Stream Ethics and Manners This page was updated 5/16/09
You're slowly and silently working your way upstream, crouching, watching every step to
avoid kicking over a rock. Every once in a while, you see a slight swirl in a small eddy
about 40 yards ahead. It looks like a nice one, perhaps picking at emerging midges. It's
going to be a tough cast, what with the overhanging branches and lack of backcasting room.
You're in the zone today, though. You've been making every cast you've wanted to make,
and you just know this fish is yours. The sun is perfect. The wind is perfect. Just a
few more yards, and you'll be in range. What's that sound? Is it the splish-splash of an
approaching fisherman? There he is, walking downstream toward you right down the middle
of the creek. He waves at you and continues on, right through your targeted fishing spot.
When he gets within arm's length, will you physically harm him? Most fishermen would
understand if you did.
We've all struggled with this. Stories vary, of course. ATV's, Jeeps, Horses, kids
skipping rocks, hunters training their bird dogs, teenagers swimming, canoes --
CANOES!! It's all very frustrating to say the least. Let's be realistic, though.
Our rivers and streams are there for the enjoyment of all, so we'll just have to learn to
accept much of the disruptions that drive us crazy. The truth is, you cannot control
other people. You can only control your own behavior. Read that again. Even so, we
should at least be able to expect other fishermen to try their best to not disrupt things.
That means other fishermen are expecting this of you, as well.
When we speak of stream ethics, we're talking about much more than just simple manners.
We're also speaking of ecologically sound utilization of our trout fishing resources.
This is where catch and release practices come into play, of course, but there is much
more to it than that. Manners are a good place to start, though. As trout fishing
continues to become more and more popular, our trout streams are going to continue to
become more crowded. And there are some simple rules that we should all adhere to. If
we lead the way by following these guidelines ourselves, hopefully others will see our
example and follow suit.
Rule number one: "KEEP HOOKS OUT OF PEOPLE". Always look around you before each
and every cast. This is especially important for fly fishermen. Before laying out that
backcast, look behind you to make sure no one is trying to get past. If you are walking
the bank, be mindful of the fishermen and where their backcasts are going. It's best to
stay well back of their casting range. If you must cross behind them, though, call out
"coming behind you!"
Rule number two: "DON'T GET IN THE WAY". One of the most commonly voiced complaints
is about another fisherman directly interfering with one's efforts. Be mindful of the
other fishermen around you. And be observant. Which direction are they facing, and what
direction are they moving? Streamer and spin fishermen tend to work their way downstream
while casting downstream. Nymph fishermen and those drifting bait tend to cast upstream
while gradually moving upstream. When you were in Kindergarten, you hopefully learned not
to cut in line. The only thing you need to know in order to avoid that behavior is which
direction the line is moving. Regardless of your fellow fisherman's direction of travel,
always enter the river behind him. He may be gradually working his way toward his
favorite spot. If you step in front of him, you've taken on the role of the knucklehead
in the first paragraph, and you may be physically harmed. FYI: this also counts if you
get hung up on the bottom. If other people are fishing the same general area, break your
line. DO NOT wade out into the middle of things to try to rescue your bait.
Rule number three: "BE PLEASANT -- NOT PUSHY". By all means, strike up a
conversation. Ask how the fishing is going, what they're biting on, etc. Think before
you speak, though. If your fellow fisherman appears to be zoned in on something, step
back, give him plenty of room, and let him work. His next cast may be to the biggest fish
either of you has ever seen. When you do speak, don't immediately offer advice on his
cast, his choice of baits, his location, etc. Nobody likes a know-it-all. A fisherman
fishing alone usually wants to try figuring things out. If he wants help, he'll ask for
it. And, don't shadow your fellow fisherman. Nothing is more stressful than knowing
there is another guy one spot behind you following in your footsteps. It feels like
you're being pushed. It's better to ask permission to move on up ahead and let him push
you. Stay back on the bank, and move past him a good distance. At
Bennett Spring this may mean 20 feet. On the
Meramec River it may mean 150 yards.
Rule number four: "SHARE". This is another rule you learned in Kindergarten.
