Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout

Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout
Showing posts with label stream etiquette. Show all posts
Showing posts with label stream etiquette. Show all posts

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Stream Etiquette Done Right and Then Some

Fall Colors on Little River above Elkmont in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

A while back I complained about a lack of stream etiquette on a local stream in the Smokies. Since I complained about poor etiquette, it is only fair that I commend exceptional stream etiquette. A week and a half ago, I experienced two examples of perfect stream etiquette in one day.

The first came after I had been fishing hard for a couple of hours and was getting hungry. I had camped the previous night at Elkmont and had got up at first light to take down camp and hit the stream. Finally my hunger caught up with me so I headed to Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area to enjoy some delicious chili and chips. A hot meal is always a treat so I fired up the camp stove and was working on breakfast.

When I had pulled in, I noticed what appeared to be 2-3 anglers gearing up further down in the picnic area. After heating up my food and starting to eat, I noticed one of the anglers walking my direction. It turned out to be guide Charity Rutter of R & R Fly Fishing (which she owns along with her husband Ian). I already knew that both were great anglers and guides and of course good people in general. What I didn't expect was the incredible generosity and politeness. She inquired whether I was planning on fishing since she didn't want to get in water I intended to fish and asked if I was planning on fishing there, with or without clients. Mind you, she and her clients were there first so in any reasonable understanding of stream etiquette, they had first dibs, the right of way, whatever you want to label it. That is what I call stream etiquette done right and then some. If you know Charity, then this won't surprise you probably as she is one of the nicest people you will ever meet, but it is always a pleasure seeing and experiencing such politeness out on the stream. Of course I told her to fish the whole section. Not only was she there first, but I was just fishing for fun and she was earning a living. I hadn't intended on fishing there anyway, but even if I was, I would have found a different spot.

The second case of good stream etiquette occurred on the same day. After my delicious brunch I hit another spot before heading up to Elkmont to combine my loves of hiking and fishing. There was a section of stream I had been wanting to hit ever since returning from Yellowstone. With a beautiful sunny day, I knew that I wouldn't find a better time this year. After a good hike in, I stopped and was working on rigging up while sitting alongside a popular pool. Mainly the pool is popular due to its proximity to the trail but it does hold some nice fish and offers the chance to fish dry flies. I had yet to decide whether to fish that hole, but to all appearances I was preparing to do so.

Just as I was finishing rigging up after a minor mishap of spilling my dry fly box, I noticed two anglers coming down the trail. One was guide Rob Fightmaster (www.fightmasterflyfishing.com) and the other was apparently his client for the day. We chatted for a few minutes and Rob asked about my Yellowstone trip. I of course asked what water they had fished above me so I wasn't fishing used water. Then I asked if they were fishing their way back down the trail. Rob confirmed that they were and mentioned that they had thought about the pool at our feet but would leave it to me. Again, great stream etiquette. Rob could have justified jumping in because he was making a living or even because I was sitting at the head of the pool, but he did not. Naturally, I told them to jump in and fish it. Rob was making a living that day while I was just fishing for fun, not to mention that my real goal was the stretch upstream from there.

Probably it is a bad business idea to promote companies and people who are technically my competition, but good deeds should be rewarded. Of course, I hope if you need a guided trip in the Smokies that you will contact me, but I can honestly say that I'm very confident that you would have a great day fishing with any of the guides listed above.

Ultimately, these two cases illustrate one of the most important aspects of stream etiquette: when in doubt, ask. Talking to fellow anglers will usually make your day better. Asking where they plan to fish and then choosing other water will go a long ways towards making new friends on the stream. My reward for giving up that pool? I had one of the best days of dry fly fishing I've had in a long time.


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Fly Fishing Stream Etiquette in the Great Smoky Mountains

Do you ever fall into the trap of assuming that the average person is smarter than they really are? I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt, but today I had an encounter that removed all doubt unfortunately. Fly fishing stream etiquette in the Great Smoky Mountains seems straightforward, but today I learned that apparently it is not or else there are some very rude people in the world (quite likely that both of those are true).

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?" 

"You bet!" 

"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.