Story last updated at 9/23/2009 - 1:43 pm
I began fly-fishing at an early age. I was only three when I first started chasing trout with a fly rod, but it wasn't until I was nearly five years old that I finally began to catch a few. The trout I caught back then with Grandpa Willard - mainly high country rainbows and a few Eastern Brook Trout - were never big, but occasionally I'd get lucky and fool a lunker that might stretch ten inches (with a little exaggeration).
But size at that time wasn't important to me. In fact, it still isn't. What was important to me were the simple things, the pleasures I'd receive from being on a stream with a fly rod, oblivious to time, chasing trout through riffles and pockets, over and under log-jams and down cascading pools while sharing summer months with family and friends.
Now, almost forty-five years later, I still find the same peace of mind and simple pleasures as I did back then on those high country streams each and every time I go fly-fishing.
Fly-fishing quickly became an integral part of my life. Over the years, I developed a lot of friendships on the water, many of whom I still see and fish with today. Sadly, a few have since passed away, yet they will forever be remembered both in my heart and throughout the fly-fishing circles as legends of the sport.
Learning along the way, I slowly mastered the subtleties and delicate presentations necessary for success on demanding spring creeks and flat water flows while guiding on the trophy trout waters of Hat Creek, our country's first fly-fishing only, catch and release managed water.
I learned about distance casting and line-up fishing while shivering in waist deep pools the color of jade, eclipsed from the sun by towering Redwood groves, while winter steelheading along the coast of Northern California on the Gualala, Garcia, Paper Mill and Russian Rivers.
But without question, my most important lessons of fly-fishing and presence on a river or stream came from fishing the famed and historical waters of the North Umpqua River in Southern Oregon. These lessons weren't about reading seams or presenting dries. Nor were they about catching more fish. These lessons were about stream etiquette and how to share the pleasures of fishing that we as sport fishers all have in common with other anglers on the water.
As simple and as straightforward as this might seem, not everyone exercises common stream courtesy while fishing all of the time. This is very unfortunate. Because of this, I'd like to share are a few general guidelines or "rules of the river."
First, let's evaluate line-up fishing or the type of fishing that is usually found at "hot spots" or at salmon holes. Generally speaking, in most line-ups anglers tend to segregate themselves based on their fishing methods. Fly fishers tend to fish the downstream end of the line-up whereas gear fishers tend to fish the upper reaches of the line-up, primarily due to specific drift and casting requirements. So recognize this before jumping into any line-up.
Secondly, when approaching any line-up always exercise courtesy - respect those already fishing - and request their permission to join in before you actually step in and begin fishing. Nine times out of ten, people will be happy to scoot over a bit to accommodate your polite request if you simply ask first.
On the other hand, if you are simply stream or river fishing and come across other anglers during your meanderings, this is what I have been taught: If you are the person who approaches the river and notice another angler or anglers already fishing, stop and quietly observe them, and note which direction they are fishing.
Most anglers in Alaska fish down and across stream and progressively move downstream, in contrast to upstream angling. Upstream angling is usually the case when fishing dry flies or egg patterns. In any event, after observing the angling direction of those already fishing, politely request to step in.
Step in either upstream of them (if they are fishing in a downstream direction) or downstream (if they are fishing in an upstream direction). The important point is to always yield right-of-way to anglers already fishing and grant them their space. Never step or fish directly into their path. This way you ensure that your presence will not affect their current fishing or the areas that they might soon be fishing. This is very important. By exercising common courtesy such as this everyone can enjoy a day fishing without the frustration or altercations that might occur otherwise.
As sport fishers, we all have our own personal reasons that draw us to rivers and streams, although these reasons may differ widely from person to person or even from day to day. Some of us might find pure enjoyment by quickly catching our limit; others might achieve the same pleasures without catching a limit at all. Regardless of why we are on the river, if we consciously exercise some simple stream etiquette we can all enjoy and share the bountiful resources we are so fortunate to have here in Alaska.
Rich Culver is a fly-fishing freelance writer and photographer and member of the Scott Fly Rod Company's Pro Staff. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.