A basic outline of etiquette rules to help
the wade & float fishing angler
Provided by the Colorado
Cutthroat Chapter of
Compiled and Edited by: Kent Higgins
Contributors: Bob Churchill, Kent Higgins, Van Bliss, Doug & Cathy Houser
Fly Fishing Etiquette —
By — Bob Churchill, Kent Higgins, Van Bliss, Doug & Cathy Houser
Long before fly fishing, proper etiquette and respect for another’s space existed. Although
the practice of etiquette is questionable at times, distinct and desirable behaviors are supposed to separate the human race from all other animal species. Therefore, we often
need to remind ourselves of proper behaviors while fishing.
These basic rules are intended to help anglers understand how to make their fishing
experiences, on or near the water, more enjoyable for themselves and others.
On and Off the River
Know the specific state and local fishing regulations for the waters you fish.
Fish barbless hooks —
do yourself, your friends, and the
fish a favor, pinch down all barbs.
Be mindful of your manners and
language, particularly around youngsters —
they learn from example.
When water temperature rises
stop fishing and thus eliminate
If asked to critique another, do it in
a positive manner, don’t criticize the
flies or techniques of others. Offer
advice only if asked, and ask only if
you’re willing to listen.
Talking to another angler is
acceptable, and quite proper.
Not talking to another angler is
acceptable, and quite proper.
On the River
If you spot someone on or near a section
of water, that section of water is theirs until they move on — even if they stay for
This respected use belongs to anyone
fishing or not. And, as much as it hurts not
to fish there, stay out unless you have
their permission to enter their domain.
• An angler just studying the water
• A person or party having a bank-side
A person or party just sitting on the
bank enjoying the scenery
Children or adults playing in the water
Bait, spin cast, or flycasting anglers.
When approaching another angler to
find out “how they are doing,” “what
they have observed,” “what flies they
may be using” or if it’s okay to share
the immediate area being fished —
use care as not to spook the fish in
Always approach the angler from
behind and to the side. When you address another, do so politely, if there is no
response, assume your company or access
is not welcome, say “thank you,” and
When passing another angler do it with
Most people don’t like to fish where the
water has just been beat to a froth by
another angler, so leave some unspoiled
water between you and the other angler
before entering the water. This distance
is determined by the ratio of anglers on
• if fishing on water where only one or two
anglers are in sight, observe the other
anglers few minutes to see how fast they
are moving upstream – then give them
space to fish for about an hour before
you enter the water. This could mean
leaving two to three prime fishing spots
open before returning to the water.
When fishing in areas like Deckers, the
Green or the San Juan when it’s crowded,
moving up-stream one hole or run is
If on the river bank, swing out upto 20feet as not to spook any fish upstream
from the angler.
Consider crossing the river and
proceeding up the other side to another
If several anglers exist and are
“leap-frogging” back and forth,
leave each plenty of room to fish
upstream before you enter the
The angler that is traveling
up-stream always has the right of
way over an angler traveling
• If an angler wants to retrace
their footsteps down-river and
sees another down-river, exit the
water and go down-river using
the bank, staying far enough
away to prevent spooking fish.
An angler always has the right of
way when they have a fish on.
• Reel in your line and try to stay
out of their way while they fight their
fish. Many times the angler with the fish on
is trying very hard to keep out of your space
but sometimes circumstances won’t
allow it. It’s totally appropriate to ask the
angler with the fish on if they would like you
to net the fish for them. Many new friendships have started this way.
Handle fish with care.
The less a fish is handled the better and
the greater chance the fish has to survive.
Fish survival hints:
• Make sure your fishing net’s web is wet
before picking up a fish.
• Wet your hands before handling any fish!
• Don’t squeeze a fish’s stomach.
• Don’t stick your fingers or any object into the
• If you can’t remove a hook, from a fish, cut
your tippet line and release the fish before
the fish becomes overly stressed.
• Quickly photograph a fish and immediately
return the fish to water.
• In warmer water conditions try photographing fish in a net that’s held partially in the
Stay off spawning beds and resist fishing to spawning trout.
The spawning process is a major key in
our river’s future and what you may catch
next year, and the next, and the next!
Wade only when necessary, as all
aquatic food chains are fragile.
