October 18th, 1999

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
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Ethics and Etiquette

By Tammy DiGristine, FL, USA

Moral practices, moral principles, code of right and wrong, social values, social laws, conduct, morality, decency.

So what do these things have to do with flyfishing? I would say a lot. Every day on the water, one is forced to deal with many issues involving ethics. Do you keep the fish? Do you release it although it is gut hooked? Do you take home more than what is legal? Do you kill fish at all? Should you even be fishing where you are? Do you fish that hole you know always produces, even though someone else is already fishing there, although they are busy trying to get a knot out of their tippet at the moment?

These are all things one must take into consideration on a typical day on the water. The biggest problem, so it seems, is when your idea of ethical or polite is not the same as someone else's idea of it. When you see someone taking a fish out of a catch and release only fishery, do you say something? Do you call the game warden? Does it make a difference if you know that the person taking it needs that fish to feed their children who would otherwise not eat?

If you are alone, and catch a really nice fish in the same catch and release fishery, and start to think about how nice a dinner of fresh fish would be, do you keep it? What if you are in the same situation in a fishery that is not catch and release only and catch a fish that is really too small to provide much of a meal? Do you keep it anyway, killing it, in hopes that you will catch another to go with it? Do you keep more than you know you will eat in one sitting? Is it ok to use powerbait? What about chumming?

If someone comes right up on where you are fishing and starts to fish, although there is not a soul around for a mile in either direction, do you say something to them? Are you rude or do you strike up a new friendship? If you say something polite, and they respond rudely back to you, do you retaliate with the same rudeness that they displayed? Are you more tolerant of another flyfisher than you are of a bait fisherman? Do you ask first if it is ok to fish near someone else?

Do you fish posted waters if you know you won't get caught? Do you fish out of season? Will you pinch a fish's tail to make it "legal sized"? Will you also shave a bit off of it? Would you fillet a fish on the boat and throw the remains overboard if it was an illegal sized fish but you wanted to keep it anyway? Do you fish without a license, even if you don't agree that you should have to have one?

Do you blow the flats for someone wading or another boat fishing because you are in a hurry to get to a hot spot and you know that going right past them will cut 5 minutes off of your time getting there? If you are in a boat, and there is someone wading nearby, and a fish appears in between you and you notice that the wader is obviously going after it, do you race them to it knowing that you can beat them? Do you participate in tournaments that will cause a lot of fish to be taken and killed and support it?

These are but a few of the situations in which ethics arise in the world of flyfishing, or any kind of fishing for that matter. I will not supply the answers to the questions given above. It would do no good. Each of us has to know for ourselves what our standards are, and then live by them, and most importantly, with them. Each of us has to form our own opinion of proper etiquette on the water, and enforce them by our own actions. To try and force your standards on someone else usually does nothing but create tension if it is unsolicited. Often times you will find that politeness and ethical behavior exhibited by you will inspire it in other people.

Deep down, we all know the right thing to do. It is whether or not we do these things that separates ethical from unethical behavior. ~ Tammy DiGristine (aka "Tam")


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