Stay Fly: The unspoken rules of the river — 8 simple ways to show proper etiquette
We are lucky to live in an area with a wealth of public access, however access brings anglers. We are seeing more and more people coming from the Front Range and out of state to enjoy our beautiful local rivers and creeks. If you take a drive down U.S. Highway 6 on any given weekend or now even on weekdays, you probably have seen pickup trucks, SUVs with rod racks and vehicles covered in fly-fishing stickers parked strategically close to prime public fishing spots. With the river so packed, it is very important that we all practice good river etiquette so that everyone is enjoying their time on the water. Here are eight simple rules to follow and promote while you’re on the river.
Give each other space
This rule is very important to having a successful and fun day on the river. If someone is in an area that you were hoping to fish, then give him or her plenty of space and don’t “high hole” them. “High holing” is when someone fishes directly above you on the river. This can be extremely frustrating and annoying. Most anglers gradually work their way up the river, hitting every spot that looks like it might be holding trout, so fishing above them disrupts their intended path of travel. There’s plenty of water to be fished.
Respect private water — don’t poach
This should be an easy one, most private areas are well marked with no trespassing or private property signs. However, there are some areas that are not well marked and are indeed private property. If you don’t know, pick up a river map or stop by a local fly shop to avoid trespassing. The On X app has become an amazing resource for anglers and hunters to see exactly where property lines start and finish. If you don’t know, don’t go.
Keep it clean — pack in, pack out
This should be a no brainer. As anglers, we are expected to be stewards to the environment. We are given the amazing opportunity to fish the beautiful creeks, rivers and lakes that are all throughout the state and the way we can give back to this gift is to keep it clean. The most frustrating thing for me on the river is to arrive at my favorite spot and find it covered in empty beer cans and cigarette butts. If you enjoy having a cold one next to the river, please do everyone a favor and pack out what you packed in.
A simple hello, hi or standard greeting goes a very long way on the water. Most of the time, if you say hello or start a small conversation with fellow anglers, they will often be willing to share information about what’s working or even where fish are holding. Exchange a new fly pattern that you just whipped up in your vise, and usually people are happy to do the same for you. This may lead to you meeting a new fishing buddy.
Don’t camp in one spot — share
Staying at one spot for the entire day can be frowned upon by some anglers. This is a tough one. If you get to a spot and are having an epic day it can be very difficult to leave, on the other hand, it is a good gesture to leave a spot after crushing it for a few hours. Other anglers can enjoy the success or failures that you have had in that hole. Like your mother has always said, “It’s very important to share”.
Fish breathe H2O — keep them in it
Fish pictures are the thing that anglers who practice catch and release get to take home and share with others. The classic grip and grin pictures that are commonly found on people’s social media accounts are a great way to celebrate your success on the river. However, it is vitally important for the future of the river to handle these fragile trout with care. Always wet your hands before handling, keep the fish low to the water and don’t squeeze them too hard. If everyone uses these simple rules on fish handling, it will assure a bright future for our trout populations.
Dogs on the river
I’m a very proud dog owner and I love fishing with my pup. There are a ton of people who enjoy fishing with their dogs and bringing them down to the river. My dog is on great vocal command, however, when I’m walking down to a busy spot on the river she is definitely on the leash. A dog can really screw up a great spot on the river if it dives in headfirst without any restraint. Just be aware of your dog if you are taking them to the river with you.
This is hands down the most important rule in the game. We all enjoy and love fishing. Some of us use the river as an escape from the daily grind, others use it as pure enjoyment, and some of the lucky ones get to make a living from it. No matter why you enjoy fishing, we all can agree that it’s fun and sometimes we need to be reminded that’s why we do it.
I hope for most of you, this has been a friendly refresher of the things to do and not to do on the river to make it an enjoyable place for all. If these etiquette rules are new to you, then I truly hope that you take them to heart. Obviously, it’s on us as anglers to keep us honest, so I encourage everyone on the water to promote a friendly, fun, and beautiful place for us to enjoy today and generations to come. Get out there and fish
Ray Kyle is the guide coordinator and a guide at Vail Valley Anglers. He can be reached at 970-926-0900 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.