Members Login
    Remember Me  
Post Info TOPIC: Fly Fishing Etiquette


Status: Offline
Posts: 222
Fly Fishing Etiquette

Here's a great article I found online. I hope this will get give us ideas to write our own recommended rules of Etiquette for Putah Creek.

Fishing Etiquette

Fishing Etiquette Can Improve Your On Stream Experience

Take a moment. Relax and imagine you are on your favorite stream. You have been stalking a large rainbow maybe some 19 inches. You have spent 15 or 20 minutes making cast after cast, changing flies, changing your casting position slightly to improve your presentation, still no fish.

Suddenly, a fisherman walks down the bank, enters the water right where your fish was holding and starts to cast into the pool. You can see your rainbow heading upstream at warp 5. Obviously, this newbie either didn't know fly fishing etiquette or just didn't care. Let's give him or her the benefit of a doubt and assume they didn't know. So let's talk about "Stream Etiquette" or "Fly Fishing Etiquette".

Fishing Etiquette is really a matter of following a few simple rules and courtesy for your fellow angler.

Why People Fly Fish

In this day and age most fishermen don't fish to feed their families. Especially fly fishermen. Fly fishermen fish for relaxation from the 'daily grind", enjoy some peace and quiet, enjoy the smell of being outdoors in cleaner air than the city or for the thrill of outwitting a wild creature on a fly that they tied.

In my opinion, fly fisherman fish for some of the same reasons that hunters hunt. Except by practicing "Catch-and-Release" fly fishing, we can help to conserve our quarry for other fly anglers to catch too.

Give Other Anglers Their Space

As with most other outdoor sports, the angler enjoys the peace and solitude of the sport. Fortunately, we in Colorado are blessed with over 6,000 stream miles. Much on public land or assessable through DOW leases. Generally, a fly fisherman can find a quiet time and spot to practice the sport with a little planning. If you know your stream will be crowded by 10 am, start at 7 am. This gives you 3 hours of quality fishing time.

When you get to your stream, take a little time and explore for likely places to fish. For me this is part of the fun of the sport, the exploration. Generally, I will do this upstream. Fishing some spots along the way and then fishing others on the way downstream back to my vehicle.

If you observe, a fisherman catch a fish, watch how they play it, land and release it. No matter how much you think you know, there is always more to learn. And DON'T rush down to the stream where they caught a fish and start fishing. Most streams have more than enough fish to satisfy everyone.

Tip -- If you are on a crowded stream, look for an unused run or riffle. Often large fish will lie quietly at the base of a riffle sipping in midges or emerging mayflies. In October on the Cache La Poudre river west of Ft. Collins, CO, I have caught 19" rainbows lying in 5 inches of water sipping tricos. So I know that these often overlooked places can hold large fish. But you will need a stealthy approach, the right flies and a good presentation.

"Fly Fishing Etiquette" consists mainly of a few simple rules, respect for others, the fish and some common sense.

  • First Come -- First Served

  • Don't Spook Another's Fist

  • Stay Quiet In and Near the Water

  • Respect Your Environment

  • Respect the Fish

  • Respect the law

  • Respect Private Property Rights

First Come -- First Served

This is the #1 Cardinal Rule of Fly Fishing. The angler that is in or on the water first "owns" that stretch or pool until they leave. Generally most fly fishermen will work upstream. But I have seen them fishing their way back downstream too. If you can't tell by observing them, ask which way they are going. If you ask to fish the water they have fished, be sure to give the other angler plenty of space so you don't spook any fish they may be fishing to now.

If they are sitting on the bank by a stretch or pool, don't assume that they are done. They may have been fishing to a fish they spotted and are "resting" the water waiting for the fish to quiet down. If you want to find out, simply ask them if they are done fishing that stretch. Most fly fishermen are friendly and willing to share stories, flies and often water if you ask first. As in most places, rudeness is not welcome.

-- Try and locate two nearby pools or stretches of water to fish. Then alternate between them to rest the fish where you have just been fishing. This also gives you an alternative should another fisherman take over one of the pools or stretches you had previously "staked" out.

Don't Spook Another's Fish

Trout are spooky creatures. They are particularly sensitive to overhead shadows that may indicate an eagle or osprey to them. They are also very sensitive to your pressure wave when you wade. Sound carries well in the water. Tests have shown that trout as far as 200 feet down stream from a careless wading angler will spook and run for cover.

When you enter the water upstream from another angler, do it as quietly as possible. Try to keep your wading noise to a minimum. Your fishing experience will be better and so will the downstream angler.

If you are watching another angler fish a pool, don't stand where you cast a shadow on the pool and spook a fish he may have been fishing for over the last hour. This won't win you any friends.

If you must walk along the bank, try and stay as far from the water as possible. Walk slowly, quietly and with a low profile. Try to keep your shadow off the water.

If you have children on an outing, there is a fascination with kids, rocks and streams. Don't let them throw rocks around where an angler is fishing.

