Male Fishing in river

Are You A Good River Steward?

What does being a good steward of the river mean? Definition – Stewardship starts with recognizing what we love. – River stewardship, then, refers to a set of behaviors we practice in the care and enjoyment of our local Rivers. Whether we care to pay attention or turn a blind eye, everything we do in, on, or to the river has an impact. It is more important now than ever to acknowledge our impact on the river and to take the necessary steps to reduce our footprint when it comes to the sport we love. By no means am I saying don’t enjoy the river, we need to realize our impact and start to be more conscious of how we use or pass through the river. This includes the creatures that live amongst the rivers. Here are some ways to be a good steward of the river.


No matter how you look at it, water usage in our everyday life directly impacts the river. Do you let the water run while brushing your teeth? Do you overwater your lawn? How often do you wash your car? It is easy to think that our everyday life practices don’t impact the river especially when we have been conditioned to do so but it’s time to start rethinking how we use water and how much of it we do use in the process. 


Have you heard the expression “Leave it Better than you found it?” Get in the practice of picking up trash. If you’re a guide have your clients pick up at least one piece of trash or see you do it. Don’t put chemicals in the river. Use environmentally friendly fishing products for your floatant etc. Set a goal to leave it better every time you enjoy the river.


This kind of goes hand in hand with Leave No Trace but I feel it deserves its own merit. A lot of rivers today are benefitting from riverbank restoration. River restoration immediately benefits the quality of the ecosystem through re-engineering channels that improve the ecology and reduce floods. It also enhances biodiversity in the area by restoring natural functions. So, tread lightly.


Try and practice catch and release and always keep the fish in the water when doing so. This is especially important in the modern era of Social Media and the need to show off our catch. Grasp this, fish that were released without being held out of the water had a 12 percent mortality. But fish held out of the water for 10-30 seconds had a 38 percent mortality rate; more than one in three fish died. Fish out of the water for a full minute saw a 72 percent death rate. If you do need a photo of that trophy fish, try to only take it out when the actual photo is being taken. And then only take one photo.


The use of barbless hooks helps with a quick release and is less likely to tear up a fish’s mouth. The ease with which the hook comes out should dramatically decrease the amount of time we handle the fish.  


It’s no secret that the country is in a drought state and this has taken a negative toll on our watersheds. Several times over the last few years we have seen river closures due to the water being too hot. The hotter the water, the less oxygen it has. Fish cannot revive as well when the water reaches above 67 degrees. For every degree over that, it takes even longer for them to revive. Carrying a thermometer will help you know when it’s time to call it quits for the day. 


Out West, Rainbow Trout tend to spawn in March/April and the Brown Trout in October/November. We must leave the fish alone during this time. Look for Redds (worn-out spots on the river bottom) and paired up fish and leave them alone. I know it can be tempting to fish for them or even the fish below the Redds, but any intrusion stresses the fish out. Let nature takes its course and secure our future trout.


Rivers are crowded these days and finding a spot to fish isn’t as easy as it once was. This is a good reminder to share the river with your fellow anglers. If you are having success in a spot and you have been there for a while, let someone else get in on the action.  


If you like to fish more than one river consider cleaning your gear. Invasive species get spread from one river to the next by attaching themselves to you and your gear, particularly boots. Some states have even outlawed felt boots. Studies show however that yes while felt didn’t help, the invasive species were still found in the laces and eyelets. Ultimately it is up to us to clean our gear before going to a new river. A simple solution of some bleach and water has been shown to do the trick.


A great way to give back is to volunteer your time to a great cause. If you are too busy, donate. Some local causes around this area are Eagle River Watershed Council and Trout Unlimited – Eagle Chapter.


We have all copped an attitude at one time or another. Getting Low Holed or having someone walk in front of where you are fishing is not cool. Seeing someone mishandle a fish is even more frustrating. Instead of getting angry, use it as an opportunity to educate someone. Try to keep in mind that you are fishing, and life is good because of it.


Let the river breathe. Take a break.  

There are many ways in which to be a good steward of the river and these are just a few. None of us are immune to the growth of the sport and even more so to the troubles that haunt our local rivers. By doing even one of these things, we can all start to make a positive impact and improve not only the river but the local vibe as well.