Float Fishing Etiquette

Float Fishing Etiquette

Summertime in the Colorado Rockies is upon us and this typically means the sun is out, the fish are feeding and the rubber hatch is in full force. The “rubber hatch” refers to when there are a lot of other boats on the water. It can make float fishing a little bit more challenging and at times a lot more frustrating. But, it shouldn’t deter you from having some fun and catching fish. The rivers are meant for everyone from the kayakers, rafters, fishermen, paddleboarders, to the fun floaters. So how do you navigate a river that may be busier than you have ever seen it before? It’s quite simple, follow a simple code of float fishing etiquette and do your best to educate others. Read on below to learn more about float fishing etiquette and be sure to share any useful feedback you may have for other float anglers.

Boat Ramp Etiquette:

We won’t dive too deep into this topic as we have covered it before in a separate blog, but proper boat ramp etiquette is essential to starting and finishing your day on the water. As mentioned in the previous blog, “Boat ramps can become chaotic and tensions can arise when proper boat ramp etiquette is ignored. In particular, the ramps at Pumphouse, State Bridge, and Two Rivers Park on the Colorado River, the Edwards boat ramp on the Eagle River, and both Carbondale and Westbank on the Roaring Fork can become congested when lack of courtesy, inefficiency, and disorganization cause problems.”

Rigged and ready to go!
Rigged and ready to go!

Follow these simple boat ramp etiquette tips:

  • Drive slowly when you are at a boat ramp, there is a lot going on, no one likes the car ripping around like they own the place.
  • Prior to dropping the boat, rig your boat. The most important rule of boat ramp etiquette is to not rig your boat on the boat ramp. Have everything ready to go once you start backing down the ramp. And be sure to practice backing up your trailer prior to the boat ramp.
  • Once your boat is loaded into the water be sure to move it away from the ramp and secure it with an anchor or rope. 
  • The last tip would be to communicate and be patient with others. If you have a problem with someone, patiently wait and openly communicate with the person a solution to your problem. 5 minutes of waiting is not a matter of life or death. 
Yeild to the wade anglers!
Yield to the wade anglers!

Wade Anglers Have the Right of Way:

Just like bikers and pedestrians out on the roadways, wade anglers should be treated the same way. Yield to the wading angler. Do your best to ferry your boat away from wading anglers. These fishermen are limited to where they can move and fish. In a boat you can easily move away from the wade angler, to avoid disrupting their water. If for some reason you don’t see the wading angler and get a little too close do your best to communicate and say sorry I didn’t see you, etc.

Which way would you go right or left? Left is the right answer!
Which way would you go right or left? Left is the right answer!

How to Share the River with other Float Fisherman:

Give space and remember it’s not a race. Just because you are “local” or have been fishing a specific river for years does not mean you have seniority out on the waterways. Do your best to observe the other float fisherman, give them space and try not to interfere with their fishing water. 

Each boat can have different tactics than your own. Communication is essential to breaking the ice of the “smack talking” from the other boat. Talk to the other anglers, wave, or ask about the fishing. If you are planning to enter an eddy or run that may have space for two boats, communicate with the other boat and ask if you can enter the area. If for some reason the other boat doesn’t want you to enter they will let you know. Sometimes it is best to try to give each other as much space as possible. If you need to pass and aren’t sure which way to pass the boat as they might be fishing on both sides, just ask, it’s that simple. 

rapid float fishing

How to Share the River with Other Recreationists: 

Other floaters typically go a lot faster than fishing boats. Rafters, kayakers, paddleboarders are typically paddling forward whereas float fishermen are pulling back to slow the boat down to be able to fish. This can cause some traffic jams, especially in faster water like rapids. As a float fisherman do your best to have your head on a swivel before entering a rapid of fast water, let any other floaters pass you before entering the rapid. This prevents any sort of mishaps of paddlers from running into the back of your boat. For anyone that is floating in the Pumphouse section of the Upper Colorado River, the canyon rapids and Eye of the Needle rapid can be a notorious spot to get clogged up. 

