Doug and I were visiting the Elk River in British Columbia last weekend when a fellow in a drift boat opted to ignore the open channel on river right and float down the small side channel I was fishing. I was a little bummed — the oarsman could see me standing mid-channel from quite a ways away — but I assumed that he’d have the angler in the bow stop casting when they got close, and that they would slip behind me and scoot downstream a fair distance before they started up again.
The fellow on the oars rowed right in front of me — almost close enough for me to reach out and poke him with my rod — while the angler in the bow kept casting. They pounded the bank I was fishing, and they kept doing so as they headed downstream. As you might imagine, I was less than pleased. After pondering their utter cluelessness for just a second, I reeled in and called it quits for the day.
There are a few things that you never want to do as a fly fisher. For example, if you’re rowing a boat and you have to pass a wade angler in tight quarters, you don’t just float through. Instead, there’s a basic protocol to follow:
- The downstream angler has the right of way.
- The wade angler has the right of way over the drift boat.
- Tell everyone in your boat to stop fishing while you’re still well upstream.
- Slow down above the angler. Drop anchor if you can’t hold the boat in place with the oars.
- Ask the angler if you should go behind — which is usually the best bet — or in front to minimize your impact on his or her fishing.
- Follow the angler’s directions.
- If it’s too tight to float by safely, get out and walk the boat quietly past the angler.
- Be sure to ask the angler if they’re working upstream or downstream. If they are fishing downstream, give them a couple of hundred yards before anyone in your boat starts casting again.
The idea is to treat other folks with the same respect you’d hope for. It’s the Golden Rule, and it’s just as applicable in fly fishing as it is in the rest of our lives.
Editor's note: Read more about drift boat etiquette.
There are several other common mistakes you’ll want to avoid when you’re on the water. They fall under the following categories:
The vast majority of us prefer to have the water in our immediate vicinity to ourselves. To be frank, it’s rude as hell to encroach on someone else’s spot while they’re fishing. So how close is too close? That depends on any number of things, including the size of the stream or river, its popularity, the type of water, the time of day, the time of year, the proximity to large population centers, etc. Still, there are some general guidelines to keep in mind.
If you’re wading a large river and there are very few people around, try to give everyone you come across a ton of space. You don’t need to intrude on their angling.
If the quarters are tight, or if there are a bunch of folks in the immediate vicinity, you can get a little closer … but not much. My personal rule of thumb is that two anglers who don’t know each other should never be able to cast to the same location at the same time. If we assume that good casters can cast 100’ with a fly rod — which many can — we should aim to be at least 200’ away from the nearest fly fisher.
If we’re floating, it’s typically a good idea to stay at least a hundred yards away from other boats. You may find yourself in certain situations where you’ll have to be closer than that, but in general you want to give everyone on the river plenty of space.
I love music. I just love it. But it’s important to realize that only total dicks blast their favorite tunes on the water. Here’s the thing. Technology allows us to listen to music at any volume we choose without imposing our musical tastes on everyone around us. While I prefer to fish without music — as do most of the folks I know — some anglers want music to enhance their experience. Fair enough. But it’s incumbent upon them to listen with earbuds or AirPods. As long as they avoid sharing their favorite songs with everyone else, they can crank AC/DC or enjoy Miley Cyrus to their heart’s content. Just don’t make the rest of us listen to it.
Cutting In Line
If you’ve been fly fishing for a while, you’ve probably heard the term “low holing.” It means that someone cut in front of someone else on the river in order to improve their odds of success. It also means that the angler who was just “low holed” will be understandably pissed at the individual or individuals who ignored fly fishing etiquette and chose greed over the Golden Rule.
How do we avoid this issue? It’s simple. If we’re floating, we give wade anglers and other boats a ton of room, and we avoid floating around someone and then pulling in to fish the water directly below them.
If we’re wading, we take a second to observe the other angler. If they’re working downstream, we either stay above them or we walk way, way, way downstream past them before starting to fish. And if they’re working upstream, we follow the same basic principle in the other direction.
Oh, and if you can’t tell which way a person is moving — if, for example, they’re stationary — all you have to do is ask. The vast majority of fly fishers will appreciate your good manners and tell you exactly what they’re planning.
If you’re someone who feels the need to film yourself or others with a drone, or if you purchased a drone to scout for rising fish or good river conditions from a distance, please keep in mind that a lot of folks have pretty serious issues with drones intruding on their personal space. With that in mind, don’t fly your drone around other anglers without their prior permission and be mindful that some people find the whine of a drone to be incredibly annoying. A little common sense can go a long, long way to avoid issues on the water.
It’s really pretty simple. Don’t bring your dog fishing with you unless he or she is exceptionally well-behaved. At a minimum, your dog should always be under your control. Which means it should sit, stay and heel on command. And if you decide to take your dog to the river to swim, or for exercise, please keep it away from folks who are trying to fish. Even dog lovers like yours truly can get a little peeved when Bob the WonderDog charges over and puts down all the rising trout in the immediate vicinity.
I just want to point out that we are all personally responsible for everything we do on the water. If we act consciously and treat other folks with respect, we set a positive example and make the world a slightly better place for everyone around us. Conversely, if we’re loud and obnoxious, or clueless, or if we fail to embrace basic fly fishing etiquette, then we make things worse for ourselves as well as other anglers. From where I sit, that should be an easy choice for everyone who loves to fish.