Our Man In Canada
January 5th, 2009

Stream Etiquette
By Chris Chin

I have the opportunity to meet anglers from all over the world. I guess it's one of the real perks when your home water is a world class salmon river. The variety of people who I meet always astounds me. There are the usual stereotypical anglers, lone alpha males gunning for Atlantic salmon; seasoned and experienced, they really know their stuff and really only need a Guide to put them over fish. There are also those anglers who are new to fly fishing all together and would like pointers on casting, presentation, line control, bug science, …you name it.

Another group of anglers who call up are a surprising bunch. These are the beginner to intermediate anglers who would like to give salmon fishing a try, but really don't know where to start. Whenever folks contact me, I like to give out as much information as possible. This helps them to better plan a trip as well as to get them prepared properly. Lots of questions and answers get sent back and forth:

  • When is prime time?

  • Rod weights, lengths and actions;

  • Dry or wets, types of flies, sizes;

  • Lodging, camping, other activities;

  • Rod fees, licenses and guide fees;

Then the usual question comes up — River etiquette. If you Google "Fishing River Etiquette", unfortunately, many information sources are a bit vague. They say to be courteous and not crowd other anglers if possible. Well, what to do if there are 3-4 or more anglers on the same run?

River etiquette on an Atlantic salmon river is exactly the same as on any other river (in North America). So here you go:

Rotation rules: (or Everyone gets their chance)

On longer runs, we will often fish 2 or more anglers at the same time. First off, decide if the run is being fished with dries or wets. If you come up to a run where anglers are already fishing, this'll be obvious.

In line rotation:

When fishing wets for Atlantic's, one simply casts down and across and lets the fly swing back towards the near bank. After each cast, you side step a foot or so down stream then repeat. This is the classical presentation for Atlantic's and has led to the (unfounded) myth of casting 10,000 time to get that first salmon.

After the first angler has moved far enough downstream, you can simply start upstream of him and do the same down stream casts. Question: How far downstream should they be before starting to cast? Easy one, you don't want your fly swinging down in front of them! So if you're going to be casting 65 feet of line and leader, simply wait until the first person is at least 65-70 feet downstream before starting out.

Here's where it gets a tad complicated. If you get a rise to your fly, you can wait a moment to cast AGAIN this presentation. Usually a few minutes in case you want to change the fly, trot or run your swing. After 2-3 more cast, move on.

Rotating along a run on dries is exactly the same except that you'll all be working your way upstream instead of down.

Rotating from a fixed position:

On many occasion, there is only one place to cast from to get to salmon. On these lies, we usually cast for 20 to 30 minutes then leave the spot to the next angler. Hint: If you've been casting for 45 minutes alone and another angler comes up, you really should give him the spot shortly and not after ANOTHER 30 minutes of casting.

The 20-30 minute rule gives one plenty of time to try 2 flies properly or 3 flies in a hurry.

IMHO, these occasions are some of the very best opportunities to meet anglers, share some tales and coffee. Also, it is from these vantage points that we learn a whole lot about salmon fishing. This is where we spend literally hours and hours watching salmon and how they react (or not) to anglers and presentations.

Some DO NOT DO's in terms of stream etiquette.

    1. NEVER, and I mean NEVER move downstream of an angler who has already started working his way downstream. You'll be jumping him. If you really wanted to fish there before them, well, you should have woken up earlier Sport. Jumping a run is an excellent way to get cussed out. I'll probably just accidentally snag your line, apologize, and retrieve your fly for you (after giving it a nice slathering of bug dope).

    2. Once an angler signals to you that he would like to move in upstream of you and work the run as you do, you should move downstream at a constant pace. This means one cast, short downstream step, one cast etc.

    3. The usual etiquette for any outdoor activity also holds true on a river. If you can pack it in, you can pack it out. On MANY occasions, I have even taken the time to pickup trash, bundle it up and MAIL it back to the anglers who left it there (because on our home waters, I can always get a copy of the registration cards).

    4. A little hint too: Advice is only good advice if it is wanted. Before "offering" wisdom to someone, simply ask first if it's wanted. It is surprising to find out how many folks really DON'T want advice from strangers.

    5. If you don't know or aren't sure — Ask a local. It is quite amazing to see how much the locals really will go out of their way to help a visitor or newcomer just "fit right in".

Lastly, stream side etiquette isn't just for visiting anglers. When you are on your home waters, you are also a "spokesperson" for your town or county or river association or country. Respect is hard won and easily lost, so make sure that visitors and newcomers can learn from your actions. ~ Christopher Chin, Three Rivers Quebec.

About Chris:

Chris Chin is originally from Kamloops, British Columbia. He has been fly fishing on and off ever since he was 10 years old. Chris became serious about the sport within the last 10 years.

"I'm a forest engineer by day and part time guide on the Ste-Marguerite River here in central Quebec. I've been fishing this river for about 10 years now and started guiding about 5 years ago when the local guide's association sort of stopped functioning."

Chris guides mostly for sea run brook trout and about 30% of the time for Atlantic Salmon. "I often don't even charge service fees, as I'm more interested in promoting the river than making cash. I like to get new comers to realize that salmon fishing is REALLY for anyone who cares to try it. Tradition around here makes some of the old clan see Salmon fishing as a sport for the rich. Today our shore lunches are less on the cucumber sandwich side and more toward chicken pot pie and Jack Daniel's."

Chris is 44 years old as of this writing. He is of Chinese origin although his parents were born and raised in Jamaica.

To learn more about the Ste-Marguerite River, visit Christopher's website. You can email Chis at: Flyfishing.christopher@gmail.com.

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