At times other recreationists can really test your patience out on the waterways. This is in part due to the lack of education that some people have. There is typically no malicious intent, people just don’t know. So communication is key and remember to keep your cool, education is the goal. 

Know where private and public land is so you can stop safely.
Know where private and public land is so you can stop safely.

Don’t Trespass, Know Where Private Public Lands Are: 

This is extremely extremely important on our local rivers like the Eagle River and Roaring Fork River. In the State of Colorado, when you drop anchor or pull your boat on the bank and the area is private, you are trespassing! Unlike Montana, the riverbed in Colorado can be private. As a float fisherman, you are responsible for knowing where the public and private land is, the landowner is not required to post no trespassing signs. Be sure to download a GPS app like OnX Maps to understand where the public and private land are. On the Eagle River, there are some sections where the landowners are notorious for being very strict and have no problem calling a sheriff to write you a ticket. 

boat anchor

Know-How to Properly Use Your Anchor: 

The boat anchor can be a great tool for a float fisherman, that is if you know how to use it. As mentioned above, do not drop anchor in private land. There are some veteran guides on the Eagle River that do not use an anchor as much of the land is private, so really there is no reason for it, as the bowline can be sufficient. Be mindful of where you are anchoring when having to re-rig or stopping for a break. If you are out in the middle of the river or in a narrow channel you could create an obstruction for other boats. Be mindful of how you are using your anchor. 

Other Etiquette to Keep in Mind:

Music Etiquette:

No one wants to hear your music. Music on the river is awesome, but loud music is not. Don’t blare your music. A lot of people are just trying to enjoy the sounds of the waterways. If you do play music, keep it at a reasonable level. 

Secure Your Load:

Make sure that the items on your drift boat or raft have been properly secured. If you do find yourself in some whitewater trouble and your boat flips, having your boat’s items properly secured can save your gear and prevent any trash from falling into the river. We’ve all seen those tempting full beers floating by us, don’t be the one to lose yours!

Human waste needs to be properly discarded!

Many of our waterways don’t have restrooms on specific sections of the river. And sometimes you never know when you have to use the restroom. On the Upper Colorado River be sure to carry a “Wag Bag” for emergencies and know where restrooms are on the different sections. If you’re going to go pee, the river is a great spot to do that, or be sure to walk a little off the bank. With so many people using the river, the smell of pee is never something you want to smell when you pull up to the bank.  

    • The BLM recommends, “Dispose of human waste properly. Portable toilet systems (WAG bags/Rest Stop 2 are great for backpacking, car camping, rafting, etc. They are similar to dog poop bags but designed for humans.) are highly recommended and encouraged over ‘cat holes’ due to the high visitation along the river corridor. Toilet paper should be placed in a small plastic bag and put into your camp trash bag and packed out.”

wag bag

Purchase the Wag Bags here.

Wear a life jacket.

Each year recreationists die on the waterways in Colorado. Many of them aren’t wearing life jackets or PFDS. So when you’re out on the water, wear a life vest, have a throw bag ready and make sure you have a solid grasp on river safety. It might not be your life that is in danger but by being prepared you can save someone else’s. There have been countless instances where Vail Valley Anglers guides have rescued other people in danger. Be the rescuer not the rescucee. 

Know the Regulations:

The last point is to always check the regulations of a specific waterway prior to floating it. Some river systems require special permits. Some waterways have specific fishing regulations for float fishermen. Be sure to check out the BLM website here for Upper Colorado River information. 

float fishing brown trout

Float fishing can be a ton of fun and can really take your fly fishing adventures to the next level. With more and more boats out on our waterways, it’s going to be important for anglers to lead by example. We share the river like we share the road. Do your best to communicate with others, educate each other, and wear a life vest. 

If you are interested in learning how to row a boat and want a crash course in float fishing safety we offer a 5 day Oar Certification Course each year. You can find more information on it here. Be sure to check out our fishing reports for pertinent information on the rivers where we float. If you ever have a question about the rivers or float fishing give us a call at 970.926.0900. 

Patrick Perry, Former Float Fishing Guide, and Content Contributor.