Etiquette

I’m posting this again, with some edits, since we can always use a refresher!

I’m not talking about when 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. Let’s consider the Minnesota State Park season and Whitewater State Park. Due to the parks close proximity to Rochester and the Twin Cities you can expect crowded water and lesser experienced fisherman, especially on warmer weekends. I don’t typically fish within sight of others but often do so at Whitewater. There’s no way to avoid it. The best advice I can offer is to stay out of any riffle, run, or pool that is already occupied by another fisher. The same goes for opening day. Remember, what is acceptable on opening day on a heavily fished trout stream or at Whitewater 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.

Trip Report: Snowy Sunday

A buddy wanted to fish today but I was hesitant to head to the same busy area I was yesterday. We met up at 830a and headed south in search of solitude. The day started out cold (28 degrees) and overcast.

The snow started around 11a and didn’t slow before we left around 230p. We did a 2 mile hike before getting serious about the fishing. We started with soft hackle patterns but found the best luck on midge dries, specifically the Griffiths Gnat.

I landed 8 or 9 fish while my buddy landed 3. The fish pictured above was the fish of the day! I couldn’t see if there were any bugs in the air but fish rose consistently all day. They appeared to be taking emergers but a well placed and/or sunken fly did the trick. We may still see sporadic baetis mayfly activity over the next month or so but my first choice of fly for a rising trout would be a midge!

Trip Report: State park swingin’

Was back and forth about going fishing today but decided to go after running some errands. I arrived on stream around 1pm and fished until 4. Skies were overcast, temps in the low 30’s, and winds light but chilling. I used my fiberglass 7’ 6” four weight, 11 feet of tippet and leader, and the size 16 soft hackle midge/mayfly pattern pictured below.

I didn’t notice any bugs in the air but fish rose consistently throughout the afternoon. Even though the park was busy I was able to find areas to fish, often within sight of others. Etiquette rules are different when your fishing in highly congested areas like the parks and it’s neat to see how well people get along. I fished within sight of others the whole afternoon. If you plan to fish the parks on nicer weekends during the state park season manage your expectations and you’ll have a blast. Anyway, the soft hackle was the ticket.

This was the biggest fish to hand. I landed around 20 fish with most measuring around 4 or 5 inches. All browns, no rainbows. I was reminded how much iced guides suck.

Trip Report: Minnesota state park season

The best part about living in Minnesota is the trout fishing. Here in the southeastern corner of the state we can fish catch and release year round on select bodies of water. Today I chose to fish one of the three state parks that remains open to fishing. I met up with a buddy and his friend around 9am. Temps were in the high 40s and skies were cloudy.

I started fishing with a sz 16 mayfly nymph. Fishing was slow but I managed a few small browns and this stocker rainbow. FYI, rainbows have not been stocked since Labor Day to my understanding. They have acclimated well and are as cautious as the wild browns. The park was loaded with people today, more busy than I’ve ever seen it. Lots of people fishing. I decided to switch to a skinny soft hackle pattern and never looked back.

By around noon a few spare mayflies started popping off. Fish rose consistently until I left around 4pm.

This nice brownie smashed the soft hackle. Eventually we were able to get into a good rhythm with those around us and barely ran into others. Around 230pm I connected with another buddy and fished a different section of stream.

He tried a streamer with no takers. I continued to find willing participants with the soft hackle. On heavily pressured water it often works to go small on both flies and tippet. I got away with 5x tippet today.

I landed this beauty and another decent brown before calling it a day! This may have been the last time we’ll see temps in the 60s till spring. Fish will likely continue to eat the sort hackle but midge and scud patterns should feature more prominently in your fly boxes as winter approaches.

Trip Report: Mental Health Day

My work recently decided to provide employees with mental health day. A great idea, long overdue, and something that all employers should offer. And what better way to spend my mental health day than to go fishing! After checking the weather and coordinating with a friend we decided to meet at sun up. Temps were in the low 50’s, skies were cloudy, and the wind was gusty. I started with an olive streamer and my buddy used a jig with a curly soft plastic. Fishing started out slow. After a few hours and only one fish to hand I tied on a sz 18 quill mayfly nymph fished on the bottom under an indicator.

This is when things turned on. I found a deep pool that was full of fish. I dredged the bottom, picking off a fish on my first few casts. I rolled a few but failed to set the hook before noticing some bigger fish patrolling the depths.

This tank put up a great fight! As I released him to the drink a bigger fish came into view. I hurled a number of good casts through the wind and in his direction, but smaller fish would inch over to take the fly. Eventually I set the hook and the big one flashed it’s flank at me. It ran me up and down the pool putting the backbone of my 5 weight fly rod to the test. I called for my buddy to bet the best but he had wondered well upstream and could not hear my calls over the whipping wind. I steered the fish to the downstream riffle, waded in, and scooped him up with my paw.

A conservative estimate would put him at around 18 inches. A few quick pictures and he lumbered back upstream looking defeated. Around 40 fish came to hand for me today with 21 coming from the “epic pool”. Fish on this stream were in all different stages. Some were activity spawning, some appeared spawned out, and some appeared pre spawn. The extended C&R season ends tomorrow. If you choose to fish any of the state parks or select streams that remain open year round be mindful of the impact wading and fishing can have on spawning fish. Avoid fishing riffles and runs, especially where you can see that the gravel appears lighter or more clean. Those are the redds (nests).

Trip Report: Wisconsin wandering

A friend and I met up and fished a few western Wisconsin streams. His goal for the year was to fish more water. Our forays into the land of cheese and beer (and brats) have been a welcome change of pace. We arrived on stream around 830am. Temps were in the high 30’s and I immediately regretted wet wading. Sunny skies are usually unwelcome but the sun helped to keep me warm enough.

We both started out slow. He used a white jig and I tried an olive articulated streamer. Eventually I switched to a size 14 pink San Juan worm. As the sun reached over the steep banks the water started to heat up, and so did the fishing.

After landing a few we decided to hit a warm water spot on the way to some new water. I left the rod on the car while my buddy tried for whatever would hit.

We hit a few more spots with minimal success before I found myself in front of a rock wall. With an audience at my back I landed the worm fly tight to the wall.

This was my fish of the day! We headed to another spot and fished behind two nice fellas before heading home. Overall it was a great day but we both agreed, too much driving. I only plan to get out one more time before the end of the extended c&r season which ends on October 15. Stay tuned, maybe I’ll do a fly tying video! Any requests?