However, most kids don't really understand it until the third grade. Heck, some adults
still don't understand it. When the teacher says "share", the first thing that usually
happens is the kids start pointing fingers and saying "he's not sharing!" "Make him
share!" Recall that you can only control your own behavior. If someone else appears to
be hogging that primo honey hole, you might ask permission to join him, but don't just
walk up next to him and start rubbing shoulders. Or, if you find yourself in the perfect
fishing spot, catching dozens and dozens of big meaty fish, you might consider giving the
spot up the nearby fishermen who have been respecting you by not crowding you. Pick one
or two of them, give them a nod, and let them know you're calling it quits. Teach others
how to be polite by showing them how it's done.
Rule number five: "DIPLOMACY". If you see a fisherman breaking all the rules,
wading in front of other people, crowding, and so on, you may feel the urge to say
something. Be very selective in what you say and how you say it. Give this guy the
benefit of the doubt. He may be a super nice guy, but simply clueless as to how his
behavior is affecting others. Try to talk to him quietly, privately, and with a friendly
tone. Say something like "I'm not trying to get after you or chew you out. I'm just
trying to help you. In crowded conditions like this, we all try to avoid walking in front
of other fishermen and crowding. It keeps everyone on friendly terms." You'll likely get
an apology and a more courteous fellow fisherman. However, if he responds poorly, then
he's a jerk and always has been. You can only control your own behavior -- and you may
need to dig deep for that self-control right at that moment.
Protecting the Resource
Rule number one: RESPONSIBLE HARVEST. We're not necessarily talking about strict
catch and release here. Our trout streams are all managed to allow the harvest of trout
in some form. What we're talking about is taking it easy on the resource. There's
nothing wrong with keeping trout to eat, but that doesn't mean you should fill your
freezer and the freezers of your friends, family and neighbors. A good rule of thumb is
to never have more than 2 dinners worth of trout in your freezer. There is also nothing
wrong with keeping a trophy fish to have mounted. In fact, removing a dominant fish from
the river will actually help the remaining population to gain strength. Think about it.
If the average fish in the river is 12" long and you remove a 20 incher, the remaining
average fish will have a better chance at survival without having to compete for food and
space with the lunker. However, returning a big fish is also a polite way to spread the
trophy harvest among many anglers. If you already have a 24" trout on your wall, why add
a smaller fish to the collection? Why not wait until you get something bigger?
Rule number two: NO POACHING. Don't keep more than the legal limit. Don't fish
with illegal baits. Always be properly licensed. It's really that simple. The
Department of Conservation has a complex mathematical formula that they're working here.
They spend $x on raising hatchery fish and paying conservation agents. They earn $x from
fishing licenses and trout stamps. The money has to even out on both sides of the
equation, so they have to control the fish harvest and the hooked fish mortality rates --
hence regulations and enforcement. If people poach, there are fewer fish available per
angler, interest in fishing decreases, and revenues from fishing licenses go down, leading
to less money to raise more fish. Get it?
Rule number three: BE GREEN. Kermit likes to say it's not easy being green, and
sometimes he's right. On the river, though, it's a necessity. Donít leave anything
behind. Tangled fishing line, empty soda cans, sandwich bags, and cigarette butts should
all come home with you. If you want to take it to the next level, take a trash bag with
you and fill it up with litter on your way out.
Rule number four: WATCH WHERE YOU STEP. Every trout stream in the state relies on
aquatic insects for the survival of the trout. The bugs are at the bottom of the food
chain, and everything moves up through the ranks. Therefore, NO CHUM SHUFFLING (you know
who you are). You're doing damage to the food chain, and making the bugs more accessible
to the trout is not helping them. It's like feeding bears -- they forget how to forage
for themselves. Also remember that many of our trout streams have naturally reproducing
fish in them. Watch for redds when you're wading in the spring and in the fall. A redd
is a spawning bed, and they look like a dug out area in the gravel -- they'll be a bit
lighter in color and about the size of a dinner plate. If you wade through an area that
has redds, you are destroying trout eggs and chasing off the parents who are protecting
the eggs from predators.
That's it folks! That doesnít seem too difficult, does it? If you're already following
these rules, than congratulations! If you see a few that you've not done so well on in
the past, that's ok. Just try to be mindful of what we should all be doing, and we'll
continue to have great trout fishing and great friendships in Missouri.
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