Few of us prefer to fish crowded streams, but
all of us are finding ourselves in this situation
more and more frequently all the time on our
favorite streams. Urban and suburban streams
are almost always teeming with anglers, and
even the fabled waters of places like Alaska
and Montana are becoming congested with fly
anglers during their peak seasons. So I thought
some personal observations and recommendations
from a guy whose home waters run right through
town in one of America's top tourist destinations
might do somebody some good. At least, that's
First of all, let me explain what I consider to
be a "crowd." If I have to:
1. Look for a vacant parking place
in the designated parking area...
...then it's crowded. Most of the Ozarks tailwater
fisheries experience a pretty high volume of
anglers all year long. It's impractical and
unrealistic to think you're going to find a
big stretch of Ozark tailwater that you can
have all to yourself. So we don't tend to
feel crowded just because we see other anglers
while we fish. In fact, the social interaction
is a big part of fly-fishing in the Ozarks.
2. Search for a spot where I don't feel
I'm crowding someone else's established spot...
3. Wait for a good spot to open up...
The first thing an angler needs to master when
confronted with a fishing crowd is how to choose
and claim a spot. Now, we all have different
methods and opinions regarding how to pick a
good spot to fish, but I'm talking about how
to pick a spot in a way that doesn't intrude
upon other anglers' enjoyment. Start off by
identifying about three choices where you're
likely to catch fish. Then pick one where your
casting and your drift will not cross into someone
else's casting or drift space. You have to stand
back and watch each likely spot for a couple of
minutes to determine which is best for you. While
you're watching and waiting, be sure not to crowd
another angler's backcast.
Now take your chosen spot. On the approach,
be sure to avoid crowding the backcast of the
angler on either side of you. In the event
this cannot be avoided, speak up and politely
inform one or the other that you need to cross
behind them. Do so quickly. You don't need to
ask permission to fish next to someone (in the
same run or hole) on crowded waters. Only another
newcomer to fishing crowded waters will be upset
by someone else fishing in "their" run or hole.
It's kind of rare to have one all to yourself.
And when it happens it is considered good fortune,
not the expected norm. But it never hurts to be
courteous enough to ask. You'll rarely be told
Make sure you take up residence and plan your
casting and drifting in such a way as to not
interfere with the drifting and casting of other
anglers. Your casting target should not cross
into the downstream range of the angler fishing
just upstream of your position, nor should the
tail of your downstream drift cross into the
zone of the casting target of the angler immediately
downstream of your position. If there is an angler
immediately across the stream from your position,
make sure your drifts and casts don't overlap.
It's OK to change spots on crowded waters. Most
of us do it with regularity, even if we're catching
fish in our current location. First, walk straight
back out of the stream if you're wading. Go to the
bank immediately behind you and keep walking until
you are clear of other anglers' backcasts. Now you
can safely and politely walk upstream or downstream
to find a new fishing spot. No need to pardon
yourself or announce your presence if you're out
of range of others' backcasts. If you must cross
a section of bank that causes you to crowd someone's
backcast, then wait for the right moment and announce
your intentions. Once acknowledged, cross quickly.
Now here's a really sticky wicket you can get into
on crowded streams. What do you do when you get
a big fish on and he runs hard downstream, crossing
into the "space" of other anglers? It's pretty
simple. Again, those of us who regularly fish
crowded waters are used to having this happen.
The simple rule is that a fish on trumps
everything else. Simply holler "fish on" and
start moving downstream to catch up with your
fish. Folks will clear a path for you. Don't
get upset if someone is caught off guard, though.
It happens. A downstream angler may very well
get crossed up in your line if he was lost in
thought and didn't hear your warning. Repeat
the "fish on" warning as you move downstream
until everyone in your path has acknowledged
the situation. It never hurts to excuse yourself
or thank anglers as they move out of your way.
There's also a wrong way to move from spot to spot.
Never under any circumstances cross in front of
another angler to get to a new fishing spot.
This is simply rude and inconsiderate.
My last point is about the proper attitude for
fishing in crowds. I bring this up because
inevitably you will encounter one or more other
anglers who do not want to play by these simple
rules. If someone crosses your line with his
or her cast, don't fly off the handle. Remain
calm and solve the problem. When this happens
to me I usually remain polite throughout the
process of untangling the mess they just created.
Then, when all is cleared up, I say something
like, "You know, you'll probably find more space
to fish farther down(or up)stream." Then, if
they don't move on, I usually do. I find this
happens more with spinning tackle anglers than
with other fly anglers. I don't know why, but
spinning anglers don't seem to mind casting across
a fly line. This is largely why spinning and
spin-casting anglers in the Ozark coldwater
fisheries are usually referred to as "Zebco
Warriors." They tend to practice something
akin to full-contact trout fishing. For your
information, other fly anglers will not look
down on you should you decide to point out the
errors of a Zebco Warrior in no uncertain terms
after he/she has infringed upon the space of a
fly angler. In fact, they'll usually thank you
for it. Just remember not to fly off the handle.
Make your remarks of admonition short, to the
point, and without raising your voice beyond what
is necessary to be heard clearly. It is also a
plus if you can make your point with humor...
even if that humor is at the expense of the
offending Zebco Warrior.
However, your primary defensive weapon when
fishing crowded waters should be your feet.
If you find yourself confronted with something
you don't like, simply move. It's OK to
intervene on behalf of others and speak up
about the problem, but it is generally considered
more appropriate to move or ignore personal affronts
unless they repeat themselves a few times. Think
defensively. Don't lay your fly rod down if there
are people around. It most likely will be stepped
on. Park in such a way as to avoid door bangs
and other parking lot mishaps from other anglers,
even if it means you have to walk a bit farther
than you'd like. Walking is good for you. And
don't let your catch-and-release sensibilities
become offended if you are fishing in an area
where it is legal to keep fish. Speaking up
about C&R when your neighbor is putting that
trout on his stringer just makes you look snarky
and condescending. If you don't like to see people
harvest what they catch, fish in C&R-only zones.
Remember, everyone who is abiding by the law (even
the Zebco Warrior) has an equal right to be there
and to enjoy themselves. ~ Ken (Silver Mallard)
Ken graduated from Southern Methodist University
in 1988, and spent the next several years serving
in the United States Navy as an intelligence analyst
and Russian Language translator. He is a veteran
of Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Leaving the
nation's service in 1993.
Ken is also a published outdoor writer and historian,
having penned articles and stories that have appeared
in several national hunting publications like North
American Hunter magazine, on GunMuse.com, in regional
and local newspapers, and historical and literary
journals. He has also provided hunting and dog
training seminars for Bass Pro Shops and other
sporting goods retailers nationwide. He volunteers
his time to Ducks Unlimited and Trout Unlimited,
as well as several local charitable organizations.
He is also a REALTOR with Coldwell Banker in
Branson, Missouri; where he lives with his wife,
Wilma, and their Weimaraner, Smoky Joe.