The 5 Basic Rules of Fly Fishing Etiquette

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By Spencer Durrrant | TMTB Managing Editor | Featured Image by Hyrum Weaver
July 15, 2017


Yes, fly fishing etiquette is a thing.

It may seem like a dead-in-the-water topic anymore, what with how crowded rivers are these days, but fly fishing etiquette is almost more important now than it was 20 years ago. With the influx of anglers in the fly fishing world, all of us – myself included – have had to better learn how to share the water.

“You can never tell how someone is going to act until they are on the water,” Sean Johnson, of Always A Good Day, wrote recently.

Truer words have rarely been written about fly fishermen.

While some of us act like five-year-olds and others remain aloof and unapproachable, the majority of us are on the water to have a good time. These 5 basic rules of fly fishing etiquette will help us all have better days on the river.

horse and fly fishing etiquetteImage by Hyrum Weaver

1. Give each other space

I use the photo of the horse to illustrate a point. That horse – while completely benign – invaded the personal space of my buddy Hyrum’s car as we drove off a private ranch in the heart of Utah’s Wasatch Mountains.

More often than not, feeling like other anglers are crowding you on a river is a result of those other fishermen acting like this horse. They’re harmless, and they don’t know how close is too close.

As a general rule of thumb, I try my best to stay 50 – 100 yards away from the nearest angler. Each river is different, though. On the Lower Provo River, for example, fishing twenty feet from another angler isn’t uncommon. Rivers have their own rules and unwritten codes. But do your best to give other anglers as much room as you’d like to have while on the water.

2. Land your fish quickly

This is a bit subjective, since trout, for all we think we know of them, remain largely unpredictable. However, on most Western rivers where fly fishing etiquette is a hot topic, you want to land your fish as quickly as possible. This should be common practice in the first place, as it increases the likelihood of the trout surviving, but it’s even more important when you have anglers with lines in the water on either side of you.

fly fishing etiquette brown troutPhoto by Hyrum Weaver

3. Never be too busy to take a photo/help net a fish

In today’s world, if you catch a fish but don’t have photographic proof, did you even go fishing?

Seriously. It’s a legitimate question.

Depressingly true sarcasm aside, how often have you been out by yourself when you hooked into a fish worth remembering? Whether from the fight or the size, some fish stick in the mind. A photo helps it stick around longer. If you see an angler with a good fish, don’t hesitate to offer to take a photo. Who knows? You may even make a new friend out of the deal.

On top of that, if someone else needs help netting a fish and you don’t have one on your line, lend a net.

4. Watch the noise

Contrary to what our dads told us when they took us fishing back when we were fingerlings, talking doesn’t spook fish. But, quiet solitude is often a big reason why anglers head to the river. A couple of too-buzzed smartass loudmouths can quickly ruin a quiet afternoon.

Keep the noise to a respectful level, and avoid, if at all possible, yelling “Hambone,” “Monkey Junk,” or “Clam Bake” in your best Hank Patterson impersonation.

5. Watch where you walk

It’s really easy to inadvertently walk through someone’s hole. Whether you’re crossing at the head of a run that wraps around a tight bank and you don’t see the angler until you’re halfway across, or you’re just not paying attention, this is an easy mistake to make.

It’s also easy to avoid. If you know the river’s crowded, watch where you’re walking. Give other anglers a good deal of space so you don’t move any fish that they’re targeting.

Fly fishing etiquette isn’t arcane and high-browed, like joining the Freemasons. It’s really just simple common courtesy with a side of common sense.

Spencer is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, novelist, and sports writer from Utah. He’s also the Managing Editor of The Modern Trout Bum. Find him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.