My previous fly fishing etiquette article focused heavily on how we fisherman can get along better on the river. However, fishing etiquette goes beyond just saying talking with fellow fishermen, as there are rules are regulations we need to follow in order to protect the waters and fish we so dearly love. When setting out on your next fishing adventure there are a few things you should consider before you get to that juicy piece of water you’ve been eyeing.
You’d think this would be a no brainer, but many of us act on assumption rather than looking at the rules prior to hitting the water. This is often the case of catch and release fisherman, because caution is often thrown to the wind once all the fish are being tossed back. Yet, there are many more regulations beyond how many fish you can catch. Think of the following scenario:
You’ve been fly fishing in Alberta your whole life and have been invited on a trip to British Columbia. You assume regulations are similar to Alberta, and aren’t concerned with how many fish you can keep as you’re strictly catch and release. You tie on that beautiful articulated streamer with the hopes of catching those elusive East Kootenay bull trout, only to find out that second stinger hook on the back of your fly is not allowed. In British Columbia, you may only use one hook on the end of your line. Without checking the regulations beforehand, you could find yourself emptying your pocket book if a conservation officer comes by to check that hook of yours.
The example above is one of many that could occur if we ignore that regulations set out by governing bodies of natural resources. Every year regulations are updated and it becomes the duty of the angler to make sure there are no changes that affect the waters they fish, or plan to fish. It’s your responsibility to know the regulations!
For all our Utah Anglers: Utah Fishing Guidebook
I know it’s hard to pass up some prime fishing waters that lie just beyond the edge of that barbed wire fence. However, we all must keep in mind that respecting the land also involves respecting the land owners. You, like myself, have probably thought to yourself about how you’re just a fly fisherman and you aren’t out to wreck anything. You just want to catch fish, right? It’s great that you’re a wonderful guy/gal, but unfortunately one rotten apple spoils the bunch. There will always be some jerk that does something stupid to piss off a landowner, like leaving a gate open or leaving trash. That means you, me, and that jerk are all not allowed on this person’s property and we all should abide by this.
Now, it’s important to remember that in most areas watersheds cannot be owned by a single person and their rights belong to the government. This means that you can lawfully walk along a river bank, as long as you’re below the high water mark. However, there are certain instances where surface water rights were purchased along with the land, giving all rights to the water directly to the landowner. It’s important to keep this in mind when you’re heading off into unknown waters, as I have heard stories of very unhappy landowners getting up close and personal with fishermen waving a firearm about.
All of us, and I mean every single fisherman who ever tossed a line into the water is guilty at some point in mishandling a fish. I can say that with complete confidence that each and everyone of us has mishandled a fish at one point or another. However, with the increased use of social media the desire to get that perfect picture has lead to a drastic increase in the mishandling of fish and overall fish mortality. It’s important to note studies have found that fish mortality rates for catch and release (for rainbow trout) climbed from 12% to 38% when fish are exposed to air for longer than 30 seconds (Ferguson & Tufts, 1992, p. 1160). That may seem like a long period of time, but time can quickly be forgotten when trying to grasp that fish correctly and snap that perfect photo.
Best fish handling practices start with having a proper net; not just any net, a PROPER NET. That means you bring a net that matches the size of the fish you’re targeting. Trying to stuff a 30 inch fish into a Fishpond Brookie net isn’t going to cut it. Having a net will allow you to catch a fish quicker and with much more ease. Furthermore, you can leave that fish in your net while submerged so it can gather its strength back without further stress.
Secondly, do your best to keep your fish in the water and wet. Remove the hook from the fish while it’s in the net and give it time to recuperate. If you want to capture a picture of your fish, try and do so in the water. However, if you do decide to take the fish out of the water be conscious of the time the fish is exposed to air. Get your grip on the fish prior to removing it from your net and capture a quick photo before releasing it.
Lastly, debarb your hooks. Seriously. Just take a quick second to pinch down that barb with your pliers and you’ll save yourself so much headache. I know that removing the barb increases the chance you will lose your fish, but it also decreases fish handling time and the mortality of your fish. Plus, no one wants a barb in their finger. I once had a barb get stuck under my fingernail and I can tell you I never want to go through that again. So, do yourself and the fish a favor and remove that pesky barb before you end up regretting leaving on.
A Final Thought
Just as a final thought, I figure I should remind everyone once again we are not the fishing police. If you see someone breaking the law, report it to the proper authorities. However, if you see someone breaking an unspoken rule don’t berate people, especially on the internet. Be a steward for change and ask those people breaking your unspoken rules out to fish. You can show them how and why fish are handled a certain way or why they should avoid those redds. Ask yourself, would you listen to a stranger on the internet who belittles you anonymously? Probably not. However, you can change people’s attitudes by having a good one of your own. Stop using your keyboard as a way to drive change and start using your knowledge and advice in person. Change starts with one person and becomes a ripple effect for the next. Thanks for reading!