A Little Stream-side Etiquette is Needed on Local Waters

By Gary Lewis

Gary Lewis Books and DVDs

The sign read "Please wait to be seated." And so we waited. Soon the maitre'd arrived and showed us to our seats. There were two of us at the table and two empty chairs. As we perused our menus, a waiter arrived to clear the extra place settings.

A steady flow of dishes drifted by to other tables. We made selections from our menus and my wife and I settled in to enjoy each other's company.

As the night wore on, tables emptied and the host brought new guests in to sit. Not once during this time did I see someone try to force their way into a table taken by someone else. Not once did I see an eager patron leap in front of a waiter to take a dinner that he didn't order.

Among the diners, I guessed there was probably a fisherman. A good, decent man or woman who wouldn't dream of forcing their way into a chair at my table or intercepting my food as it passed from the kitchen or knocking my drink over. But this same person just might smile at me on the river and cheerfully jump into the water I am fishing and wade right into the spot I was casting to a holding fish.

A few months ago I was fishing a river that any fly fisher over the age of ten could cast across with ease. A rainbow trout was actively feeding and I positioned myself downstream to cast up to him. He rose to my #20 Griffith's Gnat five out of six times. Deciding to give that fish a break, I broke off the midge pattern I was using and selected a streamer from my fly box to fish the water just in front of me.

From where I stood I could see three more fish, I'd cast to them for a few minutes. Two people were approaching on the path along the river. By the time I had pulled my knot tight, one of them had waded right into the spot previously occupied by the twelve inch trout I'd been casting to. Before I knew it, the smiling angler was pulling in an eight inch rainbow. I had to find another place to fish.

Upstream I found an unoccupied spot and cast to a sixteen inch brown I could see feeding close to the bottom. The trout rushed my fly three times to stop short, refusing it. Stepping back, I leaned against a tree to tie on a different fly. Along came another angler to stand less than ten feet from me and cast to the aforementioned trout. I moved on upstream. Neither of these people appeared to know that what they had done was rude. The first one smiled and asked how I was doing. The second was so focused on the fish that he failed to notice me though I stood just a rod length away.

The fish are there for everybody who buys a license, but everybody cannot fish at once. On the water we still should abide by the rules of polite conduct. Here are four commandments toward good fishing behavior. 

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's water. If there is another angler fishing the pool you wanted to fish, find another spot. Be first on the water next time. If circumstances allow room for another rod on a run, ask the person who was there first if there is room for you.

Thou shalt not wade through thy neighbor's water (unless thou art hooked to a big fish and must play it through).

Thou shalt move with stealth when passing another fisherman (thy neighbor) on the bank. The clomp of your boots can spook fish by the vibrations that pass from the bank through the water. The shadow of your hat can spook fish as you pass by.

Thou shalt not litter. Empty Rooster Tail packages and leader spools are not naturally occurring. Neither do they break down and become part of nature in any length of time that they might be considered as acceptable compost such as, say, an apple core. Similarly, discarded line can trap birds and small animals when left in snarls.

Give some thought to how you would like to be treated and treat others the same way.

I hope we never need a little sign at the river to remind us to "Please wait to be shown to your pool." The day that a fellow with a towel over his arm asks if I prefer flycasting or non, I guess I'm dusting off the old golf clubs.

Go forth and be good fishers of trout.

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