How To Fish Stillwaters

June 16th, 2003

Stillwaters, lakes, ponds and reservoirs are the most underutilized fisheries in the North America. Why? Because the average fly fisher doesn't know how to fish them, or where to start. Marv Taylor has a wealth of experience in this area and volunteered to write a weekly column to take the mystery out of fishing stillwaters. Stay tuned, you too can master stillwaters! ~ LadyFisher

Fishing Etiquette

By Marv Taylor, Garden City, ID

Good angling etiquette on streams seems to be more common than on lakes. Many beginners assume that because another angler's fishing spot is less defined in lakes, ponds, and reservoirs, it is more open to encroachment.

On a recent trip to central Idaho's Little Payette Lake, for example, I saw several fledgling float tubers perform less than nobly. It was bad enough when they moved their belly boats right in and "sat" where a shore fisherman was casting, but when they snagged his line things got a little hairy. After a few choice expletives, the intruders got the message and moved down the lake. I thought the shore wader displayed admirable restraint in not putting flies in the ears of a couple of the ill-mannered intruders.

Fishing from float tubes and pontoon boats is a fast growing discipline and it's mandatory that newcomers understand and practice good angling etiquette on stillwater.

The current-day emphasis on urban fishing by many state fish and game agencies is welcomed by many anglers. But along with improved urban fishing, comes a need for a broader awareness of basic angling etiquette. Anglers must realize that good fishing manners is as important in an urban setting as in a remote wilderness lake or stream. An angler first to arrive at a run or pool in a stream, or a well defined hot spot on a lake, should be entitled to sole possession of that "hole." Shoulder to shoulder fishing might be a part of the angling ethic in some more populous areas, but not in my home state of Idaho.

While it might be difficult to convince many of the shoulder to shoulder anglers on a popular Pennsylvania stream on opening day, that the first fisherman to arrive is solely entitled to a prime area, most western anglers will accept the premise without debate. Even on heavily fished urban fisheries like the Boise River, that runs through downtown Boise.

The rule of angling etiquette applied to Idaho's famous Silver Creek would, admittedly, be difficult to impose on this urban fishery. While most Silver Creek anglers will give the early arriver at least 40 or 50 yards above and below where he is fishing, such would not be the case through the city of Boise; although there are some basic rules of good conduct that should apply.

I was on a photo shoot on the Boise River several years ago, when I watched a fly fisherman (the subject of my shoot) lose a nice steelhead. Another fly fisherman who had been working an area 100 yards upstream, saw the action and immediately began moving downstream. Within three or four minutes the second angler had waded to the exact spot where the first steelheader had hooked and lost his fish.

To say the first angler was unhappy with the second angler's actions, would be a gross understatement. He gave the intruder two minutes to get out of the river...or else. The intruder glared at the first fisherman, for about 20 seconds, and then waded out of the river and headed for his vehicle. About a dozen other anglers in this popular Boise River run, clapped him back to his truck. I got some great photographs and a newspaper column out of the incident.

A friend once described to me an incident that happened to him on a popular western Idaho river. He was working upriver to a rising trout when a pickup pulled over and an angler rushed down, waded to within 30 feet of where my friend was casting and chunked out his bait, which consisted of a big nightcrawler and a two ounce sinker. When it became obvious he had spooked the fish, the angler uttered a few choice words - no apology of course - and flew off to find another fishing hole (he could pollute?).

My friend said he thought about beating the guys brains in, but reconsidered. "The guy probably wouldn't have understood my actions," my friend told me, "and I would have ended up with bruised knuckles and (his) hospital bill."

When an angler has doubts about "crowding" another fisherman, he should consider how he would feel if the roles were reversed. Such self-evaluation might have stopped the Glenwood Bridge angler from backing his pickup truck into the Boise River, between two established fishermen. The trucker unfolded a lawn hair in the bed of the truck, cracked a case of brew, and cast over the line of his upstream neighbor.

That was bad enough, but when the intruder cranked up his truck radio and blasted everybody within earshot with his favorite country western (at high volume), the six other people fishing the area had a conversation with him and he chose to go elsewhere to fish.

The best contemporary code of behavior was voiced by Jack Lorenz, executive director of the Izaak Walton League of America. In your outdoors activities, Lorenz once said, behave as though you were being followed by a cameraman from the 60 Minutes television program, and viewers would be seeing a 20-minute segment of your actions on a Sunday evening telecast.

What a scary thought. ~ Marv

About Marv

Marv Taylor's books, Float-Tubing The West, The Successful Angler's Journal, More Fragments of the Puzzle, (Volume I) and More Fragments of the Puzzle, (Volume II) are all available from Marv. You can reach Marv by email at or by phone: 208-322-5760.

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