Stream Fishing Etiquette

by Mike Arakawa

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They're out there, and we've all seen them - anglers who just don't know how to play well with others. They engage in potentially harmful practices, they invade other fishermen's space and destroy their peace and quiet, and in general they just create a nuisance everywhere they go. Want to avoid being one of these folks? Here are some rules of etiquette to follow while fishing a stream:

  • Know and follow the fishing regulations for the area you're fishing. Adhere to good catch-and-release practices where appropriate.
  • Respect other anglers' space. If a fisherman (or anyone else, for that matter) is occupying a particular pool, run, or stretch of bank, it's theirs until they decide to move on. You should only move in and share it with them if invited to do so; otherwise, go elsewhere.
  • Respect the rights of property owners. "No Trespassing" means just that. If you want to fish on private property, ask the owner, and thank him or her when you get permission to do so. Always leave gates in the condition you found them while fishing on someone's land.
  • When you approach another angler for any reason, take care not to spook the fish in their immediate area. Usually this means approaching from behind and to one side. Remember that your shadow across the water can scare fish, too, so watch where it falls.
  • It is perfectly appropriate to speak to other anglers along the stream. It is also perfectly appropriate not to do so. If you greet a fisherman and he does not respond, presume that your presence is not welcome, and leave him alone.
  • When you pass another fisherman on the stream, make sure you leave him some room between you to fish before you start fishing. The amount of space you should leave depends on the size of the stream and the number of people fishing, but if possible leave enough distance between you for him to fish for another half hour to an hour. This could mean leaving three or four good holes or runs for him if there are few anglers on the stream. On a crowded stretch of water, it's acceptable to move right into the next pool and start fishing. Always walk on the bank if possible when moving from one pool to the next, and be careful not to spook the fish.

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  • Enter and leave each pool as gently as you can. This will allow it to recover faster for the next angler.
  • A fisherman moving upstream always has the right of way over an angler moving downstream. And you should always yield the right of way to any angler with a fish on. If a fisherman playing a fish asks you to help him net his catch, it's okay to do so; otherwise you should stay out of his way.
  • Only give advice or critique another fisherman's technique, equipment, or choice of fly or bait if asked to do so. By the same token, only ask for another's advice if you are truly willing to listen and learn. When giving advice, be positive and don't criticize.
  • Don't litter. This includes pieces of cut fishing line, which can be deadly to birds and small animals. You should always carry a small plastic bag for your trash, and for any other trash you find while fishing.
  • Respect the stream and its surroundings. When walking along the bank, try to stay on established paths so as not to damage vegetation. If the plants around a creek are destroyed, erosion of the bank will increase, which can eventually silt up the stream and kill the fish. Take care also not to fish for spawning trout or trout which are stressed due to high water temperatures, and only wade when you need to. Aquatic food chains are fragile things.
  • Enjoy yourself, but don't do anything which will interfere with others' enjoyment.

The bottom line? Follow the golden rule, and treat other fishermen - and the environment - the way you would like to be treated. Other anglers will respect you for your consideration, and your conduct will serve as an example to those around you.

Mike Arakawa is the managing editor of

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