Being respectful of the river and the fish is as important (if not more) in the fly fishing community as etiquette among anglers. When you spend time enjoying the beauty of a place and landing amazing healthy fish with a ton of fight in them, you can’t help but want to repeat that experience. The only way that can happen is if we take care of the river and the fish in it.
I can’t say enough times the importance of knowing and following local regulations. Often local regulations are put into place to protect the native species at their more vulnerable times. This applies also to respecting any private property around the fishing spots. Respect gates and always ask permission before tromping through someone’s land.
Don’t litter. That may seem like an obvious rule, but it is both surprising and depressing how much trash and debris are floating around our rivers and lakes. Go the extra mile and pick up any trash or debris you see even if it isn’t yours. Leave the river better than you found it.
Be careful where you wade in the river. Always watch for salmon and steelhead redds and don’t wade through them. Disturbed rock beds, an undulated surface bottom, and fresh clean looking rocks are all indicators that a redd may be near.
Practice catch and release tactics that ensure the health and safety of the fish. Try to handle the fish as minimally as possible and only with wet hands. Be sure that your net is wet as well. Freshwater fish have a protective slime like coating over their scales. It protects them from bacteria and rocks as well as helps them slide more easily through the water. Dry hands and equipment rub off the slime making the fish more vulnerable. As you handle the fish, don’t act like a toddler squeezing and sticking your fingers where they don’t belong (like the gills). Always use barbless hooks; they are much safer for the fish and easier to remove. Keep the fish in the water. If you want to take a photo, do it quickly and get the fish immediately back in the water. If a fish is tired after a good fight, be sure to revive it before letting it go by moving it gently back and forth in the water so that water passes through its gills. Don’t release it until it is strong enough to thrash out of your hands to escape. The more fish that make it back into the river healthy, the more potential fish there are in the river to land next time.
It is also helpful to research the region and the different fish species. Even if you have been fishing in an area for years, there is likely to be information that is new to you. Learning about the fish and its particular quirks may even increase the pleasure in catching it.
by Angie Stephens