Most fly fishers take river etiquette very seriously. As more people become enlightened to the joys of fly fishing, our rivers become more crowded. In many spots, spending the day on the river without seeing anyone is a thing of the past. The simple reality is that we will run into other people on the river. Regardless of how they act, we have a choice to make – we can lead by example with courtesy and politeness or be selfish and ruin the hard earned reputation that fly fishers have guarded over the years.
When considering fly fishing etiquette, the first thing that comes to mind is how we should behave towards another angler on the river. Much of your guide in this category can be common sense and the golden rule- it is not difficult to determine whether what you are about to do is rude or not.
However, it is helpful to have some specifics. Rules of river etiquette can vary by location, the size of the river, the level of crowding, the amount of private property, and local regulations. If you are fishing in a new area or are new to fishing in general, it is a good idea to talk to a local fly shop, guides, or even local fishers. Being informed goes a long way.
Nearly every fly fisher agrees with the first come first serve rule. Whoever gets there first has the right to the spot for as long as they want. Now of course courtesy dictates that the person fishing a particular run should not hog the spot all day if others are waiting. The amount of space that should be left between anglers is partially determined by crowding and location, but a general rule is to leave at least 50 – 100 yards between another fly fisher and you. That means don’t step into their water and splash around to your spot. If you need to pass an angler, get out of the water and pass on the bank.
You may see a fly fisher hanging out in a spot but not fishing it. Chances are good they are “resting” the water, or letting it calm down after a disturbance. Don’t assume that you can jump in and start fishing. The spot is still technically theirs until they move on or if you ask and they give the go ahead.
This brings us to a very helpful rule: communicate. Fly fishers are notoriously friendly once the ice is broken. It is always better to be friendly and ask if you want to fish a spot near another angler. And don’t be upset if they say no- just move along and find another spot. If you are ever in doubt about appropriate river etiquette, ask! I guarantee no fly fisher in their right mind will get angry with you for asking. They will appreciate your willingness to learn and your desire to follow the code of ethics that fly fishers have set for themselves.
by Angie Stephens