Most sports have a set of unwritten rules, generally agreed upon by those in the know. But the trouble with the unwritten rules of fly fishing is that many newcomers aren’t aware of them. So it might take seasons of error before realizing that you were pissing everyone else off while wading downstream into the upstream guys.
My boys are in Little League, and we are awash in the joy of baseball again. As coach for my youngest son’s team, I teach these little ball players not only what a force out is at second base, but also the other things, like the unwritten agreement not to step into the batter’s box until the catcher is ready, and to stay off the pitcher’s mound if you’re not the pitcher.
My older son is on a “Major League” team this year, and it’s fun to watch Joey as a rookie again. He’s learning so many new rules at once, and much of what he’s absorbing isn’t in a rule book. It’s just a set of standards and expectations that are generally agreed upon. Like, don’t bunt to break up a no hitter because that’s cheap. And left or right fielders yield to the center fielder for called balls — always.
Fly fishing has its own long list of rules. Of course, because so many of those rules are predicated on one faction of fishers doing things better than the other, the tag of elitist is unfortunately (though rightfully) earned.
I have no use for restrictions that suggest how we should catch trout on a fly rod. I will not limit myself only to dry flies, and I will not restrict my nymphing to upstream sight fishing for one trout. I sometimes use bobbers. I sometimes use split shot. I don’t use fly line if it makes no sense. My philosophy of fly fishing is to do whatever catches fish. And however anyone else wants to rig up and fish a fly rod is just fine by me too. Such decisions about methods and tackle don’t affect other anglers. They are personal choices, so the silly codes or rules against indicators or other rigs and styles make little sense to me.
On the contrary, the unwritten rules about what fly fishers should do in deference or respect to their fellow angler are paramount. And as the streams get more crowded, the rules of etiquette are more important than ever.
Here’s a good one …
The Downstream Fisher Yields to the Upstream Fisher
Many streamer anglers fish downstream. Before my time, the rivers saw a lot of wet fly fishermen who also fished downstream. These days the wet fly guys are sparse, and the streamer crowd is growing.
Streamer anglers blow through a lot of water. That’s really the only way it works. Cover water, and catch fish on a streamer. If you don’t constantly cover new water with your streamer, you won’t net many fish. The pace of the streamer guy can easily be five times that of the upstream nymph or dry fly guy — and it should be. You have to cover water.
No matter what fly you’re fishing, if you’re working downstream and come upon an angler fishing upstream, you should give him plenty of room. Get to the bank and walk around him. That’s the rule. I hesitate to call it unwritten because it is written, although it seems to be a vanishing concept.
I propose that we all reaffirm and generally agree on this upstream guy / downstream guy thing. With two anglers approaching one another on the same track, somebody has to jump off eventually, and it only makes sense that the guy making his way downstream yields to the guy fishing upstream.
The downstream fisher blows up more water at a faster pace. His casts are longer, and he cover a wider arc. He spooks more fish ahead of him than does the upstream angler, and he kicks up mud and silt that carries downstream ahead of him.
All of this has a far greater effect on the upstream fisher than vise versa. The upstream fisher has virtually no effect on the downstream fisher above, until he is nearly on top of the other angler. Conversely, the downstream fisher can affect the quality of fishing fifty or more yards ahead of him, with the carried mud, long casts and spooked fish.
Importantly, the rule should also apply to anglers in a boat approaching the wading angler. Sure, you can run the wading angler over like a Mack truck, but you should give him the right of way.
I float with friends sometimes, and we make every effort to take the boat behind a wading angler, so as not to disturb the water he’s fishing. Yes, even if that means getting out of the boat and walking it through the shallows, that’s what we do. Many anglers will wave you through (sometimes with a middle finger), but a little communication goes a long way to preventing any animosity.
Spread the word
My friend, Greg, includes an etiquette section with his introductory classes on fly fishing. That’s a fantastic idea.
Etiquette only works when both sides agree on the terms. Unfortunately, there are a lot of guys out there storming off in a huff because some angler cut him off or ran through the water he planned to fish. Sadly, the offending angler often has no idea he did anything wrong.
Do everyone a favor and share this info with your fly fishing friends. Discuss it. Share this post.
Maybe you don’t agree with the concept that the downstream fisher should yield to the upstream fisher. That’s fine too, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s what most anglers expect. And agreement with the rule isn’t required for compliance.
To George Costanza’s exasperated point, “We’re living in a society!” It’s really the right thing to do.
Fish hard. And good luck out there.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N