There are two types of people who will front-end you on the river: the rookie who honestly and innocently doesn’t understand on-stream protocol and the guy who knows exactly what he’s doing but just doesn’t give a shit, so he front-ends you anyway.
Pity the first type and forgive them. The second type are despicable bastards, and no amount of reasoning, arguing, cursing or pleading is going to change their behavior. If you encounter the second guy, just walk away. If he’s bold enough to cut you off intentionally, then he’s bold enough to stand his ground no matter what reasonable sense you try to make.
Over the years, my approach to being front-ended has evolved. Most importantly, I realized that the majority of offenses are innocent enough. Our fishing world is full of disparate cultures, and “plenty of room” means different things to different people. Furthermore, there’s a lot of hobbyists and first-timers out there who don’t need to be discouraged by an angry rant from a madman with a long stick.
We’ve all been the rookie at some point. You can’t know everything when you’re just starting out at anything. I usually try to assume the best of people, but sometimes you can just tell who the despicable bastards are . . .
I’ve entered into many arguments with these guys, and without fail they all get around to telling me pretty quickly that I don’t own the water, and this is public water, buddy.
Well that’s not my point at all, is it? It’s a simple matter of courtesy. None of us wants somebody jumping into the water we were about to fish. Just give a guy some space out there. Emboldened by a lack of present authority, some people will take what they want, I guess, and it’s not nice.
Other popular retorts are as follow:
“Hey man, I traveled hundreds of miles to fish right here.”
“This is my hole. I’ve fished it for thirty years.”
“Well, you weren’t casting right here, were you?”
Nobody wants confrontation on the water. It’s silly and will ruin your day quicker than leaky waders in a crotch seam.
Just around the time when the front-endings were really starting to get under my skin, I found a solution. I started fishing with a good friend of mine, and for the next ten years no one was better at keeping other fishermen at a distance. He was a Border Collie. He had the intense shepherd stare, raising enough doubt, uncertainty and discomfort in people that they simply walked around. Way around.
That’s sort of the point, isn’t it? It’s not all that hard to give a guy more space.
I learned a lot about life in the time I spent with that Border Collie, and when he was too old to fish with me anymore, the front-enders returned — both types. But some things about me had changed.
— — — — — — — —
When I was younger and dumber I drove aggressively, treating the streets like a racetrack, at worst, or a video game, at best. I wondered why others drove slowly, didn’t signal for a turn, rode their brakes all the way down a long hill or cut me off. Why wasn’t everyone following the same road rules? Somewhere along the line, I learned they weren’t playing the same stupid game that I was at all.
People are pretty confusing, aren’t they? I don’t truly understand anyone the way I wish I did. The failure of others to play by my rules has been frustrating and maddening my whole life, but I’m finally growing up and learning how ridiculous that point of view is. I can’t change other people; all I can change is how I approach my own life. I’m trying to alter the way I perceive injustices, because learning to accept injustice is something that I have failed at over and over again. I guess I need to let go of my own ideas for how the world around me should flow and just accept what it is. I’m working on it.
— — — — — — — —
Sadly, my Border Collie friend passed away, and the front-enders returned. For a while I just walked away from them and said nothing, but the turn-the-other-cheek approach left me unsettled. And I’ve always felt like if people get away with something, they’ll do it again.
These days, I still move on when I’m front-ended, but I try to get within earshot and make one single point:
“I wouldn’t have cut you off like that, bud. I would have given you more space.”
Or maybe this:
“Where are you guys from? . . . Really? That’s a great part of the country. Well, hey, we don’t front-end other fishermen like that around here.”
And I borrowed this gem from my grandfather:
“Can we still be friends if I ask you to give me a lot more space on the river next time?”
I don’t know what the front-enders think about any of that because I never stick around for a conversation, and because (again) I don’t really understand anyone. It’s enough for me to say my peace and move on, hoping they may do things differently next time.
Rick and I were working a freestone stream early in the season, the kind that’s big enough for two close friends to fish a mile of water in a couple hours, but small enough to have some confidence that Johnny Fisherman isn’t going to spoil the day. It’s a place where if you’re vehicle is first in the small, muddy pull-off, then you don’t expect to see anyone else.
We fished in tandem, trading the next best piece of water, fishing side by side, and then leapfrogging no more than one level at a time, until eventually we got to a bend where the stream narrows and redirects against a rock face. I left that water for Rick, then noticed that the next level held an even sweeter spot, so I walked another hundred yards or so upstream and left my friend by himself for a while.
Soon enough, another guy busted through the branches behind me and hustled downstream. Hmmm. Yeah, he probably had his mind set on the honey hole that Rick was in, but I was glad to see him passing quickly, and I figured he would walk far down the path and make other plans.
A half-hour later, Rick and I met with dripping waders on the bank.
“Did you see that guy?” Rick asked. “He high-holed me!”
I laughed for ten minutes at the expression and Rick’s indignation as we walked upstream to relocate.
Burke calls the despicable bastard behavior being “conquered,” and he has a great story about our friend Joe.
Apparently, Joe simply will not accept a rude front-ending. If some guy high-holes Joe, he fishes out the water that’s left, then immediately returns the favor, conquering the offender himself.
If you’ve fished long enough, you’ve probably done this too. Trouble is, most guys bold enough to conquer you in the first place are bold enough to do it again if you trump them. This could go on and on, of course, but Joe always conquers last.
I admit that I did this with a guy on a small brookie stream one time. We spent the whole morning conquering each other, no more than fifty yards ahead each time. Never a word was spoken as we passed far away in the thick woods. Eventually, about four hours and two miles from the parking area, I triumphed (apparently). It was exhausting.
This brings me back to my young questions about road rules and driving games, and I start to wonder: Am I the only one playing this game, or is the other guy just fishing and having fun? Hey, where’s my fun?
It was my first time to fish a river that I’d dreamed about for years, and man was I eager to get started. I have a habit of walking far down a long path before fishing; it’s good for the mind and body and usually gains large stretches of water to fish alone. This day, I walked a couple fast miles before looking down over the bank to see some perfect pocket water. I remember scampering down a steep ravine toward the river, sliding halfway down and dislodging rocks that chased me further forward. The rocks and I made a tremendous splash at the bottom.
I wasted no minutes. Plucking the Adams from my rod guide, I started casting into the nearest soft slick behind a midstream boulder. When I saw movement on the far bank, I turned. Directly across from where I’d made my rude appearance, a fisherman in well-worn waders and a floppy hat leaned on his walking stick and stood up from his log. He dropped his head, tossed aside an apple core and headed downriver, away from the fool who had ruined his spot.
What are the odds? Sure, I could pass it off as an honest mistake, but that’s not the truth. I wasn’t cautious enough to look around first.
So How Far?
How much river should we yield to the next fisherman? That’s really a regional answer. It’s also situational. On a backcountry brookie stream I would never park or put in anywhere near another angler. Instead, I’d travel miles upstream or drive over to the next valley to give us both the kind of space we’re looking for. But on popular destination rivers, or hard fished waters near big cities, things can be different, especially during peak times.
Truth is, you have to feel this one out. Whenever possible, stay out of sight of the next angler. And if the valleys are wide and the sight lines are long, then give an angler at least a couple hours of water to work before he runs into where you started.
Try observing the guy you’re moving in on. See what direction he’s fishing. Notice how fast he’s working the river. Then do everything possible not to disturb his fishing. Remember too, it’s better to put in behind another angler rather than jumping in front (assuming he’s wading upstream).
Just follow the Golden Rule. Give other fishermen the kind of space that you want them to give to you — then
double triple that and start fishing.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N