River Etiquette & Fish Karma: Why They Are So Important

Let’s talk etiquette. No matter your skill level, there are some general good-practices while on the water to improve the experience for everyone involved.

Give Some Space

Depending on the location and time of year, crowd size can vary from non-existent to full-blown combat fishing. If and when possible, be generous with the gap between you and other anglers. If you are unsure how far is “far enough”, go ahead and ask. Then add another 5 yards of a buffer. Recent experience has taught me that telling someone “Yes, I AM in fact fishing here” won’t necessarily stop them from hopping in the stream a whopping two strides south of your position. Don’t be “that” guy.

Clean It Up

For those of you who enjoy hiking and camping, you may be familiar with phrases like “leave no trace”, “pack it in, pack it out”, and “leave it better than you found it”. By treating fishing the same way, you can help keep the areas you care about healthy and clean. Sometimes this is a win-win. Being mindful of what’s been left behind can earn you some useful gear; On a recent trip I scooped up a spool of tippet, an indicator, ferrule wax, and seven flies that were all snagged in a popular spot to lose track of your backcast… SCORE!

Small Acts

Whether you believe in “fish karma” or not, building up some good juju on the stream can be a source of enjoyment and may earn you favor with the almighty fish gods. This comes in many forms – sharing intel about what’s working where, offering to net a fish for a solo angler, or lending a hot fly – there’s lots of ways to spread the fishy goodness. Connecting with and sharing the sport with others can be done on and off the water. That karma could land you the trophy fish you’ve been after, help you find lost gear, or even add 20 yards to your cast! Okay, maybe not that last one…

One of my most memorable fish karma moments happened recently while fishing for landlocked Atlantic Salmon. I had just rigged up, and within 5 casts I was hooked up on a really solid fish. After a fight filled with many skyward leaps and sporadic runs I started to work him in towards the net. Right as his head broke the surface, he made one last ditch effort for the opposite bank and took my nymph + dropper rig down with him. As I re-rigged on the bank I started contemplating how I would tell this classic “one that got away” story. Flies aren’t cheap, and losing them two at a time surely doesn’t make my wallet jump for joy. So, after I checked my other knots I started working the same run. I brought in five more salmon and a rainbow in a matter of 20 minutes. I don’t think I can recall ever having action that fast, I was thrilled. However, none of those adversaries had fought quite as hard or proved to be as sizable as the one who broke me off.

After a lull in the action, I decided to move just a couple yards downstream to switch up the presentation. One cast in the new spot and a heavy hitter started ripping line from the reel. After another extended fight, I was stoked to bring the fish to the net and see it was yet another beautiful salmon. As I was making my way back the soft water to tend to the fish, I slipped and dipped the net back into the heavy current. The fish took the opportunity and shot off downstream. Luckily, I was able to quickly reign him in and once again get the net around him. We hung out in the slack water for a moment to take a breather, and I started to remove the fly from the worthy opponent. I quickly realized that there were more flies than I could account for. In the mouth of the fish was not only my current fly but my previous double-nymph rig, perfectly intact. To say I was stoked would be a wild understatement. I attribute this stroke of luck to have lent a multitool to an angler earlier, followed by a long chat regarding what patterns and techniques I was using to fool so many fish.

After that, I was driven out of my spot by some worm dunkers (see “Give Some Space”). Fortunately, I was pretty content with giving up the pool knowing I had my fill of fish and now a pretty decent story.

The bottom line is; spreading positivity and good deeds through the community of fly fishing is a large part of what makes this sport great, and sometimes you may even see it come back around to you.

Have any stories of good or bad etiquette? Let us know in the comments!

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