fly fishing ethics

Personal Fly Fishing Ethics

Developing your own code of personal fly fishing ethics is something most anglers eventually do on their own. There are many different fly fishing methods and techniques that have proven to be successful for a wide range of fish species. I often tell my fly fishing clients that if it swims you can catch it on a fly rod. However, some methods of fly fishing and even flies themselves are very controversial and even unacceptable for some anglers while for others it doesn’t really matter how they’re catching fish as long as they’re catching them. Fly fishing began as a relatively simple way to catch trout and over the years became more technically advanced, with more and more species available to anglers.

As this has happened, the lines between fly fishing and other methods of fishing have blurred. Fast sinking lines allow anglers to reach new species deep in the water column, yarn eggs or pegged plastic egg beads and rubber San Juan Worms imitate favorite baits of gear anglers, and indicators make catching species like steelhead much easier for fly fishermen that aren’t interested in traditional two-handed spey fly fishing. These are just a few examples of choices modern fly fishermen must make when approaching how they’d like to catch fish.

Are Eggs okay?

Fly fishing techniques, gear, terminal tackle and flies have evolved in leaps and bounds over the last twenty years or so, resulting in huge changes from the original old school method of drifting a brace of wet flies downstream in order to catch trout. For instance, pegged beads so accurately represent a real salmon or trout egg that some anglers questions whether they are even flies when fished with several split shot under a bobber. But ask a steelhead angler from Pennsylvania or New York if that technique is unethical and they’ll probably tell you there’s no other way to fly fish the Great Lakes Steelhead run other than yarn, crystal flash or bead eggs. The same goes for squiggly, soft worm patterns and spring time trout throughout the country.

Some hard-core West Coast spey anglers swinging traditional flies with long two-handed fly rods aren’t afraid to call out single-handed fly rodders who try to mimic the bait guys drifting egg sacks under a float. European competition Czech nymphing rules even preclude the use of weights and indicators. Dry fly purists might deem fishing beadhead nymphs tied on jig hooks cheating.

It doesn’t stop with trout either. Once a fish is raised and in range, billfish flyrodders mostly use a bait and switch technique where anglers simply drop (to call it casting might be a stretch) their fly into the water behind the boat to take the place of a teaser plug or bait. For notoriously difficult permit and bonefish, there’s enough reliable info out there to support the fact that some guides and anglers aren’t afraid to presoak their flies in a soup of crushed crabs and shrimp before casting to their quarry. Chumming up roosterfish and other gamefish with live bait is a common practice as well.

What makes it fly fishing?

These fish are being caught on a fly rod but is it fly fishing? That’s up to each individual angler. We should try not to judge other fly fishermen or even spin or bait fishermen based solely on their methods. All fishing is about having fun in the outdoors and sometimes we fly anglers take ourselves too seriously. I started out as a youngster slinging bait for stocked trout and sunfish with my father and now that I have my own two young boys I’m fishing the same way with them, and truthfully it’s a lot of fun.


While I may not enjoy fly fishing with bobbers and nymphs, I constantly have to remind myself to put myself in the other anglers’ shoes. I might consider dry fly fishing the pinnacle of fly fishing methods for trout but that other angler may be having the time of their lives catching fish with their preferred method. There’s certainly some ethical questions that some anglers may need to address for themselves if the catching of fish is the only goal. For example, to me, a permit caught on a crab juice soaked fly is not a fly caught fish at all. Ripping trout off spawning beds with pegged beads is also something I personally consider unacceptable. But I’ve come to the conclusion that adopting an attitude of “You fish your way and I’ll fish mine.” is the way to go.

The next time you are wading or floating your local river instead of making fun of the fisherman on the bank fishing with bait or the fly fishermen struggling to learn how to nymph with a strike indicator, try to remember we’re all on the same team. The more anglers that enjoy our fisheries the better off our fisheries will be because all fishermen will have a bigger voice.

At Vail Valley Anglers we are all about catching trout with all fly fishing methods, whether it’s nymphing a deep pool in the winter, stripping big articulated streamers in the fall or casting double dry flies to rising trout in July. Just get out there and enjoy a day of fly fishing anytime you’ve got the chance and stop by the shop or check our website for the latest fishing reports and hot flies. And remember, it’s all about having fun.

Brody Henderson, Guide and Content Writer