Our Man In Canada
June 22nd, 1998
Fly-fishing Etiquette
A Little Respect Goes a Long Way on the Stream

Fly-fishing is about respect.

Respect for other anglers, the environment, property and property owners, your partners, and the fish. Oh yes, and respect for yourself.

I had a recent experience about the lack of respect fly anglers have toward others. Friends and I drove to a tailwater stream here in Alberta a few weeks ago. I rigged up and headed upstream to where I had wanted to fish. A man and woman were fishing the run where I planned on swinging some streamers. I skirted around them and headed farther upstream some 200 to 300 yards. I started fishing with a sculpin streamer that I cast across stream and let swing down. (I hooked and broke off a nice rainbow on the very first cast of the day which has always been a bad omen for me. It seems to be followed by a lengthy void. Another story.)

After 10 minutes or so I had worked down perhaps 50 feet toward a pool that held much promise. The couple from downstream walked up the bank right toward me and (as Pisces is my witness) started fishing no more than two cast lengths downstream from me, in the best pool in that whole section of water.

Now you are going to accuse me of sour grapes! Within 20 minutes they hooked and landed four trout. Okay! I am twisted by the fact that they caught fish and I had yet to land one. But damn it, they had no business moving in that close. Had I been working upstream, then fine. But it was obvious that I was casting across and down and toward the water they were fishing. Aaarrgggg!

Respect other anglers. Don't fish any closer than you would want them near you. Give them and the water a wide berth as you pass. If someone is fishing the run where you planned to fish, walk near and have a chat. Ask if they mind you stepping in the water, say, 100 yards upstream. You never know they may be moving on anyway. You may be invited to fish the same pool and give it a go with the hot fly you are using. But for heaven's sake don't splash in this other guy's pool and scare the fish.

Maybe the guy and gal who horned in on my hole are the same idiots who have the energy to hike to a stream with full beer or pop cans, but too lazy to haul the empties back out. It seems that some of us fly-fishing folks smugly think of ourselves as a righteous lot. We piously babble at the !@#&% worm-dunking slobs who leave occasional beer cans or worm tubs along the shorelines. If we are so pure, why do I see the odd beer can along streams where 99 percent of the fishing folks are fly anglers?

Many of us are privileged to fish because of the cooperation of landowners. Here in Alberta (as in most civilized jurisdictions) we are free to walk along the banks of streams that flow through private property. It's the law. But a landowner does not have to allow trespass across land to get to the water. Fortunately the vast majority of property owners do allow trespass and it is our moral duty to honor them and their property. It means being polite ("Please" and "Thanks" usually covers it); closing gates; not chasing cattle (even if an entire herd of cattle has the smarts of a house plant); and generally leaving the place the way you found it. If you see a pop can, pick it up. You don't have to be a hero and tell the property owner about your good deed­but it sure doesn't hurt to mention it should the subject arise when you are thanking him or her for allowing you to cross the south pasture.

The respect for others goes beyond strangers. It applies to your fishing partners as well. Partners share stream water, flies, cigars, the cost of road gas, information and laughs. And they help each other. If your partners are stingy and hog the best water then look around for some new friends who appreciate you more.

Honor the fish you catch. If you plan to take a couple for fish for dinner, that's fine­provided it's legal. But dispatch them quickly. (The most obscene device invented for the fishing industry is the fish stringer.) If you plan to release the fish, remove the barbless hook quickly and with as little handling as possible. Help a tired fish regain energy in slow flowing water before allowing it to get into fast water.

And last, but not least, respect yourself. Perhaps you are not the best caster on the stream and you occasionally snag bushes behind you or make splashy casts. And perhaps you have yet to catch a 5-pound brown trout. But those small cutts and brookies you caught last week were sure beautiful.

You're doin' okay. You're learning. You cast better than you once did and you catch a few fish. You have learned about aquatic insects and understand their importance to fly angling. Respect yourself for those accomplishments and knowing that you have as much fun as anyone on the water.

I'd hate to get too Freudian or philosophical here after all, it is a fishing column. But perhaps only when we have respect for ourselves can we fully respect the rights of others, the environment and honor the creatures within.

Closing thought for the week is credited to Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919)
As I grow older, I pay less attention to what men say.
I just watch what they do.

Our Man In Canada Archives

Bio on Our Man In Canada
Clive Schaupmeyer is an outdoor writer and photographer. He is the author of The Essential Guide to Fly-Fishing, a 288-page book for novice and intermediate fly anglers. His photo of a boy fishing was judged the best outdoor picture of 1996 published by a member of the Outdoor Writers of Canada. He fly-fishes for trout in Alberta's foothill and mountain streams and for pike near his home in Brooks, Alberta. For information on where to find, or how to get a copy of Clive's book, Click here!

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