Front-Ended: Can We Stop Doing this to Each Other?

by | Feb 23, 2018 | 27 comments

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?

The Fool

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).

READ: Troutbitten | The Downstream Fisher Yields to the Upstream Fisher

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.

Grobe in the seam.  Photo by Pat Burke


Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky


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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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  1. Front ended. High-holed. Conquered.
    It took me a long time to realize that I could use these etiquette fails to my advantage. It is this type of angling pressure that moves some very good fish into more marginal water. Next time this happens, don’t get angry or frustrated, just start hunting for those whiskey browns that were just as annoyed as you were by those rude behaviors.

    • +1!

      Rick, that’s one of the best comments ever. Good advice.

    • Exactly! Steelhead season in the spring in Michigan same thing. There are A spots and B spots and then the plan C spots that no one fishes. When it’s crowded all the fish are moved into the C spots….makes it easy for me. ha ha

      • Dom
        I’m still new at this game and have been slower than I like to learn this etiquette. The other rule I didn’t know was work upstream not down.
        However as a rookie my best story is as follows.

        On one outing I enter a river and ask a fisherman, my senior, if I can go past him up to a riffle. He said he was just working up there but I was welcome to fish below him. After about 30 mins or so he came towards me and pointed out the deep section against the far bank that I should fish. He told me where to place my line. Immediately I had a nice rainbow on the line. We talked for a while and I thanked him for teaching me.

        We parted ways later and he asked when I might be back. I said not sure as I work and don’t like the crowds on the weekend (this was a weekday). Given his friendliness I wish I got his number.

        For other rookies be polite and you might find a mentor.

  2. We can probably all relate. Really good advice and props to your Grandfather…I’m going to keep that wording in mind.

  3. You run into people like this everywhere while doing just about anything you can think of. We live in an increasing over-crowded world which means increasingly over-crowded wild places as well. I don’t know that we can do much about . It is kind of like all these people who insist on leaving all their litter and cigarette butts along the banks of some of the prettiest rivers on earth. We can’t shoot ’em so I guess we just clean up behind them.

  4. In my younger years, I would fake a couple of loud sneezes, apologize to the nearby offender and tell him I was allergic to ass holes, then walk away. Today I just look at them like the other river trash that Rob referred to. Of course Rookies are obvious and this doesn’t apply to them.

  5. Great post, It took me years of fishing with my brother in law to realize I was high holing him all the time. I just figured he wasn’t smart enough to stay upstream of the next fisherman. Naaah, he was expecting use to leap frog each other giving each person a chance at fresh water. I was too selfish to realize that until we had a conversation about it years later.

  6. Unfortunately on the Salmon River people thing if their shoulders aren’t touching yours then they gave you enough room. I have had people stand at the bow of my boat and even stand at the stern casting over my anchor line.

  7. I take a little different approach with folks that high hole me (or even low hole). Happened to me last weekend. 2 fellas centerpin fishing with bait on the J. I just start a conversation with em. Turns out they were frustrated because everything else was blown out. They also hadn’t seen me when they made their entrance.

    They asked how I had done and I told them well on caddis emergers. They were amazed by the number of fish rising and said they wished they had brought fly rods. I asked what bait they were using and they rattled off a few options including wax worms. I suggested they swing those given the caddis activity. I just wished them luck and moved on to the next section I wanted to fish.

    Often times folks mean no ill will toward you. Life is too short to make enemies with strangers. In the case of the J, theres at least 13 miles of river to fish. I usually take being high holed as a signal to move on.

  8. I’m going to give you another scenario. One of the very few times I fished an incredibly famous stream in Colorado, I was about 200 feet downstream and across from a pair of anglers. I don’t normally fish that close to anyone, but this was the “dream stream”, on a weekend, and anglers were everywhere. An upstream angler got pissed at me for being so close, and starting bitching at me. I wasn’t fishing “his” water, and I told him so. Finally, I said, Look, this is a crowded place, stop acting like a baby, and I left the spot and walked above him, passing more anglers on the way. Ten minutes later, the guy fell in the water. I never particularly enjoyed this piece of water, regardless of the trout it holds, for this exact reason. But a crowded, elbow-to-elbow scene means that you just have to tolerate people closer to your space than you’d like, without being an idiot.

  9. my solution…stop it before it starts…say something,,dont let them do the high hole..may help the rookie learn ,,may piss off the D B

  10. I let them go by and wait till they get settled in fishing a hole and then leap frog them and wait at the next hole to see if they have something to say to me . I am not afraid of a confrontation and make it clear to these rude people . Most are cowards and back down and I am only 5ft 5inches tall 160 pounds . I don’t care if the intruder is 6ft 11 . I don’t intimidate .

  11. Best revenge is to pull a nice fish out from under their nose and then to ignore their pleas as to “what are you throwing?” (Been able to do this a couple of times and the feeling is “sweet”!)

    Next best tactic is to ask the front jumper, “Are you fishing up or down? I want to give you enough room.” You’ve given them a chance to become self aware. After that they are on their own and you can move on.

    And remember, their ignorance or inconsiderate behavior is only worth a few moments of vascular damage on your part. Deep breath and then move on.

    • An alternative I’ve used to ignoring a person like that when they ask, ‘what are you using’ is to answer with.. Good technique.

      I wholeheartedly agree don’t let them ruin your day.

  12. Two instances come to my mind. The first had nothing to do with a stream. My friend, his father, and I were fishing in Great South Bay on the south shore of Long Island, NY. To give perspective, it’s about 45 miles long and, at the spot we were fishing, about 1.5 miles wide from shore to shore.

