Male fishing on Eagle River in Colorado

The New Rules of Fly Fishing Etiquette

There is an unwritten code of ethics, a set of rules if you will within our sport that seems to govern how anglers operate on the river.  I can’t remember how I first learned of them however, I have practiced them ever since I took up the sport over 25 years ago. It used to be that when you saw a fellow angler on the water you would either walk away and seek out a new spot or ask them if they minded that you go downstream of them.  Sometimes you would strike up a conversation and share flies and advice.  It seems those days are long gone and the etiquette within the sport of fly fishing is right behind.  Welcome to the new rules of fly fishing etiquette.

Etiquette is defined as the customary code of polite behavior in society or among members of a profession or group, in our case, anglers.  Pressure has all but taken the politeness out of fishing and behavior on the water.  Here are some of the new rules of etiquette and how to deal with the changes that are now commonplace on the river. 


When you approach the water and someone is in your favorite hole, jump right in and start fishing the same hole.  When that hole stops producing quickly jump ahead of the person that was there before you and start fishing the next hole.  Staying one step ahead is a great way to get your cardio workout in as well.


With the population increase and more people taking up the sport, it is becoming harder to find fishable water.  Trespassing is now commonplace and seemingly a popular option to avoid the crowds.  Just look for the signage to ensure you’re on private water and have at it. 


It seems that conversation amongst fishermen is a lost art.  Here are some quotes and trite expressions that have been handed down from generation to generation.  Learn how to use them when talking to your fellow angler to break down barriers: “I’m a local” this is great for social rank and introductions; “I have been fishing here for the last 25 years” a classic when trespassing; and finally my favorite “You don’t own the river!” This helps when low holing. 


As an angler, I feel it’s our responsibility to give back to the river, and what better way to do that than to litter.  It gives a lasting impression so choose your litter wisely.  Plastic bottles are good because it takes over 450 years to decompose. If you want to be remembered long after you’re gone, put a little note in it and toss it in the river.


What better way to enjoy the river than by camping.  A great way to choose your spot is to start fishing and see how good that spot is. If it fishes well, set up camp and stay there all day.  Continue to go back day after day and crush fish.  This is a great way to ensure that other anglers will talk about your prowess and cement your legacy in the fishing world.


If no one sees it, it doesn’t count.  Be sure when you catch a fish to hold it out of the water long enough for everyone to see.  Fish breathe just like we do right, so give them the oxygen they need and keep them out of the water. Take 20 photos because the first 10 only satisfy Facebook, you need another 10 for Instagram.  It is rude if you don’t share your catch.  


In this fast-paced world who has time to learn and do research? Sharing is caring.  Bring a GPS and mark all the spots where you catch fish.  This is especially helpful when on a guided trip, it will help the guide remember where he caught all the fish for their next trip.  When you take photos and post your pics (see above-mentioned PHOTOGRAPHY) be sure to pinpoint the exact location so other people can find it with ease. 


This could be the most important rule in fishing.  They say fishing is a leisure sport, well I say forget that.  Bring an attitude to the sport. We need to be tough and bring some cred to the sport.  Work is tough and so is fishing.  Who has time to relax? Don’t let anyone see you smiling as this might attract undue attention. Time is precious and you don’t want anyone else infringing on it.  


This means of fishing is becoming more and more popular and for good reason.  It allows you to employ all the rules of etiquette.  Be sure to bump into your fellow fishermen, this is the best way to let them know you are there, and once there, don’t forget to COMMUNICATE.  Bring an anchor and drop anchor where you see TRESPASSING signs, this is usually where the best fishing is. Be sure to CAMP OUT when in an eddy and catch all the fish and when done, LITTER, and drop a bottle with INFORMATION in it telling everyone how good the fishing was. And finally, don’t forget to document all of this with a good PHOTOGRAPHY session.


Well, I hope that I have cleared up some of the rules of etiquette.  As you can see, without proper guidance, the leisurely sport of fly fishing can be quite confusing.  I believe I have set you up with the basics for you to fit right in and start enjoying fly fishing.  Be sure to stop by the shop so we can ignore you.


Brett Elkman

Fulltime a**hole, longtime low holler

Sales Manager(occasionally)