Fly fishing rules and etiquette
- ensuring that everyone has fun

Fishing instructor, fly fishing tuition and fishing trips based in Scotland. Salmon and trout fishing advice, flies and articles.

Etiquette exists for the simple purpose of preserving each others sporting opportunities on the day. Helpful rules. (article and photos by Ally Gowans)

fly fishing etiquette
Fly fishing etiquette - sharing stories.

On an angler to angler basis etiquette exists for the simple purpose of preserving each others sporting opportunities on the day. Simple rules such as never fishing too close to another angler, on rivers that is taken to mean not entering a pool in front of another angler unless the pool has been specifically broken up into separate “beats” to allow better sharing and even then a distance of 25 or 30 yards is usually taken as being the polite separation distance.  Hand in hand with this goes the requirement for anglers to move at reasonable speed downstream and allow following anglers to proceed without hindrance. 

When someone is fortunate enough to hook a large fish the unwritten rule dictates that any angler in the vicinity downs his rod to ensure that he will not interfere with the proceedings and offers to lend any assistance to land the fish. It is the greedy or jealous angler who seeing another playing a fish redoubles his speed down the pool whilst the fish is being played in an attempt to “steal” the water. It can be frustrating to watch someone else’s success but doing the polite thing and offering to help will often result in an invitation to fish through the pool.

On hard fished association waters there are often rules to prevent anglers taking more than one salmon at a pass down a pool, but if the fish is lost or released unharmed returning to the water may be allowed. If both anglers are fishing for the same species the rules seem fairly clear, when different species are involved the waters become somewhat muddier. In Scotland salmon anglers enjoy the privilege of legal “right of way” on rivers and trout anglers display diffidence usually by giving them a wide berth. The reason for steering clear could of course be more intelligent than that because salmon anglers are more likely to be clumsy and cause disturbance thereby frightening not only the trout but also the salmon that they are trying to catch! It’s a pity that many modern anglers have deep pockets and shallow knowledge of wild creatures or river manners and sadly sometimes the ghillies are little better. True etiquette is that we must respect each other’s sport and the salmon angler should not fear any intrusion from a genuine trout angler because his quarry is far more wary and shy than a salmon. It always seems ridiculous to ask a trout fisher to vacate with his #5 rod and 6x leader when I am about to throw 30 yards of #10 line across a pool and probably frighten every trout in sight and so I never do, instead I invite them to carry on passing around them if need be and let me confess right now that the benefit to me has been enormous.

Without the need to ask I am usually furnished with all sorts of information, where salmon have been seen, what the guy fishing last week was catching them on, all sorts of priceless knowledge that helps me to enjoy my fishing. And of course this is not one sided either because I pass on hints about the flies and the trout. Next time we meet we exchange stories again. Recently I met an angler whom I had pointed towards two nice rising trout on his previous visit to my local river. With a beaming smile he proudly announced that he caught and released them both that night one of them over two pounds and the other over three and his friend caught seven nice trout in the pool that I suggested he tried. Giving and receiving information on the riverbank or loch is one of the most important aspects of angling, it is what makes us unique amongst sportsmen because we help each other, or at least we should do because that is all part of this manners thing too. I cannot put this into any better words than Eric Tavener wrote for the Lonsdale Library classic “Salmon Fishing” but of course in the modern idiom we can we can simply read “fish” for “salmon”. “Whatever information it has been your good fortune to garner, place it freely at the disposal of others. Tell the man who is going to follow you down a pool, if he should ask you for the information: where you have seen a salmon showing, whether the water is rising, falling, or steady; whether you know of any salmon having been taken on that day, on what fly and in what pool; and give him ungrudgingly anything else in reason that, under similar circumstances, you would find useful, were you the seeker or a stranger to the river.” The brotherhood of angling.

See also fly fishing behaviour and fly fishing manners

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Copyright 2007 Alastair Gowans AAPGAI and FFF Master and THCI, APGAI. All rights reserved.