Stream Etiquette
Paul Prentiss

With the approach of summer, an army of fly fishermen will descend upon the public fishing access. While the majority of fly fisherman are cognizant about giving fellow anglers enough room to fish, this is not always the case.

Rule number one is the first person in a given location has the right to fish that spot. If you want to fish it you'll simply have to wait. Trying to nudge him or her out by getting within casting distance is a serious breach of etiquette. If the individual is not fishing (could be resting the hole) you must ask permission to fish. On the other hand, don't hog a good spot. We've all seen anglers camp out on a particularly good hole for hours at a time - very bad form. Even worse are guides with clients that tag team holes as they work their way down river.

Give each angler plenty of room. In general that means at least 100 feet, and even then that's pretty close. If someone is working up-stream towards a good lie, never ever step in front of the angler. I've had this happen and it's the height of rudeness. If an angler is working upstream and you're working downstream he or she has the right of way. Retire from the water and circle around him.

Never wade or maneuver a boat through a spot other fishermen are working. Circle around them, get behind them, move to the far side of the river, or wait. I've seen this happen many times and there is no excuse for such behavior. Several years ago on the Bighorn River, I was floating down a side channel when I encountered a guide and his clients. There was no good way to get around them without disturbing their fishing so I pulled over and walked down the bank to speak to the guide. He informed me that they would be done in about 15 minutes. I waited and then floated through the lie when they signaled it was ok. Later in the day, the guide stopped while I was having lunch and thanked me for my courtesy and suggested a spot I should try later in the day.

Walking down along a bank someone is fishing towards is comparable to throwing a rock in the water right in front of the fisherman. While fishing the Yampa River in the town of Steamboat last summer I was working on a very large Rainbow that was feeding tight against the bank. I had him come up to several dry fly patterns over the course of 90 minutes but he refused them all. While changing a fly I heard voices in the willows and a few seconds later three fishermen emerged. They stomped right up to the bank and one said, "Any luck?" I replied, "My luck just ran out."

Trespassing on private property is not only expensive but gives all fishermen a black eye. When in doubt, ask. On the other hand, if you're positive that you're on public property, stand up for your rights, butI don't mean by getting physical. When confronted I'll offer to go back to my vehicle where we both can look at a map of the area that identifies the public property and/or I'll suggest that we jointly call the Sheriff's office.