must walk a thin line. This post is intended to “teach a man to fish…”

So how do you find a good spot to fish? The way you choose a spot is probably dependent on your sense of adventure, time available, proximity to good trout water, and available resources.

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1) Go to the Department of Natural Resources website and peruse available info. The MN, WI, and IA DNRs publish trout stream maps that show all of the designated trout streams in each state. Beware, just because a stream is listed does not mean it will be fishable. Often times states will designate trout water if conditions COULD harbor trout. If you reside close to an area with many streams and have a strong sense of adventure I suggest picking a few rivers, grabbing a map, and going bridge hopping. By bridge hopping you can eliminate marginal water and build a repetior of streams to choose from when you’d rather catch fish than explore. If you possess less free time and/or live a greater distance from good trout water the DNR websites often list streams that can handle a lot of fishing pressure. You may not be fishing a diamond in the rough and you may not find solitude but at least you won’t spend most of the day behind the wheel. I suggest picking out a more well publicized stream in conjunction with a few “blue lines” from the map to ensure you’re hitting some tried and true water while hopefully expanding future options.

2) Ask around. While fishermen are notoriously tight lipped about fishing spots many are eager to tell you all about the big fish the pulled out of ______ Creek. Calling local fly shops is an acceptable practice as is inquiring with local fisheries offices.

3) Go online and search “fly fishing Minnesota” or wherever you plan to fish. You can search creeks from the DNR maps by name as well. This can be done to enhance your odds of success while “blue lining”. The more specific your search the more specific the info you will find. Duh. YouTube works too.

4) Google Maps is an indispensable resource for those chasing trout. Google Maps can help to litarally find streams, assess topography, and give an overall impression of the water you’re considering. Local maps and state gazeteers work well on the road but dont provide the same degree of detail as Google Maps.

5) Books. My least favorite option to find streams is through reading books. Streams change over time as does stream access. Books can help provide more information about hatches, history, and tips/techniques and should not be entirely discounted in your search for a place to fish.

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Stream Access

1) Easements. Many states (MN, WI, and IA included) purchase recreational easements for fishing. No dogs allowed. Easements are publicized on DNR websites and are relatively easy to find. They are also marked with little signs and styles to climb over barbed wire fences. Easements usually suggest high fish densities as the state won’t waste money on streams without catchable populations of trout.

2) Public land. Including state forests, national forests, wildlife management areas, and national, state, county, and local parks public lands offer access to miles of good water. Be aware of hunting seasons when fishing public lands.

3) Private land. The preferable way to access streams flowing through private land is to ask permission. Plat maps can help you determine who owns the land. Knocking on doors can unlock water that rarely, sometimes never gets touched. Depending on your state’s stream access laws it is often acceptable to access water flowing through private property by taking the shortest path from a bridge to the water, then keeping ones feet wet. *check the laws wherever you intend to fish as ignorance of the law is no excuse.

Uncertainty over stream access can be a major deterrent to exploring new streams. First of all it is imperative to learn the stream access laws for the area you intend to fish. It’s best to know your rights. Some even carry a copy of the law to share with any landowner who may be ignorant of the law.

Hopefully with an understanding of stream access and with some tools to find and narrow down fishable water you can shorten your learning curve and demystify the sport of fly fishing!

Trip Report: Nymphs, streamers, and dry flies

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Today I got out around noon to fish this beautiful valley. I started out using a red size 18 brassie which was promptly gulpped by a chunky rainbow trout!

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After catching a few on nymphs I switched to the streamer. With cloudy skies, a slight stain, and temps around 35 degrees conditions warranted trying a streamer. After pulling in a few more bows and two small brown trout I texted my buddy John. We decided to meet up on a nearby stretch of water. I arrived before him and headed down stream with the streamer.

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This guy hit hard! After trudging around and slowly stripping the streamer through the depths I noticed two fish rising. Both fell for the Matts Midge. After John arrived the fishing really shut down. I went back to the streamer and lost one massive trout when I saw a flash, set the hook, and snapped off. 3x tippet was no match for the beast. We messed around with John’s Tenkara rod for awhile before calling it a day. That fish will haunt my dreams. We noticed a ton of Midges around size 16-18 crawling around the bank but only noticed sporadic rising.

Gettin’ yer fix

So what do you do when you want to cast a fly but it’s late at night, it’s too cold, or any number of things come up that keep you off the streams or lakes? Well fish vicariously through others of course! And what better way then to pull up the old YouTube or log in to Amazon Prime and see what’s out there.

On YouTube

Start off by searching you geographic area for clips by local fly fishermen. A simple search for “Driftless Trout Fishing” could keep you entertained for hours. With increasingly high quality phone cameras, drone technology, and aspiring souls out there documenting their journeys you may learn a thing or two (and maybe find a new spot to try).

The New Fly Fisher used to (and may still) air on local television when I lived in Montana. There are many episodes available. TMFF is informative, if not a little dry. They often fish far flung areas around Canada and the Northern Rockies for trophy sizes trout, salmon, pike and more!

For a host with a more youthful style check out Ken Tanaka’s Wish4Fish. Ken travels around the world and within the US to chase trout. I was first exposed to his videos years ago and his productions have improved significantly over time.

If there’s ever an area you’ve been interested in fishing do a simple search and odds are if trout swim its waters YouTube will furnish a video of some chucklhead fishing there. YouTube is also a great tool for planning your next trip!

