Streamside Etiquette

During the busiest periods at peak holiday times, situations can arise where our rivers and streams can become congested. Compared to other countries, there is significantly less of a problem here in Australia, and even less in Victoria, where the rivers are not privately owned. Plenty of access points help to spread the crowds and disperse fishing pressure. If there are too many cars at one access point, I will simply seek out another. less crowded one.

Nevertheless there are days when there are plenty of fishermen about and avoiding them is impossible.

The protocols for such an encounter apply equally to all. It matters not if you fish with bait, lure or fly. First and foremost, etiquette dictates that the first person on the spot has the right of way. Whoever is in place fishing has the right to expect courtesy from anyone who comes along later.

If you arrive to find someone else fishing you must defer to their preference every time; and it works like this.

Approach quietly and stay well away so that you do not interfere with their fishing. When the time is right, after they are aware of your presence, do the usual conversation stuff….How’s it going? … Doing any good?….What are they taking? Etc.

You cant then can say something like ‘what’s your preference? Where do you intend to fish so that I can give you a wide berth?’ After they’ve nominated their intentions, you should suggest what you might intend to do. This gives them a chance to review what they have said in light of what you are offering. Usually people are generous, aware that today is busy, and you may even get an invitation to fish in the same vicinity.

The problem arises when you happen to be first, and fishing carefully, only to have someone come blundering in you and the fish you have been patiently stalking for an hour.

Although it is difficult, try not to be angry, but be firm. Explain carefully and calmly. Question them to see if they understand the protocols first and then if it is obvious that they don’t, then clearly, firmly and without confrontation; point out that there is a process that they should have followed. The conversation starter should go something like this….

“Excuse me, I’m fishing to a fish here, could you please stand back a bit?”…..

“Do you mind not coming any closer until I have finished with this fish?”….

“Are you aware of the normal streamside courtesy? Normally I get to nominate what I intend to do first and then you offer a suggestion of how you would like to proceed”….

This is the normal protocol we use to share the water on any given day. Most people will understand that this is the best way for all involved. While there are many small rules that we can delve into, if this one is applied it would solve 90% of grievances that arise on the river bank.

Sometimes people are amazed to discover that there is in fact a proper procedure and a friendly discussion will ensue as they learn about streamside etiquette, and generous sharing of the resource is often the outcome. You must volunteer to lead this discussion if the other person is obviously unaware. Never back someone into a corner, humiliate them or be aggressive. Rather try to be firm and fair.

If, after all of the explanations they continue to behave badly then feel free to give them a tongue lashing, as publicly as possible. Everyone on the river within earshot will then be aware of the rude bastard who just blunders in on people.

I will never forget the day I was guiding on the pondage and a bloke stepped in between my client and myself and then proceeded to flick his lure across the water we were casting into. I gave him a serve. He looked stunned when I let him have the “Oi, Oi, Oi…Don’t you know what good fishing manners are mate?” I shouted at him. He looked confused, he obviously didn’t know.

“You’re supposed to talk to us first before you do that” I said referring to the lure wobbling its way in. “What you mean?”  he said. Five minutes later the shock subsided, oi, oi, oi was replaced by an invitation to come and do a fly fishing lesson and a brief description of the protocol.

I still see him from time to time. He gives me a smile and a wave as we pass. He did come and do a lesson and is now a competent fly fisher, and now and then we have a laugh about how I picked on him for not knowing the streamside etiquette.

The Mates Guide to Etiquette – The Art of Sledging

Whenever two Australians see flies crawling up a wall, they will want to bet on the outcome. Such is the nature of men. Suddenly there is a competition. We will bet on the outcome of anything, cricket, football, ferret racing, the dogs. You name it, we will wager on the outcome. And so it is with fly fishing. And as expected, the worst offenders when it comes to competing with you, will be your best mates.

Just as the fish opens its mouth to take your fly your ‘friend’ mentions the upcoming airline strike. Then as you lift the rod and feel nothing he will make a remark about your premature problem. At this point you are a trembling mess of jangled nerves and all attempts at coolness or control have been totally lost.

Having hooked the tree for the third time your so-called friend implies that you are “casting like a B-Grade movie” or “swinging like a rusty gate”. Just to boost your confidence.

Sledging is a time-honored method of destroying your competition. Use a camera. Stand closely behind and click it next to his ear just as the fly drifts into the perfect spot. This is enough to cause an involuntary strike that drags the fly enough to put any fish in the vicinity down. This one is great in the age of digital cameras as you can capture the moment of failure as an added bonus.

Leave a little bit of grass on the hook after generously climbing back up the bank to untangle your friend’s poor back-cast. This is a great one as no self-respecting fish will even look at the fly with an ugly bit of detritus hanging from it, the added bonus being that your friend will not suspect a thing, instead assuming that they fouled their hook on a subsequent cast. The benefit of this method is that there will be no repercussions. You can even rub it in and reaffirm your own innocence by saying that their casting is shocking anyway, citing the previous help you gave them removing their fly from the bush as proof.

Yes, anything goes in love, war and fly fishing. Try playing tennis with your friend’s fish so that it gets off before you can net it and get a photo. Particularly if it is bigger than anything you have caught that day. Sometimes this can happen unconsciously, your innocence is assured as he has probably lost the previous four fish due to your earlier sledging; yet he blames himself.

Encourage your mate to have a go at an impossible cast. Once he is hooked up on the low branch on the far bank you can casually fish on past him and through the best part of the pool. Catching a fish at this point will surely break whatever spirit remains. A flippant remark implying that ‘the last fish really belongs to him’ is what I like to call the icing on the cake.

A sure fire way to get him twitching is to vaguely hint at infidelity with his wife, or mention that the stick at his feet looks ‘awfully a lot like a snake’. These are but a few of the tried and tested methods I have come up with and I am sure you all have many of your own to share.

You must however exercise a degree of restraint in order to ensure that you do not ruin your own day. Once the rot has set in, a gentle sledge from time to time will keep him on the edge, but not boiling over. Should a boil over occur. then you have lost the game. A state of collapse will ensue, you will inevitably have to assist him back to the car, thus putting an end to the day’s fishing and negating the purpose of the tactic in the first place.

The new season is now here. This represents a great opportunity to sledge, as a fly fisherman just coming out of hibernation is prone to a higher percentage of missed strikes and short tempers, without any help from his mates. Personally I am going to save my sledging for a friendly NZ trip this November. There is a brown of about 15lb we are going to be chasing with a camera crew and I reckon seeing David stuff up in high definition widescreen is just too good an opportunity to pass up.

~ Geoff