My personal observation is that fish in a park stream where there is constant stream activity like kids, horses crossing and such tend not to spook as easily as those on quieter streams. In other words, trout in such conditions have become conditioned to more noise than their cousins in a high mountain stream.

Stay Quiet In And Near The Water

Sound carries well in the water. Tests have shown that trout as far as 200 feet downstream from a careless wading angler will spook and run for cover. Clanking wading staffs or moving rocks will scare fish upstream and downstream for long distances.

If you are moving to another spot, try and take trails if possible. It is a lot less work for you to move on land than in the water. And you won't have spooked the fish along the stretch where you were wading. Another angler may be just behind you and want to fish that stretch where you scared all the fish with careless wading tactics. Remember respect for others.

Trout have a lateral sense line that is highly responsive to vibration. Sight a fish sometime and then jump up and down on the bank. See how fast that fish will run for cover.

-- On streams with undercut banks, BIG trout will often hug the bank for cover and ease in feeding. If you absolutely must walk along such areas, do so with well back from the bank and tread lightly.

Respect Your Environment

In an outdoor sport like fly fishing, use common sense again. If you pack it in -- pack it out. When changing leaders, save the old leader package to store the used leaders in when you are done with them. This practice also makes it easier to throw away old leaders properly. Don't throw them on the ground or in the stream. They may get washed into a place where a trout could get gill caught next year or an angler catch a foot while wading. Ducks and Geese can become entangled in these kind of items. Another major item is the plastic that holds six packs of soda or beer. Ducks and Geese can get these wrapped so tightly around their necks that they will starve to death.

Most streams end up being someone's drinking water somewhere downstream. Think about that the next time you need to go to the bathroom out in the boonies. Go to the bathroom well back from the stream. Even biodegradable toilet paper takes a long time to decompose in the arid high country we live in. It is better to burn it or try using leaves or grass. You will leave less trace of your activity that way.

Streams are delicate ecosystems. Try and leave them the way you found them. Don't build mini-dams or trout holding areas. Even with good intentions, you may change the way the stream acts during spring runoff. Such seemingly harmless actions may actually cause bank erosion next spring.

Before making any new trails, consider what erosion effects you may cause. Keep well away from banks to prevent sediment from falling or washing into the stream. You will also move upstream easier without spooking the fish.

Respect The Fish

Fish are living creatures. As such they should be treated with the same respect as other living animals. If you must kill a fish, do so quickly and humanely. Wild trout are becoming increasingly rare. If you must kill a fish try for a "stocker" or better yet the grocery store. See related article on "Catch-and-Release" fishing.

Stressed Fish

As water in a stream or river warms during the summer the amount of dissolved oxygen goes down. Lower oxygen content creates a deadly situation for trout. Often stream levels and flow rates will also drop very low during winter months.

Hooking and playing fish during low water conditions may exhaust a fish so much it can't recover. If you must fish during these conditions, make sure any trout are well recovered before letting them go. See how in the "Catch-and-Release" article.

During these critical warm and low water times, you may find big trout stacked up with smaller trout in the head of a pool fed by a fast run or where a cooler streams enters a larger one. You may want to ask yourself if it is really ethical to fish for such vulnerable fish.

Spawning Fish

Different species spawn at different times of the year. Rainbows in the spring and Browns in the fall. But you should check local fly shops where you intend to fish for more information.

Trout will generally try and pick a clean shallow gravel bed for a spawning bed. The female trout will dig a shallow bed or "redd" in the gravel to lay her eggs. She will guard her redd ferociously. She may even strike at your fly out. But probably out of anger or territoriality not hunger. Spawning is a high energy project for a trout. The last thing a female on guard duty needs is to be caught and stressed by a fisherman.

If you spot a female on guard, take some time and observe the activity, then leaver her alone. You will be doing your part to help repopulate a stream. Also be careful crossing those innocent looking shallow water gravel beds in the spring and fall, you may be killing off future generations.

Foul Hooking

Occasionally you may hook fish in some part of it's body other than the mouth. Such a fish is considered to be "foul-hooked" and not "fairly caught". Even with barbless hooks, trying to remove the hook may damage the fish by tearing it's skin and leaving it open to infection. It is best to just cut the leader as close to the hook as possible, revive the fish and let it go. The hook will rust out and the fish will be harmed less this way.

Never try and "snag" fish. It is unethical since the point in fly fishing is to fool the trout into biting the fly. It is cruel and in most places, it is illegal.

Respect the Law

You must have a license to fish most waters. Licenses can be purchased from most fly fishing shops, sporting goods stores.

Fines can be heavy if caught fishing without a license.

Non-resident fees are usually higher than resident fees. In every state, the fees go to the fisheries and wildlife or equivalent department to maintain hatcheries, stocking programs, education programs to involve more women and children in the fishing sport, studies of whirling disease and related conversation projects.

Please don't complain about the cost of the license to the store where purchased. They offer licenses as a service to their customers and don't make any money from the sale.