On Prime

By far my favorite free option on Prime is Fishin With Ladin. Hosts Ladin Langeman and Steve Ronholt don’t take themselves too seriously. Its refreshing to see clips of them untangling lines, stumbling through rapids, and hooking each other on back casts between monster trout. It’s super fun, even my wife likes it! This show is informational without being too dry and technical. I also appreciate that they dont advertise their gear at every opportunity! You’ll never hear Ladin say “the second that fish hit my MFC fly I could feel the pulse through my Rio line and into my Sage rod. Steve handled the Hyde drift boat perfectly and the Sage steered the Wyoming brown trout into the Frabil. I’m sure glad for these Simms waders and Patagonia shell too”. There are 10 seasons available for free! And the last two at a cost.

TroutTV is another option. Currently 4 seasons are available. Hosts fish various vacationland and exotic destinations for trophy trout. Equally informative and fun.

Pure Fly New Zealand and Planet Fly Fish are fun to watch if you want to torture yourself, in a good way. They fish exotic destinations that the peasants amoung us (this writer included) will probably only ever dream about.

For someone interested in learning the basics Orvis Guide to Fly Fishing offers 13 episodes covering various aspects of the sport. More educational and informational.

If you’re willing to drop some cash Prime has a few seasons of the Fly Fishing Film Tour available.

This is by no means an extensive review of all the fly fishing shows out there but it’s a good start to help get you through all the shelf ice, sketchy roads, minus temps, closed seasons, and late night fishin withdrawals!

Feel free to comment on your favorites below.

What Flies?

This time of year I’m often asked, “what are they eatin’?” Well, until the beginning of April if you’re seeing ’em swirl on top odds are that there eating midges, typically black, olive or cream colored. Depending on conditions a midge dry or emerge in size 16-24 will work. For smaller flies and in clear conditions dont hesitate to use 6x or even 7x tippet.
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Starting right about now till the beginning of April many driftless creels offer a small to moderate hatch of little black stoneflies. These bugs crawl out of the water instead of emerging through the water column. A black stimi, caddis pattern, or any other black fly usually does the trick in size 18 and 20. A telltale sign that they are feeding on stones is you’ll notice fish holding and rising in really shallow water and close to the bank. Tailouts too. While fish sometimes won’t look up for days on end during our brutal winters temps above 25 degrees, sunny conditions, and during the heat of the day fish can be found on top.
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Subsurface, fish always have access to the usual suspects of driftless bugs. Scuds, mayfly nymphs, zebra midges, and pink squirrels should all fish well. I frequently fish orange and pink scud in sizes 16 and 18, various colored zebra midges in the same sizes, and red brassie in size 18 when I choose to fish subsurface. During minor periods of runoff when streams muddy you can’t beat the San Juan worm!

Hungry fish will still hit a moving fly. Streamers fished low and slow make an efficient meal for larger trout that may pass on a lower calorie option. If midges are hatching its ok to skitter them on the surface. I’ve even done well gently twitching a scud after drag free drifts proved fruitless.
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The point is fish are eating. Bundle up, skip the early am and late afternoon, keep ’em wet, and get outside. Some people will fish in anything! My lower limit is 20 degrees.

Trip Report: cabin fever

I haven’t much felt like tying flies lately beyond what orders have been coming in. With cold weather, on call work over the next week and two upcoming fly rod builds time on the rivers could be limited. With temps approaching 20 degrees earlier today I decided to give er a go.
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First this stout brown came to hand. Then a few more just like it. I used one of the first rods that o built today. It is a 9ft moderate action graphite rod with oversized guides (to slow guide freeze up). It performed well.
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Brookies came to play as well.
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None of the brookies broke the scales but the largest probably pushed 11 inches. At first fish readily ate the red brassie in size 18. After action slowed fish responded well to a small olive streamer. Overall fishing was quite good with around 1 1/2 dz to hand in less than 2 hrs.

Trip Report: hot and cold.

After a week of tying and rod building to stave off cabin fever I was relieved when temperatures moderated this weekend. I usually won’t hit the water in less than 20 degrees. Today temps reached the high 30s. Skies were overcast and a thick haze hung around getting thicker throughout the day. Perfect conditions for winter trout.

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This steam was very muddied by runoff but after a long hike we found some clean water. First the San Juan worm, then the midge dry, then the streamer produced.

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The brook trout were gorgeous!

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A few browns came to hand as well.

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Tim can fish. He’s not rockin a Whitewater Valley Flies rod yet, we’ll have to change that. After landing a few dz or so fishes we decided to check out other water. We found some streams and stretches clear of ice and in fishable condition while others were chocolatey.

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I landed one and missed a few strikes. Tim got blanked. Although fishing got slow it was a beautiful day to explore mn.

New rods

It’s been cold and I’ve been workin a lot…until the deep freeze. I finished an old 1/2 done rod and built a Frankenrod out of misc parts.

This 7′ 9″ three weight features a mod/ fast blank, a cork reel seat, and a half wells grip. It weighs in at 2.2 oz.

The frankenrod was concieved of a funky grip, spare new guides, an old stripping guide, striking black thread work, and a spare reel seat all fastened to a blemished 7′ 6″ fiberglass 3 wt blank.