Roderick Haig-Brown, one of the most praised and respected fly-anglers, not only as an active angler in his time but as a legend in ours, had a very solid belief as to how an angler should carry himself and he led unwaveringly by that example. As a self-proclaimed disciple of his legacy, I understand that to become a pure fisherman you must learn what is right and what is wrong and then pass those lessons along. Teaching is a rewarding and enjoyable experience; to pass knowledge to fellow anglers is beneficial to everyone.
As veteran anglers, it is our role to lead by example and influence the experiences on the water and to keep them positive and productive. With the increase of new anglers every year, it can sometimes feel quite challenging for the avid fisher and, honestly, quite frustrating. There are many newbies on the water, from retired baby boomers taking up the sport, to young families learning together and even to new Canadians. We are not all just born knowing our sport’s simple etiquette lessons; it takes time to learn this craft, which is precisely what makes fishing fun. And so, without further ado: fishing etiquette 101.
Don’t Yell, be Kind
Let’s face it, there are going to be people out there doing things wrong and offending others on the water. Do not yell at them; no one learns well by being yelled at. Positive reinforcement is the best way for anyone to absorb knowledge. When a new angler has inadvertently performed an unethical or unquestionable act, somehow they must come to know what they’ve done wrong. Yelling at them is a surefire way to be certain they don’t retain your lessons and is also certain to decrease the positive fishing experience of everyone else around you. It’s up to us, experienced and veteran anglers, to take the time to talk with kindness and to show how things are supposed to be done. Treat an offending stranger like you would treat your buddy who came out to learn with you.
Leave NO Garbage
Our sport has at its core the simple common fact that we are outdoorsmen. I doubt I’d be alone in saying that I fish to get away from it all. I don’t expect to have to wade through any other angler’s trash to enjoy my spot and nature around me. Take your fishing paraphernalia out with you when you leave. Empty bait containers, used monofilament and every other piece of anything you brought in needs to be taken out. It is each of our responsibility to passionately protect this environment, starting with our own actions. No harm was ever done by adhering to the advice, “take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.”
Drop the Elitist Gig
We are anglers from all walks of life but we all share the same water and are all equals when out on the water. There are many styles and techniques to fishing and no one style and no one man is better than the other on the water. We all enjoy the majesty of the mountains, the intricacy of the rivers, the serenity of the lakes and the ocean’s rhythmic pulse that beats its hold into our lifeblood. So why is it then that we as fly-fishers, bait-fishers and trollers have such a hard time getting along on the water? We always seem to be busier fighting over the fish and our rights to them then actually fishing. If we spent our time as a strong united voice, working together, instead of pursuing and maintaining segregation we could aspire to achieve the same experience and outcome for all.
Respect the Fish
There is little that sets off fellow anglers more quickly that having them watch you improperly handle a fish. Dragging a fish up onto the rocks of the beach is a cardinal sin among the catch and release crowd. Be patient, wait for her to be ready. She’ll give you her side and when she does you can then take your opportunity to shake hands. To shake hands with fish is to tail your quarry, to become acquainted with her. Gently take the wrist of your fish at the base of her tail and once you are there, gently grasp the barbless hook (use a pair of hemostats if your fingers are too cold or not so nimble), unbutton her and let her on her way.
There are very few waters in BC that allow a barbed hook. I know they are sold in the stores but that is simply because in BC we are such a small portion of the worldwide marketplace that the manufacturers simply don’t cater to us. Pinching your barb properly is an essential skill that needs to be mastered. An improperly pinched barb is considered a great offence in the ethics realm of angling. Get yourself a good pair of pliers and when you think you’ve pinched it enough run the hook through your favourite shirt. If you are hesitant about doing that, pinch it more. If you aren’t and it snags, pinch it more. If it runs through cleanly you’ve done it right, enjoy your day.
Sometimes, in prime season at popular spots, fishing can become a bit frustrating as anglers seem to exist in every nook and cranny along the water. This is, once again, where good stewardship comes in. Do the right thing here: give space, be courteous. Never crowd another angler. His space is as essential to him as yours is to you.
Giving courtesy to others, from the oceans to the rivers, the lakes and all that lies in between and passing the tradition of ethical sportsmanship on to the new generation of angler (both young and old) is the only way that things have run smoothly on the waters for all the years past and the only way that they’ll continue to for all the years to come.
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