Please Don't Stand So Close To Me!

Please Don't Stand So Close To Me!

On-stream etiquette tips to help you avoid that 'back-in-high-school' feeling

  • By: Paul Guernsey
  • and Buzz Bryson
I've been fly-fishing for about two years. Whenever I arrive at a fishing spot and find that a few anglers have gotten there ahead of me, I always get the same anxious feeling in the pit of my stomach. It's almost like high school all over again: How near can I get to them without violating the social order? When is it acceptable for me to wade in and start fishing among them, and when am I obligated to go someplace else? Are there any rules about this kind of thing?

There is only two real rules: I) Thou Shalt Give The Other Angler As Much Space As Possible, and II) Whoever Gets There First Has The Right Of Way. This goes for the spin guys, too; they deserve the same courtesy as your fellow fly anglers. Beyond that, there are only customs-and those vary from setting to setting.

On a wild stream-for instance, any water that takes some hiking to get to, and where an angler has a reasonable expectation of solitude-anglers should, if possible, avoid fishing within sight of one another. If you reach such a stream and you find someone else already there, the best thing to do is to smile, wave and keep walking at least until you're alone again.

On more popular rivers, anglers generally should spread themselves far enough apart that there's no danger of tangling fly lines and no two anglers end up casting to the same fish. On small to medium-size streams, the first arrival "owns" as much of his pool or run as he is able to reach with a cast; being on the opposite bank should not exempt anyone from respecting his right-of-way. When in doubt, ask if the other angler minds the company-and don't get grumpy if he says he does.

Of course, this "minimum spacing" might not be possible on some highly crowded rivers. And it might not even be desirable on certain "social" fisheries-places where rubbing elbows with other anglers is almost as much a part of the experience as the fishing itself. The regulars at these fishing spots usually have things worked out so that peace-or at least a sort of edgy truce-prevails. If you're a stranger and you're not quite sure what to do, take some time to observe how the locals handle it. Then, when you finally decide to enter the fray, remember these words: "Hey, do you mind if I step in here?" Usually, you'll get a nod and a grunt at the very least. And often, you'll end up with a new friend or two by the end of the day. -P.G.

What's the best way of telling somebody to buzz off when they crowd me on a trout stream?

Bear spray. No, actually your best bet is to tell them gently, with a smile on your face. Most trout-stream trespassers are newer anglers who just don't know any better-though admittedly, some are more experienced folks who continue to suffer from the effects of a manners-free upbringing. These people need educating about trout stream etiquette, and you, the more experienced, better-brought-up angler, are just the one to educate them-provided, of course, that you can pull it off without sounding irritated or condescending.

In fact, unless you are really huge and scary, this is one instance in which honey really does catch more flies than vinegar. Explain to a guy how courteous you would have been to him if he had gotten to the pool first, and he's likely to apologize and move out of your space.

Yell at him, however, and even if he knows he's wrong, he's likely to hold his ground just to save face. That's just how we human animals behave. -P.G.

I see quite a few conflicts among anglers in boats. Do you have any tips for avoiding trouble?

Exchange your waders for a boat, and the same rules of common courtesy pretty much carry over from a stream to big waters: If you affect another angler's fishing, you're probably too close.

There's no set "correct" standoff distance. For instance, when a drift boat comes upon a wading angler-a common occurrence-the boat should give the angler plenty of room, leaving the wader undisturbed shots at all the good water near him. That's not always possible in narrower streams, but it's best to do what you can to avoid waders. There will be situations in which a wader somehow manages to clog up the single slot for boats in a stream, and there's not much that can be done except to try and miss him.

On a relatively skinny tarpon flat, the distance needed to prevent spooking another boat's targeted fish might be hundreds of yards. If a boat is staked out on a known "highway," hoping to intercept tarpon moving past, it's usually OK to stake out a couple of hundred yards away-just make sure it's behind the other boat; don't cut him off from the first shot at any fish moving through.

Conversely, among friends, and during a frenzy of stripers, blues or albies busting a bait ball, just enough distance to keep lines untangled might be far enough-hardly spitting distance.

In situations where fish pop up randomly, there's a tendency to "run and gun," chasing after each and every pod that breaks the surface. Sometimes this works, but normally this tactic sends fish scurrying-and doesn't win any friends from fellow boaters either.

And when a boat anchors in the middle of a marked channel, the people aboard need to realize they're "standing in the middle of the road," and have put themselves somewhat at risk.

If you're new to boat fishing, or even just new to a particular area or fishery, it's best to find out if there are any accepted rules. Ask friends, guides, folks at the marina where you're launching, even anglers on the water. And observe. If you see a boat getting, ah, "saluted" for blasting around, crowding other boats or other similar behavior, you can expect the same level of "recognition" if you follow suit. Be respectful! -B.B.

Got questions about anything under the fly-fishing sun? Write to "Ask FR&R," PO Box 370, Camden, ME 04843, or e-mail us at editors@flyrodreel.com.