When you purchase your license, ask for a current year California Fishing Regulations booklet. Take time to familiarize yourself with it as many streams have special regulations and section closures.


Respect Private Property Rights

While blessed with 6,000 cold and warm water stream miles, some this water flows on private land. While such water may be accessible, don't assume it is. ALWAYS ask for permission first to fish their water. Many will say yes if asked nicely.

Also ask

  • Where they would like you to park.

  • The path they would like you to use to the river.

  • If there are any cattle in pastures.

  • Are there any gates that need to be closed. Nothing will get a rancher hot faster than finding his cattle wandering down the road because you forgot to lock the gate. You will likely ruin access for any other fishermen too.

  • Are there any rattlesnakes in the area. Yes, Putah Creek does have them. Show respect for the landowner and his property. He will likely allow you a return visit and other anglers to.

As I said at the beginning of this article. Fishing Etiquette is really a matter of following a few simple rules and courtesy for your fellow angler.

An ancient book put it this way. "Treat others as you would like to be treated" This is over 2,000 years old and is still good today.

What other "Rules of Etiquette" would you recommend for Putah Creek?


Keith Bigelow, the webmaster,
Tight lines and Gentle Releases

Veteran Member

Status: Offline
Posts: 35

Why should we release wild or native born fish?
Fish that are wild or native born are a sign that the watershed is trying to become self sufficeint. Wild born fish most likely will not be a pure hatchery strain and will have some of their native gene traits mingled. These fish have been in the watershed their whole life and therefore stand a much better chance of surving and reproducing.

Is it wrong to keep a trophy wild fish?
Wrong is a matter of perspective. If you want to ensure not only the survival of the watershed, but also enable it to thrive, then yes keeping a big wild fish is wrong. Large fish have survived long enough to get big by adapting to the circumstances and thereby will pass on their good "big fish" genes to their off-spring.

What is a redd?
A "redd" is a section of water that a fish has made a nest in. They are usually formed towards the end of pools or runs in the "tail-out" section. They can be identified by an abundance of small gravel in an area that is surrounded by larger stones. This is where they will spawn or lay eggs.

From SK60:
I would add that there other areas in Putah that rainbows will at least attempt to use because of lack of prime space. These may be deeper areas other than tailouts and the fish or redds may not be obvious or even visible. The best policy to follow is, wade everywhere as little as possible and treat any gravel/sand area as a possible spawning site and avoid as much as possible.

Why is it wrong to fish the redds?
The fish expend a lot of energy swimming upstream and constructing the redds so they are semi exhausted by the time they actually find a mate. When you fish a redd you are placing more stress on fish that are already close to or at their limit. Hooking and fighting spawners can cause them not to spawn because they are spooked, stressed or to tired. The fight creates a buildup of lactic acid which can cause some specie of fish to "absorb" their eggs or spit them out prematurely resulting in an unspawned fish and a loss to the population. The added stress can also kill them.

Why do you cross down stream of someone fishing?
Because the sound, vibrations and silt will travel with the flow of water and not disturb the section they are fishing.


Senior Member

Status: Offline
Posts: 571


That is an oustanding and comprehensive list!!!!



Senior Member

Status: Offline
Posts: 1808

OUTSTANDING Keith ! Really the only problem I have had especially on putah creek is people that don't bother to control there dogs, More then once someones dog has come right up to where I am fishing and start playing around in the water. All the flyfishers I have met are good ethical guys.


Senior Member

Status: Offline
Posts: 349

My dog won't come splash around and bother you, but he will bark if you try to invade my territory nod.gif

Great list. Hope people read it!


"The bottom or you got him?!"

Veteran Member

Status: Offline
Posts: 65

I agree with the dog thing, but they aren't bright enough to know better than people. Its the people who get to me.
As with any activity, except maybe Roller Derby, giving others their space is the cool thing to do. So if you see someone gearing up at a pull out, find your own. Or wait for others to clear out, but don't be rude and push your way in to tight waters, i.e. Putah, where someone is fishing. For instance my experience on 2/21/09. You three guys suck!


Senior Member

Status: Offline
Posts: 209

Great information for newcomers.



Status: Offline
Posts: 1

Thanks for the intro - I'll do my best to keep it good for fellow anglers.



Status: Offline
Posts: 4

That is awesome. Most are respectful even if they are new to this "way of life". For those of us that learned from our father (grand father, uncle, aunt, mother..... me) we have been taught something special. A different mind set. For those that taught themselves with trial and error, casting lessons, youtube tutorials (some are good), mileage and gas etc. I say great job. If a friend taught you then you owe that friend for life. I have a 5.5 year old daughter and she loves the stream and slapping the water with her fly rod. She knows the rules already.
Thanks for that post.

Take memories and leave only footprint.



Status: Offline
Posts: 4

One more thing.. having a great dog is awesome. But one that knows the rules too.... priceless.

Page 1 of 1  sorted by
Quick Reply

Please log in to post quick replies.

Create your own FREE Forum
Report Abuse
Powered by ActiveBoard