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07/07/16 at 08:50 AM by Vince Puzick

So it is probably one of the most written about topics in fly fishing (other than “what’s hatching?”):  etiquette on the river.  Do a Google search on the phrase “fly fishing etiquette,” and you get 239,000 results (in 0.43 seconds, I might add).  While it is difficult to all agree on or come from the same school of thought on what defines “proper etiquette,” there is one basic “rule” on which we all can agree:  respect the other angler’s space. 


I was “high holed’ on one of our local fisheries yesterday.  It happens.  Whether unknowingly or just out right “in your face” thievery, we sometimes get in each other’s way.  As fly fishing increases in popularity and pressure increases, we have to continue to grow as anglers as we protect our limited AND shared resources.


I did my Google search to pursue the answer to one question:  who has the right of way?  A quick perusal of a handful of those 239,000 results provided a common answer: 

  • Pat Dorsey Fly Fishing  (Proper Etiquette): “Typically anglers working upstream and have the right of way over anglers moving down river.”
  • Colorado Cutthroat Chapter of Trout Unlimited (Fly Fishing Etiquette):  “The angler that is traveling up-stream always has the right of way over an angler traveling Down-stream.”
  • Fly Anglers Online (Fly Fishing 101): “A person working upstream has the right of way over someone fishing downstream.”
  • Minnesota Steelheader (Rules for the River): “If you're working your way downstream and come across someone working upstream, yield to the angler working upstream. This is an old rule from the time of Hewitt and Gordon.”
  • Field and Stream (“Don’t Be That Guy”):  “Watch the direction where other anglers are fishing (are they going upstream or downstream, moving right or left along a shoreline?), and never block them.”

Anglers heading upstream have the right of way.


We may not all agree on that “rule” or share that viewpoint.  We may not even consider that to be common knowledge or hold that belief.  If one angler lives by it and another angler doesn’t even consider the idea of yielding, what can we do? 


Ask: I’ve learned over the past couple of years as pressure on our rivers has taken an uptick: just ask your fellow anglers a question. 

  • Field and Stream: “When in doubt, ask. Talk to others. ‘Do you mind if I … fish that pool up there?’
  • Pat Dorsey:  “Communication is key, always ask other fisherman if you can fish nearby…” (and nearby may mean across the river, too).

We’re all in this together.  I hope you don’t read this blog as preachy or coming from self-righteous indignation.  As my friend and guide, Kenny Romero, says, “we’re not going to be getting any more water – but we are going to be getting more anglers.”  We all want to have a good experience on the river. 


One final thought:  “I think the most important rule to remember is to respect the other angler’s space.  As to how much space that is, a good rule of thumb is ‘twice as far as you think.’ (Rules for the River)


Tight lines.  

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