Be a good sport, if the trout gets off before you land it, laugh it off and consider it
a “LDR” (long distance release), there are
plenty more fish where that one came
Recognize the talents of others when
Promote these simple rules of fly fish•
Off the River
Don’t enter the water on a small river or
stream directly across from another angler.
Stay on visible paths and trails.
• Shortcuts kill delicate vegetation, encourage future erosion and silting which
endanger the life of fish and destroy
Even drift boat and raft anglers can’t get
away from the crowds; but by following a few
simple rules, your drifting experience can still
be a pleasant one.
At The Boat Ramp —
Report poaching or any other violations.
• Taking along a plastic bag so you can collect
and take out trash left by others. Dispose
the bag of trash properly.
• Dedicate a small vest pocket to hold the
monofilament line you cut off as birds often
get tangled in the line and die!
No trespassing means just that —
• Obtain permission or don’t fish
• When granted permission –
• treat the owners land as if it were
• close all gates behind you
• do not litter.
Wait patiently while staging for your turn to
Don’t stage in a roadway lane that blocks the entry or exit of other vehicles and trailers from the
ramp. While waiting, undo the trailer or boat
straps and covers, load your gear and have a cup
Offer help to others that are unloading.
They may not accept your offer, but this helpful
attitude is a great way to start the day off.
Once it’s your turn to put-in, do it as quickly
The boat ramp is no place to practice backing a
After getting your boat in the water move it
away from the ramp. If you need to tie up or
anchor your craft and wait for a party member,
move your craft upstream of the ramp and
thus out of the way of other craft using the
Don’t position your boat to close to another boat treat other people’s boats like gold.
Once your boat is in the water, immediately
pull your vehicle and trailer out and head for
the parking lot.
Make sure your parked vehicle and trailer conform to other parked vehicles - out of the way for
At the end of the float when you are back at
the boat ramp, practice the same etiquette
in reverse order.
Move your craft down-stream from the ramp —
out of the way of other craft approaching or using the ramp. Wait, and only move upstream to
the ramp once your trailer is on the ramp.
If you have rented a boat or raft and are not
responsible for loading and taking the craft
out of the water, always move the craft
down-stream from the ramp then tie or anchor the craft, out of the way of ramp users.
Float Fishing On The River —
When you start your float, space yourself
evenly from other boats.
Slow down if you’re getting to close to
another boat or speed up to put a little
space between the boats that may be
As you float, give waders a wide berth.
Leave plenty of room for them to fish.
As possible, float on the opposite side of
the river and limit your oar use as you
pass an angler. Resist making a cast
into a hot spot just upstream from them.
If a wader is casting to the middle of the
river, it’s acceptable to pass behind
them (the angler and the bank).
As you approach the wader, please inform the angler of your intentions and
thus not alarming them.
If a boat or raft is occupying a known hot
spot but no one is fishing, never assume
you can slam into the spot.
Always ask if they are staying or moving
on. Often they may say “come on in” as
they are leaving, while others will say
“no” and may even be securing the spot
for another set of anglers coming down
the river. If so, move on, avoid a confrontation.
As a floater, it’s your responsibility to know
the specific float craft requirements and the
location of private and public boundaries.
Laws regarding boat requirements, i.e.,
an extra oar or flotation vests, and even
floater’s rights differ from state to state.
Obtain and study the specific river rules
long before you put in.
Don’t leave any trash on the river, pack it up
and carry it out.
Take extra trash bags with you.
Demonstrate how everyone can share the
• Don’t Boat Race - put in late and rows
downstream as hard as they can, slam on
the brakes, and pull in front of the lead
boats for a hole.
• Guides and destination anglers should help
ease competitive situations in which rowers
might find themselves. Instead of pushing
for the hot spots and getting to get to them
at all costs, share the river.
• Latecomers should float behind those in
front of them, instead of turning to aggressive naval maneuvers to secure lead positions.
• Float fish and drift in tranquility, taking
what success the day handed out to you.
• If someone else has command of a hot spot,
use your skills to find other fish in other
places. This is the mark of a real angler.
• You don’t need 5,000 fish per mile; you only
need one at a time.
• Enjoy the river and don’t compete for its limited resources.
Additional sources for fly fishing etiquette:
Flyfisher’s Guide to Colorado
Drift Boat Strategies & Drift Boat Fly Fishing
by Marty Bartholomew
by Neal Streeks