    By sunrise, we were the only boat anchored as far as the eye could see. We were live-lining bunker (menhaden) for the large striped bass that migrate through in the spring. Along comes this guy in a skiff and anchors alongside us no more than 30 feet away. My friend’s father asked him if he wanted to come aboard. Since this went over the guy’s head some heated words followed. Over 60 square miles of open water and this guy didn’t have the courtesy to let us enjoy the tranquility of sunrise on an open bay.
    The second instance was on the Tuckasegee River near the Smoky Mountains in NC. A buddy and I were nymphing for trout. We were about midstream when an angler climbs down the far bank, enters the water and wades to a spot about 20 feet across from me. I know the distance because I could have hit the tip of his rod with mine. I suggested he might try another spot but he told me “all the fish were in this run”.

    So maybe people who do this just don’t have the knowledge of where to fish or how to find them. They figure if someone is fishing this spot, it must be good. That doesn’t excuse the fact that they are discourteous bastards but there’s no point in arguing with someone who thinks “you don’t own this spot”. You can’t control their behavior, you can only control your own.

    So these days, rather than considering casting a 6 oz sinker across someone’s boat, I simply let the offending person know why I think what they did was discourteous and move on. No point in letting the ignoramous ruin my day…

  13. Dominick
    Thanks for the article, happens more now, that fisherman are not working due to the pandemic. Open day of inland trout last week in Western NY, had 3 people wade through the prime runs 20 feet from me. 20 years ago I would have not tolerated it.
    I kept quiet and moved on to the next spot.
    Appreciate the article, hope more knuckleheads are reading your articles.

  14. Being from North Jersey, l’ve been front ended, rear ended, high holed, low holed and sidewinded. Due to all that stuff and the lack of large wild trout, I drive 1 1/2-2 hours to fish the Catskills and Upper Delaware System. I still encounter a dummy here and there that gets too close. I do my best to fish around them and politely let them know they’re a little too close.
    Esopus tomorrow! Yay !

  15. I was swinging a two-handed rod for steelhead on my home river. It was starting to get crowded.I had a young guy and his buddy come up and ask me where was a good spot to fish. Centrepinners. I told him I had done well a fair way upstream, and gave him a fly. As I was re-rigging he actually cast and hit my rod while standing right beside me. I asked him if he knew how to swim. He said” take it easy buddy, we’re not from around here, we just wanted to find some spots.” I told him “I just told you a good spot and gave you a fly, you need to learn some etiquette and rules of the sport.” I was pretty hot and ended up leaving. Low hole pinners I just swing right over their float and say sorry. Trout stream I move to new water which sometimes ends up being productive.
    It’s hard telling people they’re being rude, even when you say it politely, it can end in a confrontation but I feel better after saying something.

  16. Dom,

    Great article. I appreciate the story that you told about yourself and the angler with the apple: we can all stand to be more careful. Regarding anglers who are blatantly rude and regard all water as “public water:” does that mean that I can skip a stone across the pool that they’re fishing since it’s “public water?” At any rate, these guys are like internet trolls and it’s just best to avoid them. Whatever joy and honor they’re getting from catching fish is tainted by their behavior; they just don’t know it.

    Your article reminds me of a situation that I was in a couple of years ago. I brought my daughter to a free-stone stream and when we got to the stream there were a couple anglers nymphing a well-known, deep, long pool. We went upstream into broken water above them- but not too far because I knew that these anglers had come to fish only that pool and would not be moving. Was that an assumption on my part? Yeah – but I’m pretty confidant that it was correct. My daughter hooked into a big fish and when it got into the fast, heavy water twenty yards from the hole she asked me to play it. Well, I could not get that fish to move upstream into the slower water, I could not get it closer to me, and I could not get below it due the the fast water. The obvious thing to do, if I wanted to land the fish, was to walk downstream along the bank and play the fish in the slower water below – but that would have disturbed their fishing, so I tried to play the fish in the fast water. After a couple of minutes, it broke off, of course. I’ll admit that I was a little miffed that the two anglers below me didn’t say a word, even though they could see by the bend in my rod what was going on. I mean, it was pretty obvious that I was in a tight spot. But I could understand their point-of-view: it wasn’t their fault – and why let me spoil their fishing?

  17. You definitely want to avoid the Farmington River then…..of all the places I fish (upper Delaware, housatonic, Croton watershed) that place takes the cake. I’ve witnessed more guys almost come to blows than anywhere. I was once casting to a riser downstream of me… older gent came off a path below me and asked if he could cut in there… it accessed farther downstream and was the only path I said most certainly…..assuming he was going to wade to empty water way below……instead he starts casting to the same fish I was. Its almost expected behavior on that river.

  18. I work down stream most of the time when swinging flies, but work upstream when slinging drys.

    Like you said, people need to stop and find out which direction to move in without offending the persons already fishing.

    I have found PA fishing people to be generally friendlier and allow people to fish closer than here in Great Lakes of OH. Heck even MI persons fish closer to each other. I’ve had 6 people fishing a swimming pool invite me in with them in PA, while in OH I walk in across a River 90 feet wide and some guys get upset me fishing across from them. So regions and waters definitely differ.

    Also, realize when people are fishing together, they might be closer than they would want a stranger to join in. A couple of my friends, and one daughter, are left handed, while I am right handed. We sometimes stand next to each other and fish the holes with different rigs. We are not inviting others to jump in next to us, just making the most of our differences.
    Stay Healthy,

  19. Appreciative rookie here. Won’t make this mistake anymore. Thanks again, Dom.


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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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