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Stream Etiquette

By The Fly Fish Ohio Curmudgeon-in-Residence

The opinions of the Fly Fish Ohio Curmudgeon do not reflect the position of the Fly Fish Ohio web site or team.  These are the ramblings of a so-far unidentified feather flinger who occasionally slips an article under the door jam when we're not looking.


Itís a beautiful, warm, overcast, perfect day for trout fishing. You turn on the road that runs along the stream and your prayers are answered; there is no one near the section you had hoped to fish. You park, quickly put on your waders, rig up, and head to the stream. You spot several fish rising close to the bank, so you quietly get in 30 feet below the rising fish, take a position 4 feet out from the bank and cast your dry fly just above the fish. You are so focused on the fish that you barely notice the movement on the bank on your left. You turn to your left and see a guy with a spinning rod and tackle box walk upstream and sit on the bank 20 feet upstream of your position, and cast a spinner out from the bank and across your fly line! You are speechless (armed with nothing but blunt instruments), and your jaw drops open when he looks at you with a Cheshire cat grin!!!!!!!!


On another day on another stream which has overgrown banks which are nearly impossible to walk, you have waded a fairly long distance upstream to reach your favorite spot. You patiently wait the half hour or so for the evening hatch to begin and the trout begin to rise. You make your fist couple of casts upstream and across to the fish rising against the far bank, and suddenly hear loud talking and crashing of tree limbs from the forest across from you. Three men appear and splash their way across the stream 20 yards above you and through the pool you are fishing! They are very careful to avoid eye contact with you as they are aware that they have ruined your fishing for the evening!


Do the people in these two incidents seem somehow rude and inconsiderate to you? If not, please skip the rest of this article, get a 12 oz ball peen hammer, and forcefully whack yourself in the forehead at least 4 times! For the rest of you, letís investigate why people who are smart enough to handle their own involuntary bodily functions (breathing, heartbeat, etc.) would behave like that. Incidentally, both of these incidents, as well as several other similar ones, have actually happened to me while fly fishing a stream.


Incidents like this never use to happen in years (many years) past, and I have a few theories as to what is the cause of this change. One possibility is that as a result of the ďme generationĒ of the 90ís, most people are now so self centered that being courteous to a fellow fisherman is unthinkable. Another possibility is that the low life individuals who used to focus on non fly fishing methods in muddy lakes have thrown away their spinning rods and 5 gallon buckets and have taken up fly fishing! My final theory, which I hope is true, is that many younger fly fishermen have never heard of stream etiquette. I donít know why it is, but the rules of the road (stream) known as stream etiquette are not taught much anymore. Perhaps it is because in years past we learned to fly fish from a parent or friend who passed on these rules, whereas new fly fishermen today learn from a guide or by taking a class from a fly shop. In any case, stream etiquette is only common sense, and anyone with any of it should instinctively know how to act. Since many apparently donít I consider it my civic duty to set you all straight?


Below are some of the traditional rules of stream etiquette:



1.      When wading a stream, the fisherman wading upstream has the right of way. If you are fishing downstream and approach a fisherman coming upstream, get out before you kick up lots of mud (about 100 yds upstream) and spoil his fishing. Walk around and get in well below him. If the density of stream side vegetation or local laws make it impossible to go around, ask him which bank he would like you to wade by him on and stay as close to the bank as possible. Reel in and DO NOT cast to a rising fish in his vicinity.

2.      If a fisherman is sitting on a log or standing near the bank in front of your favorite hole, he is resting it and it is his to fish. Suffer in silence and move on!

3.      Donít trespass. If there is no easement along the stream, donít get out and walk through some farmerís field for a short cut! Morons who behave like this cause the rest of us to lose fishing rights.

4.      Donít litter (cans, candy wrappers, tippet material, etc). If you can, pick up other peoples litter that you find and carry it with you.

5.      Donít be a kiss and tell fisherman. If someone reveals a secret spot to you, do not reveal it to anyone without his permission. If you find a great spot, only reveal it to a limited number of trusted friends. Many great streams have been destroyed by passing out too much of this kind of information. Do other fishermen a favor and allow them to actually learn something for themselves.

6.      Obey fishing regulations and catch and release whenever possible. If you must keep fish, limit your kill. Leftover trout are as tasty as cold tofu!

7.       If you are floating a stream and approach a fisherman, reel in and donít fish until you are well past him. Ask on which side you should pass, and make every attempt to be as quiet as you can when passing. If possible, stop paddling until you pass. If you are in an aluminum canoe, good luck at being quiet!


I would also like to add a few ďcurmudgeonĒ  rules of stream etiquette.


1.      A trout steam with any significant current can be a noisy place. Donít stand in the stream screaming at the top of you lungs trying to communicate with your buddy 50 yards from you! Fisherman are not only there to catch fish, but also to enjoy the peace and solitude and commune with nature. Therefore, shut your pie hole and save it for later, or learn to use hand signals.

2.      Donít be like a ďchatty CathyĒ doll when approaching strangers. They may there to fish and enjoy the peace and solitude, or they may be there to make new friends. Try to determine if they look like they want to talk before asking a bunch of question about what they caught and what fly they are using.

3.      Donít go to fish a small stream with a big group of people. Split up and go to different locations on the stream and limit the group size considering the available water to fish. Donít assume your group will have the whole river to fish. Think of the poor guy who used a week of his vacation to come and fish this river, only to find you and an army of your fellow club members at all the access points.


There you have it! In a nutshell, treat other fishermen, as you would like to be treated. Stream etiquette is nothing more than simple courtesy and common sense. If you are one of those who canít manage either, please buy a spinning rod, some crank baits, and a bass boat and go hit the lakes! Just in case, I may start carrying a 12oz ball peen hammer in my fly vest!

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