May 28th, 2007

The Importance of Manners
By Neil M. Travis, Montana

The sun was shining, the sky was a deep azure blue, the surrounding mountains gleamed brightly with their mantle of late winter snow that still clung to their highest peaks, a soft summer breeze rippled through the meadow grass, the trout were rising, and life was good.

An hour of careful observation had resulted in the location of a good trout rising along the bank just below a tuft of meadow grass perched precariously on the shoreline. The water was thin, and the angler knew that the trout felt very vulnerable and extreme caution was necessary if success was to be realized. It took nearly another thirty minutes to cautiously wade into position in order to obtain the proper casting angle, and several more minutes of observation to determine the timing of each rise. The angler prepared to make his first cast when, to his horror; he saw a group of anglers approaching along the bank. They were chatting among themselves, and either completely oblivious to his presence or ignorant of the fact that he might be working a fish rising along the bank. The angler knew that if he attempted to wave them off that he would spook the trout so he tried to call out to them, but they merely waved and continued walking. With a thrust of his tail the large brown streaked from the bank as the tread of the approaching anglers announced their presence far in advance of their appearance.

"How's fishing?" inquired one of the anglers as they marched passed.

"It was good" he replied, thinking to himself, until you came.

The group continued on down the bank and out of sight apparently completely unaware of what a breach of angling etiquette that they had just committed.

Angling etiquette has always been an important aspect of angling practice, but on today's increasingly crowded waters it has assumed a far greater importance. When I was growing up trout stream etiquette was something that you learned from your elders, but many of today's anglers did not grow up with an angling tradition as part of their upbringing. In addition, many younger anglers view angling as a competitive sport and that changes everything.

The rules of angling etiquette are really quite simple, and the first rule is simply to be observant. Simply being observant and aware of other anglers can help avoid most conflicts.

First in time is first in right is an old maxim of jurisprudence I learned long before I became a judge. Applied to angling it simply means that the guy that arrived first has the right to fish the water without interference. Unless they are part of your group, an old friend, or they invite you to share the water they deserve to be allowed the freedom to fish the water without your interference. Don't walk down the bank near where they are fishing, and if you cannot easily get passed them either wait until they are finished or go elsewhere.

Anglers who are wading upstream have the right of way over anglers wading downstream. Never intentionally wade into water directly above another angler when they are fishing their way upstream.

If you see an angler sitting on bank they may be resting the water or waiting for the hatch or a particular fish to show. The wading angler upon encountering such a person should exit the stream and detour far enough around them to avoid disturbing the water that they are watching.

Don't assume that everyone you encounter wants to carry on an animated conversation with a perfect stranger. A nod of the head or a wave of the hand will usually suffice to acknowledge another angler's presence.

If you are floating remember you can cover miles of river in a short period of time while the wading angler is limited to a relatively short stretch of water. Don't float through the water where they are fishing unless it is impossible to do otherwise. If it is not possible to avoid floating through their fishing water do so quickly and don't continue casting while you float through. Likewise give other floating anglers the courtesy of staying far enough behind them to allow them to fish the water. When passing other floaters do so quickly, and pull far enough ahead to give them ample room to continue fishing without interference.

On large western rivers when fishing for steelhead or salmon anglers will often share a large pool or long run by rotating through the pool in an orderly fashion. An angler will start at the head of the pool or run and slowly work their way downstream. When the first angler has worked downstream a sufficient distance the next angler begins to fish his way downstream. When the first angler has fished his way through he will exit the stream and walk back to the beginning and repeat the process. In this way a number of anglers can fish a given stretch of water without interfering with their fellow anglers. If you encounter such a situation be certain that you wait your turn before you barge in.

An angler who is fighting a fish has the exclusive right of way to fight their fish, and all other anglers in the immediate vicinity should get out of the way without delay. Don't presume that an angler fighting a fish will welcome your help in landing it. Stay out of the way unless they request your assistance.

Mostly it's just common sense, but unfortunately common sense doesn't seem to be common. Just do unto others as you would like to have them do to you, and your time on the stream will be much more pleasant for you and everyone else.

The sun is shining, the sky is a deep azure blue, the surrounding mountains gleam brightly with their mantle of late winter snow that still clings to their highest peaks, a soft summer breeze ripples through the meadow grass, the trout are rising, and life is good. ~ Neil M. Travis, Montana/Arizona

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