Fishing Etiquette: 11 Key Rules

As fishing becomes more popular, more of us are having to find that we have to share the water with our fellow fishermen and women. In many ways this is …

As fishing becomes more popular, more of us are having to find that we have to share the water with our fellow fishermen and women.

In many ways this is a good thing. The more people that fish, the more powerful we are as a lobby group and the more recreational fishing interests can be looked after.

But it does help if we learn a little bit about being considerate and working with each other when we fish in areas where we have to share the water.

Proper Fishing Etiquette: 11 Essential Tips

1. First come, first served

Respect those who arrived first. If you arrive at a fishing spot with limited fishable water, then check with the angler who arrived before you to find out which sections they have already fished and where they plan to fish and then try to work in around that.

2. Leave Space For Nearby Anglers

In spots where there is a bit more space for people to fish simultaneously, make sure you leave enough room for other anglers. We’ve seen the importance of this fly fishing for chum salmon in Canada. These big powerful salmon will go for a strong run when hooked and you don’t want to cut across another angler’s line as you try to subdue the fish. So you certainly don’t want to be fishing cheek to cheek. The local custom there is to leave 30 yards of more between anglers and if you foul hook a salmon in the tail bust it off as you won’t be able to stop it before it interfere’s with another angler.

3. Advise Your Intentions

Another important etiquette tip drawn from the world of fly fishing is to advise your intentions. Say you are on a fishing trip and you drive to a river entry with good fishable water both upstream and downstream, leave a note on your car saying you are fishing the upstream beat or the downstream beat. That way the next person to arrive can enjoy a day on the river and won’t be trampling up behind you or dropping in on you or fishing over trout that have been fished to, caught or spooked. Not only is it great fishing etiquette, it’s also common sense.

4. Communicate with Each Other

Never hike up past a fly fisherman working a river and drop in above them upstream… always make contact and find out how much water they would like you to leave before you start to fish. Most anglers are reasonable and you’ll be able to negotiate a mutually beneficial outcome.

5. Leave only Footprints

It goes with out saying that you need to remove all rubbish when you leave a fishing spot, clean fish in areas where you can dispose of the innards without creating issues and be sure not to leave line or other discarded fishing gear behind. Failing to do this lets down your fellow anglers and lowers the esteem in which the fishing community is held. Remember there are people that oppose recreational fishing on principle and will use examples of poor conduct from anglers to advance their cause of having fishing banned.

6. Obey the Law

The first thing is to ensure you are licensed. Buy the right fishing license for your age group and abide by the licence conditions and regulations. Always respect bag limits, size limits and possession limits, as well as restrictions on certain types of tackle. For example, certain waterways may be fly only, or fly fishing and lure fishing only. Respect closed seasons as they are in place to ease pressure on fish stocks and allow fish to spawn.

7. Respect the Fish

Handle fish with care regardless of whether you are fishing catch and release or taking a fish for the table. If releasing, keep the fish wet and remove the hook with it in the net. Fish with barbless hooks if appropriate. If you are taking a photo, lift the fish out of the water for the briefest time possible. For large species be sure to support the fish’s central area if holding horizontally. If you are killing the fish, do it humanely either via the ikejimi method or by a sharp knock to the brain. Fishing ethics are important for preserving support for our favorite pastime.

8. Launch and retrieve your boat efficiently

Launch ramps during busy periods can be a flashpoint for tension among impatient anglers. Be prepared before you approach the boat ramp so that you minimise the time taken to launch when it is your turn. Respect the order of queueing and helping any beginner anglers struggling to launch or retrieve their vessel at the boat ramp is good fishing etiquette.

9. Watch Your Wake

Power boat anglers are often blissfully unaware of other anglers on shore or fishing in canoes and kayaks. Some power past creating a wake that disturbs fish and sends waves crashing to the shore. These same ways can be very hazardous to canoe and kayak anglers. So slow down when you are approaching narrow passages, areas where there are shore fishermen present and particularly where people are fishing in kayaks or canoes.

10. Be Quiet

Peace and quiet is often what we are seeking when we go fishing. Don’t ruin it for us by blasting music on your speakers in a secluded spot or yelling across the water. Fishing is supposed to be a calming, gentle pursuit and keeping relatively quiet is a golden rule.

11. Be Generous To Other Anglers

Fishing etiquette starts with being considerate to others. Be generous with your advice and be prepared to share tips and even gear. I can still remember a fly angler in Japan watching me struggle to tempt some fussy char for 10 minutes before handing me his magic fly – a caddis pattern with a peacock herl body. First cast the fish that had been studiously ignoring my dry flies took the pattern this angler gave me!

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Rick Wallace is a passionate angler and fly fisher whose work has appeared in fishing publications including FlyLife. He's appeared in fishing movies, founded a successful fishing site and spends every spare moment on the water. He's into kayak fishing, ultralight lure fishing and pretty much any other kind of fishing out there.
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