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.