Manners on the River: 101

Fly Fishing Manners 101

by Mike Ryan , in Writings by Our Customers

Written by David Chao:

David Chao
David Chao

I fished the Williams Fork this weekend. Pulling up to the parking lot, there were several people getting their gear together for the hike to the river. You know what it’s like. You pull up to a parking spot (thrilled that you got one!) and start scurrying to put your waders on. Somehow you think that the people next to you are racing to get their gear on so that they will take your only spot on the river! So, you hurry like your life depends upon it. Maybe you say hi as you smugly walk past them because you can dress faster than they can or maybe, you slow down and just say “hi”, like we did. Met Matt and Danny, two guys who admitted to being new to fishing the river, and fly fishing in general. We gave them the typical macho guy hints like “tough river”, “stay small” but we were really thinking “don’t go to where I’m going”.

As I’m setting up on the river, Matt and Danny, came over. Matt said, “What is the right etiquette to use on the river when there are other fishermen near you”. I was floored! Someone wanted to do it right and asked! Now, I’ve done my fair share of combat fishing on the Platte River near Deckers, where the river is crowded, and people can be downright grumpy. People fish very closely there. It is not like some of the pictures I’ve seen of East Coast fishing, but it is very close. Sometimes they ask to fish near you, mainly they don’t.

Matt asked me what the right etiquette is for moving up and down the river and fishing with other people on the river. Here’s what I shared with him:

1) Say “hi”. It really isn’t going to kill you to be friendly.

2) Ask if they are moving upstream or downstream and then try to do the opposite. If they are going up stream, go down stream. If you go the same direction, walk a good distance to give them some room to move too.

3) If they are fishing a large pool, run or riffle, but if is pretty big, ask if you can fish there. Otherwise, leave the whole area to them. Most people will not have a problem letting you fish near them, if you just ask. Anticipate that a few people won’t let you, but you can be rest assured that any tangles they have, lack of fish, or lost flies was a result of bad fly-fishing karma, brought on by grumpiness.

4) Don’t spook the run when you walk around someone. Stay low or stay back from the river. Walk gently and carefully near where they are fishing. You don’t want your shadows to spook fish or your stomping feet. Remember the lost flies, bad tangles karma from #4.

5) Don’t hog the hole – I know this one is a tough one. At the confluence of the Williams and Colorado is a honey hole for trout. Often times, someone will get there and never leave. They will fish the hole for the entire day. I know for many; the goal is to catch a lot of fish. For others, it is simply to catch a fish. I have fished enough to where if I catch a fish or two in a spot, I leave it. I’m more interested in seeing how many fish I can catch in new spots, than to just sit in one hole all day.

Is #5 really etiquette? Probably not. I just wanted to vent.

There is an exception to that rule. I met a dad, a son and daughter on the river. They were at a great spot on the river that had lots of fish. It was a honey hole. They were spread out on the river fishing it and they looked like they were having fun. The son got into a few with a brown San Juan worm. The daughter didn’t have a hit yet.

Later in the morning, I saw the dad fishing further downstream. I socially distanced from him but asked him how it was going. He said that aside from the son’s fish, they haven’t really gotten any hits. He really wanted his daughter to catch some fish because she went out rarely with them, and he wanted her to understand the thrill of catching a fish. At that moment, I did too! That’s the one exception to rule 5. As a dad, anything you can share with your kids is awesome. If the daughter got into a few fish, maybe she would go out more with dad and brother and that is good family time. So, that’s the exception to rule 5. If you have someone with you who you want to love the sport, make sure they catch fish and its ok with me to hog the hole.

Which takes me back to Matt and Dan. I ran into them again. They were in a great spot and Matt was re-rigging. Because they were so cool and nice at the parking lot and asked that etiquette question, I was more than happy to chat. Dan had caught a small fish, but Matt hadn’t yet. As I looked at their rig, I could tell why. As beginners, they had the right flies (but paid way too much because they hadn’t heard about but they were rigged wrong. I showed them how to rig and how they should set their strike indicators. They didn’t have split shot, so I put some on for them. Dan had used up most of his leader and was probably fishing 3x on a river that needed 5x at a minimum, so I gave him a new leader.

Then, we worked on drifts and the fact that you don’t have to look like Brad Pitt and cast like him to fish here in Colorado. If you have a good drift, you can catch fish. Happy to say that Matt landed a fish and lost another on a long-distance release. Dan had a good bite but lost the set. What was cool was how they genuinely cheered for each other. Later, I found out they had been friends since they were 5 years old. It showed because you could tell they were buds and rooted for each other.

So let’s remember our manners. Let’s all remember how hard it was to catch our first fish, and how frustrating it is to set everything up. I think fly fishing should be everyone’s favorite sport but I’m crazy that way. As for me, I was skunked in catching fish that day, but had the best time watching Dan and Matt and hearing how proud this Dad was to be fishing with his son and daughter. As I walked back to the car, there were a few cars still there. Matt and Danny’s and the family I had met were still parked there. It was getting dark!

Matt, Danny and that family I met…. Hope to see you on the river catching fish!


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