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9 Guidelines for Fly Fishing Etiquette

Angler backcountry Fishing Guide Fly Fishing

As fly-fishing explodes in popularity, more and more anglers are taking to the water. This means more angler-to-angler interaction, which isn’t always positive. We’ve all been there. You’re fishing in the perfect spot when someone emerges from the woods to start casting right next to you. In situations like that, it can be hard to keep your cool.

But, the last thing we need is a fight on the river. And the best way to “fight” bad behavior is to be an example of good behavior when we’re out fishing. So, here are nine ways you help make the fly fishing experience positive for everyone on the water.

Give ‘Em Space

Here’s a good rule of thumb: If you think you’re too close, then you are too close. No one goes fly fishing to bump elbows with strangers, so always give other anglers plenty of space—more than you think is necessary. It’s reductive to say “100 feet” as a rule but just use common sense. And this goes for the space behind anglers as well. You don’t want to get in the way of their backcast or potentially alarm any fish by walking directly behind them.

Communicate

It’s hard to know when we’re pissing someone off because in all likelihood they’re not going to tell you outright. They’re going to sit there and brood until something bad happens. So, when in doubt, just talk to someone. If you think you’re too close, ask them if you’re too close. If they’re about to move locations, ask them instead of moving in on them. By even making an attempt to understand where they’re at, you’ll be letting a lot of pressure out of the situation.

Angler etiquette on the water

Move Up River

This is a generality, but it’s almost always better to fish upstream, which means most anglers will be moving upstream. So, try your best to do just that. If you go downstream, there’s a good chance you’ll be on a collision course with another angler and potentially spooking all of the trout they were planning to catch in the process.

Don’t Low Hole

If you’re in a boat or on foot and you see where an angler is likely headed, don’t go and sit on the hole directly below or above them. Anticipate where they’re likely headed and skip a few of the fishy spots on their behalf. There should be plenty of water to fish and if there isn’t, perhaps consider another location if the crowds are getting thick.

Know Your Location

Have a good idea of the location you’re fishing, so you can immediately go to the spot you’ve been looking for, instead of happening upon other anglers and getting in their business. It’s also a good idea to know the popularity of an area as well. If it’s a major fishing area, maybe get there early or fish on a weekday—or be ready to find a different spot if it’s crowded.

Angler Etiquette on the water

Don’t be “Fish Greedy”

A lot of anglers are going to ignore this point because nothing is harder than leaving a good spot. But, if you’ve been hooking fish all morning, then maybe take the high road and leave some action for others. There’s no need to broadcast a good spot, or you’ll risk having a gold rush of anglers. But, if you enjoy a honey hole for a bit, and take care not to overfish it, you’ll be giving anglers a chance and reducing pressure on the fish.

Be a Good Ambassador

Most of this etiquette applies to angler-to-angler interaction, but you’ll definitely encounter the general public from time to time as well. Remember when you interact with a non-angler, you’re representing the entire sport in their mind. That’s a big responsibility. So, when a teenager does a cannonball in the river, don’t lose it or they’ll only have bad opinions of fly fishermen. Be kind and understanding to the general public—they could be an angler one day, too.

Keep It Clean

This is an easy one, but don’t litter the river. This includes tippet, flies, or anything that wasn’t there when you got there. And, why not improve the river a bit? Bring a bag with you to pick up trash as you fish. It’s an easy way to make our waterways beautiful and no angler will fault you for that.

Angler Ettiquitte

Do Unto Others…

Last but not least, put yourself in the shoes of other anglers. We all love the sport for the same reasons, so you know what people hate. Give space, maybe keep your voice down, don’t litter, and just treat others as you like to be treated. It may require some sacrifices on your part, but it will make your fly fishing journey better all around.


This is by no means an exhaustive guide for how to act on the river, but it’s a great place to start. What are some ways you think anglers could improve the experience for others? Let us know in the comment section below!

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