Stream Etiquette
By Paul Prentiss

This article was published in the Boulder Daily Camera on June 2, 2005 . If you missed it and you are new to the sport of fly fishing it deserves your attention.


As summer arrives the number of fishermen on public waters rises dramatically. Unfortunately, some anglers have never been taught basic stream etiquette.

One aspect of fishing most of us enjoy is the peace, quiet and solitude the sport offers. It should be obvious that you need to give fellow anglers as much space as possible. If you see someone fishing a pool and there is no one else in sight, keep looking for an unoccupied stretch of water. Try to work a section of stream as far from the nearest angler as possible. For example, if someone's at the head of the pool, then try the working the foot. If you can't find room on the best runs, get creative by searching for water that other anglers might overlook.

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 (they may be resting the hole) you must ask permission to fish. On the other hand, don't hog a good spot. I'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.

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. If you're not sure which direction the angler intends to fish, ask. Most people won't mind if you fish the water that they already covered.

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 numerous times. 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 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.

As a general rule its best to stay out of the water when you need to travel upstream or downstream. Use the trails rather than wading through the water that you don't intend to fish. Someone else may want to fish that water and you would have spooked all the fish while heading to greener pastures. Moreover, it's a lot less work to move on dry land.

Sound carries extremely well in water. Splashing water, clanking a wading staff or rolling rocks in the water will scare fish up and down the river for long distances.

Walking down along a bank someone is fishing towards is comparable throwing a rock in the water right in front of the fisherman. On one occasion I was working on a very large Rainbow feeding tight against the bank. Over the course of 60 minutes he had inspected but refused several offerings. 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 gives all fishermen a black eye. When in doubt ask. On the other hand, if you positive that you're on public property stand up for your rights. When confronted I'll suggest that we look over a map together and, if need be, call the Sheriff's office.