Trouts Journal

Cold Hard Truths Part III: Post Pandemic Etiquette & Ethics Redux

Reid Baker / May 18, 2021

In 2020 almost 100,000 additional fishing licenses were sold than any other year. That’s 100k additional anglers hitting the water- and those are just the ones over 16 years old. The Pandemic certainly has done a lot for the outdoor industry as a whole, but with so many more rods out there-- fly fishing, gear and bait-- I’m sure many of us felt a little more cramped on our rivers, trails, mountain routing highways etc. than years past.

With all this in mind, I thought it would be worthwhile to have a Cold Hard Truths edition dedicated to some etiquette and ethics reminders specifically related to the increased traffic we will certainly continue to see in a post-pandemic world.

To all the newbs out there

If you are new(ish) to the sport of fly fishing - welcome! We hope you are enjoying being introduced to a sport with lifelong potential. To this day I still find I’m learning and getting better, which has never left me feeling bored. But with greater density of anglers out there than ever before, it’s worth us taking a few moments to ensure we are understanding some key tenants of angling ethics.

The easiest two that should seem like no brainers are: 1) treat other anglers like you’d want to be treated - the proverbial golden rule and 2) leave the water and fish in the same condition, perhaps even better, than you found them.

Regarding point #1, crowding and spacing on the river: my wife is a Science teacher. She recently reminded me about the concept of diffusion, where molecules, specifically gasses, equally disperse within a given container they are in. As the density of molecules goes up within the container, they will be more tightly packed. Think of us as anglers as the gas molecules, and a body of water as the container. A high-pressure scenario is a tailwater, whereas a less dense scenario is a high mountain stream or lake. Perhaps a freestone river falls somewhere between.

Yes, on a weekend at Deckers it is likely you will be near shoulder to shoulder with other anglers. Given that density, it may seem acceptable to fish within a few dozen feet of another angler - maybe. But take a scenario that is nearly secluded, say on a high mountain lake or small creek, there may be no need to be even within eye-shot of another angler. Use common sense, and, when in doubt, don’t be afraid to actually communicate (gasp!) with your fellow anglers.

As more anglers hit the water, combined with our tackle and ease of obtaining information become more effective, our resources and fish will become more and more impacted. Subsequently, it is extremely important to learn proper catch and release practices such as not over fighting fish, spending too much time photographing fish, and using poor landing tactics such as “beaching”. Also, learn ethical temperature ranges and how to associate tackle with those temperatures. At 67F, it’s time to stop targeting trout and either move on to other species or call it a day.

Lastly, it probably doesn’t need to be said, but be sure to minimize your impact on the environment itself: whether at the pull off, trail or bank. Simple things like not dropping long tippet tags or weights, properly disposing of leaders and other trash and picking up a piece of litter or two along the way will help ensure we’re taking care of our outdoor resources for years to come.

To all the angling vets out there

Alrighty team. I’ve heard it all before and I completely empathize. We were going to these rivers “back when.” We’ve all seen the change over the last decade (and before) as more folks have moved into every state throughout our region (15% growth since 2010 according to 2020 census). Highway traffic, resorts, rivers, and trails all become more and more crowded. It’s all been only made worse as the pandemic hit and outdoor recreation was seen from minute 1 as COVID safe.

I’ll be the first to admit, I too have been frustrated.

Whether religious or not, many of us are familiar with the Serenity Prayer-- the gist being to recognize the things we can change and the things we can’t. The crux is to know the difference between the two. Accepting the change is the first step. Then, the choice is yours: adapt and keep fishing? Or let negativity overtake you be conquered by it.

Hopefully, you choose acceptance and stay committed to growing as an angler. You will need to put in more effort. Dedicate time to driving a bit longer, hiking a bit further to beat the masses. Perhaps you challenge yourself into targeting new species that “fly under the radar.”

You can embrace the growth of our sport and become an ambassador for all the new faces that are joining. Offer the newbie a tip on clean drifts, a fly, or even a beer at the tailgate after a good day. This may be a great time to become more committed to volunteering in conservation, youth fishing, or community events. Find ways to connect with the sport that may go beyond just catching fish.

And on that note, I’m going to offer something now that I know some will not agree with. Some will find downright crazy: perhaps the best thing we can do as mature anglers is be content in catching fewer fish.

If more and more people are hitting the water (remember that 100k additional licenses number?), do we need to attempt, or take pride in wailing on every fish in the creek, river, pond, lake, ocean? That will catch up with our fisheries eventually. In some cases, it already has.

I’ll admit, encountering fewer fish while still leaving the water fulfilled can be a challenge, but something that should be encouraged, especially as angling pressure increases on our waters. For those of us who have had years of the “epic” number days, it may be a good time to take a step back and remember our days as newbs when even one or two fish made an incredible outing.

This can be achieved through perhaps challenging yourself into fishing for the one fish that’s willing to eat a BWO dry vs. the dozen fish that ate when dredging an egg rig under an indicator. Or practice your streamer game knowing it involves better casting ability combined with the thrill of an intense grab. Maybe it’s realizing teaching friends or family to fish, or getting more into photography, is the way to get more out of your days on the water.

Food for thought.

In the end, the world will never be the same post-pandemic: outdoor recreation included. Regardless of your experience level in the sport, the world is changing. And as anglers, the cold hard truth is we need to be prepared to adapt as well. This will help ensure we have better days on the water and minimize the impact of our fisheries for years to come.

Editor’s note: if you missed Reid Baker’s first two installments of “Cold Hard Truths” check out Part I HERE as well a Part II HERE. - WR

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