There has been a lot going around lately regarding practices and behaviors of anglers. My goal here is to help shed some education and advice on the issues. We’ve been seeing an increase of bad etiquette on the rivers and social media. Keep in mind that I know I do not make the rules and do not think I have any type of ownage on the river. This is a way to help the new anglesr or to help the existing ones think a little differently on ethics.
Let’s discuss the redd, spawning fish issue. First of all if you’re targeting spawning fish, please STOP. Those fish you see spawning only got that way because their parents successfully spawned. It seems pretty reasonable to understand that fish you catch next year were the offspring of successful spawn from the previous years.
There are two types of people who target actively spawning fish. Those who dont know, and those who do not give a shit. Let’s break down both perspectives.
It’s understandable that new anglers might not be able to recognize spawning fish or identify redds. I think every angler may have been guilty of this at some point. Along the way they learned more and decided to leave them alone. I think for what is at stake here that anglers need to take more initiative in educating themselves before they tread. The state requires hunters to have a really good understanding about the animal they are pursuit. Duck hunters must be able to identify the type of duck and the sex before they shoot. That is knowledge that is required from day 1. I think we can do better requiring anglers to have more knowlege before they go fishing.
Here are some ways to identify spawning fish and redds. First is being able to see the fish. If you see a big fish or multiple in shallow water chances are they are spawning. They did not get big by being dumb. If you can see them easily in water less than 2 ft. deep they are not there to feed, they are there to reproduce. Think about it, if they lived in shallow water like that they would have been eaten by an otter or an osprey. A fish isn’t going to make big movements that leave them exposed. They know big movements give away their position. So when you see fish in shallow water moving around a lot, they are spawning. There is a protocol while they spawn where the female protects her nest and eggs. She is going to chase the males around leaving only the most dominant fish to get in to fertilize. The dominate males will chase the other males around too. This is what creates the chaos you see when fish spawn.
We have the opportunity to sight fish on a few rivers. One of the things that I have learned is that you do not get many shots at those fish. If you’re able to see a fish and make multiple casts at it and it doesn’t spook, chances are it’s spawning. If you continue to cast to that fish it isn’t feeding on your fly it’s protecting the nest or itself. You are force feeding that fish at that point. Remember they do not have hands, they cannot bat things away. There only defense mechanism is to bite. They only have a finite amount of energy. That energy is better used procreating then fighting you on a fly rod. Plus it adds stress on them, they secrete eggs or sperm in the fight and not on the beds.
If the fish’s activity doesn't’ tip you off that they are spawning, the habitat might. They look for a certain depth, and speed of water. Generally this is a shallow riffle less than 2 ft deep. They also want a certain diameter of gravel to dig a nest in. They find this on the sides of the river and at the tailouts. The females will dig out the redd, this can sometimes be observed by them “fanning” which means turning on here side and shaking her body. Take a look at the bottom of the river, you’ll notice a certain color of the rocks with slime, and silt on them. The areas that they dig will be clear or clean rocks. They generally stick out pretty well if you take the time to be observant.
Let’s address the angler that knows that the fish are spawning and doesn’t care. I guess at the end of the day there will always be “that guy.” We should really push to be more progressive and outlaw fishing to spawning fish. If this were to be on the ballot for a regulation change I would be the first to sign.
People who are target spawners really should know better. I guess we have to except everyone has a different tolerance of ethics. I assume anglers decide to fly fish because of the challenge. Simply, there are easier ways to fish. Fly fishing is all about learned and testing yourself. Pulling a fish off a redd is an embarrassment not an accomplishment. If you want some perspective, I know a 5 year old kid who casted, hooked, and landed a 10lb steelhead all on his own on the American a few years back. He was fishing in a side spawning channel near sailor bar. I’ve seen the video to prove it. Now, I do not have it in me to ever shame a child but think about that next time you decide to target the redds. You are not being challenged, a 5 year old can do it. Your fish picture with a beat up dark fish, eggs or sperm falling out of it is shameful. It is bad for the sport.
Let’s discuss river etiquette. It seems as the sport is slowly growing the conduct on the rivers is dwindling. Remember that we have a lot of people in this State so our waters are going to have crowds. If you're creative and willing to venture you can get out and find some great water. If you follow the herds do not be disappointed when it is crowded. You are part of the crowds too, and so am I. Since I spent a lot of time on the water guided and personally fishing I am around bad practices more than the general angler. When I see bad manners I try to stay calm and remind myself that most people simply do not know the unwritten rules of angling. I think the golden rule applies here. Try and think how you want to be treated and reciprocate to others. If someone tresspasses on your standard stay polite. Try the nice guy approach first. Don’t go in guns blazing.
The easiest thing that you can do is communicate. Politely talk to other anglers when you see them. It creates a happier place. I have seen anglers literally sprint to the water to get there before I do. Realistically, had they stopped and chatted we both could have made a plan as to who goes where. Maybe we could have swapped some intel or traded some flies, we will never know. If you are first to the run enjoy it, fish it well but do not be a hole hog. If you are Johnny Come Lately talk to the anglers who are fishing. Ask them “which way are you working?” If you desperately have to fish near someone, ask first. On a busy days at Putah Creek if someone asks if they can fish near us I have never said no. It’s when someone jumps in too close to us without asking that I first address with a polite conversation.
Social media is here to stay. It is a fun useful way for us to communicate and show off a part of our life. It’s a double edged sword though. Sometimes the wrong message, info, or tone can leak. I think there is a responsible and polite way to share info online. If you look at my reports, posts, blogs etc you will see that I never give up exact locations. This is out of respect for the local anglers who are more protective to me about hot spotting. Spots are sacred and should be discovered through trial and error. It’s not fair to the angler that explores and finds a gem to leak spots to the lazy anglers.
Keep em wet. The hero shot is done, I know if you look through my photos you will see some grip and grin photos of me. I’ve changed my practices when learning more about fish handling. The biggie is the fish flop. Bend down and make that fall shorter. The new practice is to crouch down and just life the fish so the camera can see the fish. My anglers have to hold their breath when handling the fish. If it is hard for my client to breath it is definitely hard for the fish to breath. One set of quick photos and the fish goes back. We do not need evidence of every fish caught. Shoot your first fish and a good fish and that’s it.
Take a listen to my latest podcast with the guys over at Barbless…