The other day a friend of mine was telling me about his first negative encounter with another angler. He and a friend got up stupid early in hopes to be the first fisherman on the water. His hopes were dashed when he saw an SUV already parked where they planned to fish, but crossed their fingers that the fishermen had gone upstream, not down. Excitement filled their veins and they pushed their way through the bush towards the tree line. As the brush thinned they heard voices ahead and their hearts dropped. They approached the anglers and asked them about their dog and how the fishing was. Since it seemed they were headed downstream, they decided to head upstream a few holes and move in that direction for the day. Believing all was good, they began fishing before noting one of the anglers throwing his hands in the air. Thinking that he had a big fish on and wanted to show them, my buddy rushed over to check it out. However, instead of witnessing a big fish and joining in on the high fives he got berated by one of the fishermen for fishing in their zone. “I didn’t get up at 4 am to fish behind someone all day,” is what he was told. He tried to explain he was going in the other direction, even offering to leave but the fisherman started making fun of him for not being into fly fishing for very long. They must have recognized him from his instagram, he thinks. On the other hand, my friend should have been more clear about what his intentions were or asked specifically what their intentions were, not just assumed. Furthermore, he should have just asked if it were okay to go one direction or the other. It comes down to both parties being in the wrong, but was it the right way to handle things?
I mean, I get it. You get up early and drive all this way to fish. Suddenly, you see some jerk show up wanting to fish where you were first? Nah, I don’t think so brah. However, do we instantly need to turn on the anger center of our brains? Can’t we all just get along? Imagine this interaction from the side of my friend, put on his lens for a moment. He’s new into fly fishing and is just learning the ins and outs of how fly fishing works. Those secret understandings are lost upon him and this unspoken code is a foreign language to him. He does not understand the passion that runs deep through some of our veins, that we bleed fly line and backing. It’s hard to take a step back and realize not everyone has that same passion, that same drive to catch fish. Yet, who are we to judge mistakes of those who can claim ignorance. Yes, I’m sure we can certainly say ignorance is no excuse for bad etiquette, but unwritten etiquette needs a certain calm nature. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, we are stewards for this sport and need to encourage others to be kind to one another.
For my friend, instead of having a positive interaction with new anglers that could have turned out friendly ended negatively. He now has this memory etched into his mind forever, like a scar that cannot be reversed. Now, each interaction he will approach more cautiously, or even not at all. This means that if he was unaware of certain nuance regarding fly fishing he would be left in the dark, worried to reach out to other anglers for help. To think, a second negative experience might take him from the sport completely. He even explained that the next day when he was fishing he saw other anglers out and avoided interactions with them completely. To add insult to injury, he had brought an even greener fisherman with him that day. One of his first fly fishing encounter was extremely negative. He is likely to never approach other fisherman in fear of having a similar situation. Thus, leading to a cycle of misunderstanding and perhaps, more etiquette mistakes or errors in judgement.
Instead of having a joyous day in the water both parties walked away from this day with a negative taste in their mouth. One group upset that their “territory” was being encroached upon and the other feeling scolded, humiliated, and frankly worried for their safety. Fly fishing is such a special sport. I hate knowing that some of those trying to get into it have to worry about being put down and yelled at. How can we, the ones who have been fishing for many years, lay claim to a sport? Does this mean that the old timers have a better claim than we? Does each year on the water give you some sort of mysterious experience points that accumulate over time? Can we use these points to put those with less points down? Or tell them what to do? I’m aware that there different levels of experience but it doesn’t mean that I know any more than someone who has just begun to fish. I’ve always got more to learn, and I do from each and every fish and each and every person I fish with. Young and old, we all have something to share.
It is worth noting, that I only received one side of this story and the other fishermen may have a very different story of this interaction. However, in the end, I think the message is the same. Be kind to one another.