My two clients were fishing a favorite roadside stretch on Little River. So far as I saw, we were the only ones fishing in several miles of good water. We were literally still on the first hole catching the first trout of the day when a guy came walking down the bank rigged up with his fly rod and dressed to look like he knew what he was doing.
Seriously, if you dress like a model for an Orvis catalogue, you better know what you are doing, at least in terms of stream etiquette. My optimistic side still wants to think that this guy was just clueless, but I'm also really losing faith in humanity so at this point I'll say it is a tossup. Either way, jumping directly in front of us and starting to fish upstream was beyond rude. If it was just me, I would ignore you and go find other water, but jumping in front of people who just paid a lot of money to fish with a guide for the day is unreal.
Oh yeah, that hand gesture, the lifting of my arms and hands in the universal what in the world gesture, the one that you returned? That meant get the h3!! out of the stream, and I was being polite about it.
Luckily for both of us, I decided it wasn't worth a confrontation and used it as an opportunity to teach my clients some fly fishing stream etiquette. We headed upstream and caught a lot of nice trout. Driving up river, we noticed his buddy a bit further upstream. I'm still not sure if they were really that clueless or just dumb. I took some pictures of their vehicle with the original intent of posting it widely online until I could figure out who it was. After a bit of time to cool off along with experiencing the joy brought by watching my clients catch some beautiful trout, I realize there is no need to throw someone under the bus. Well maybe there is good reason, but I'm not going to stoop to that level. Instead, I'm using this as motivation to, hopefully briefly and succinctly, summarize fly fishing stream etiquette in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Fly fishing stream etiquette in the Great Smoky Mountains can vary a bit from stream to stream. The general rule of thumb is that, on larger roadside water like Little River, you should at minimum stay out of sight of other anglers but don't use that rule to cheat if the stream makes some tight turns. A fourth of a mile of water at minimum should be left for whoever is fishing below you and sometimes more if pressure is light. In other words, if you only see one other angler on the whole river, leave him a mile or better of water.
On small streams, stream etiquette is even more important. My rule of thumb is give other anglers at least a half mile of water. More is always better and preferred when possible. If pressure is light, bump that up to at least a mile. I can easily fish a mile or more of water in a day and nothing is more frustrating than having someone jump in a short distance above you when they know you are fishing up.
Of course, some situations may vary. For example, this morning, the guy walked by on the bank and asked how we were doing. I probably should have told him at that point that we were fishing the section of water upstream. My assumption that he would understand stream etiquette was clearly off base and some friendly education might have helped everyone involved. When possible, stop and ask how far someone is planning on fishing. For example, I've had conversations that go something like this:
"Hey! Great day to be out fishing isn't it?"
"I was planning on getting in upstream a ways but wanted to know how far you were going to fish?"
"Well, my plan was to fish up to the next bridge and end there for the day."
"Okay, I'll go another 1/4 mile upstream from that bridge just in case you feel like going a bit further."
"Thanks, I really appreciate that."
"No problem. Have a great day and catch a bunch!"
"You too! Just so you know I've been wearing them out on a Fire Tiger Cactus Fly."
"Thanks for the tip. I have a couple of those in my box and will give them a try."
Exchanges like this actually really help to improve the overall mood of the day, much the opposite of our encounter this morning. When in doubt, always check with other anglers about their plans if they were the first ones on the water or trail. I'm a fast hiker and often overtake other anglers hiking upstream. When I do, I generally point out that they were there ahead of me and ask where they wanted to fish so I leave that water for them. It is usually much appreciated and sometimes you even make new friends in the process.
The strangest thing about this whole thing is that I had an issue with stream etiquette last week as well and by a guide no less. I should also add that it is not any guide I know personally or whose websites I link to on this blog so you can draw your own conclusions. The "guide" had a giant Thingamabobber tied on so I really pitied them and their client. And, to be fair, they didn't jump right in front of us although they looked at us and then walked down to the stream and acted like they were going to. At minimum they spooked some fish at our next hole. In the end, they walked on upstream a bit although if we hadn't of been about to break for lunch it wouldn't have been far enough. The thing about these situations that amazes me is why someone would want to jump in front of another angler when there are hundreds of miles of untouched water available for you to choose from.
So, next time you head for the Smokies, remember your proper fly fishing stream etiquette for a freestone mountain stream is NOT the same as it might be for a large tailwater and give other anglers a wide berth.