Etiquette and Fly Fishing Maniacs

Fly fishing. at least in the United States, has evolved in both perception and practice from many decades past when it was considered by most a small sport of rich elitist white males wearing tweed and fishing with custom bamboo fly rods and creels. While the reality was more complex, it was a time of limited numbers of fly fishers when class decorum as well as the norms of society produced an etiquette for stream-side behavior.

Now, the gear has gotten significantly better at lower costs – though many high-end graphite rods are approaching the costs of custom bamboo rods; fly fishers are now both men and women of all races and classes; and most storied fisheries can be crowded at many times of the year.

And unfortunately, behavior on streams has begun to reflect the coarseness of modern society.

Mike Lawson, founder of Henry’s Fork Anglers, recently posted an article on boorish behavior on the river – specifically the Henry’s Fork. Mike commented that last year was the first time he heard music blaring from drift boats as they floated past him when he was fishing. He posted a question on his Facebook page as to how people felt about it – the self-selected respondents were against it about five to one.

At the same time, some of the respondents said it wasn’t a big deal and he should just deal with it. Others agreed and also pointed out all the other bad behavior they witness on some streams: people leaving trash on the river; fly fishers stomping through when another fisher is stalking a trout; boats carelessly pushing through an area where others are wading.

Now I’ve not witnessed any bad behavior on the Henry’s Fork. I’ve gone there in autumn when the crowds have left and I have a favorite spot below the main area of the Ranch.

But I’ve seen where this can lead on a lake on the Olympic peninsula. I had friends whose family owned a waterfront cabin on Lake Sutherland. It was a beautiful location and at times of the year was quite peaceful where one could sit outside and listen to the birds.

But the summer was another story. Other homes surrounding the lake held people with personal water craft. During those summer days, the roar of the water craft started soon after sunrise – sometimes before, and lasted well into dark. They too were just enjoying their time on the water, at the expense of everyone else who might just wanted to have spent a quiet day outside reading a book. It got to the point that going there in the summer was something to be avoided.

Thoreau, in Walden, raised the essential issue: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

Fly fishers in the main go to rivers, streams and coasts for much the same reason. Bringing in the coarseness and noise of the self-absorbed consumer culture – even by a minority – destroys that chance for finding the essential facts of life for everyone else.

You can read Mike’s post here.

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