Friday, June 21, 2019 may be the true and legitimate start to our summer here in the northern hemisphere but for most of us, the season starts this weekend!
We all know that summer doesn't officially start until almost the end of June but, for all intensive purposes, this weekend...the big Memorial Weekend...is most people's semi-official and even ceremonial start to the summer season.
Here in Boise, the kids are out of school for the summer on FRIDAY....can't believe it's so soon! The neighbors have already been bringing the boats and RVs out of hibernation and making sure everything is in working order. This is the weekend where everyone you know who has any inclination toward the great outdoors heads for the hills to hike, fish, pitch a tent, park the camper, and scorch our marshmallows (pretending they like them better that way but really they just aren't patient enough to find the glowing embers, rotate the willow stick slowly, and evenly brown the thing before getting that sweet, sugary fix).
Much of the northwestern US, from Nor-Cal to Montana and everything in between has seen a blast of cold air and moisture this past week....and for some of us, it continues. Rain and snow has been plentiful recently. And while this may alter the plans of a select few, many of us die-hards could care less about the elements. We're just itching inside for a wilderness getaway!
So remember when you read an earlier Downstream blog post (click here if you missed it) and just know that there will be some traffic to contend with. Make peace with it right now. It is what it is and you can't change it so don't waste energy letting it sour your efforts.
The Memorial Weekend is also a big weekend for fisheries in general. Some rivers are open to fishing all year but many have a general season and have been closed for some time to protect spawning fish. A lot of those closed waters will re-open the third weekend in May or on Memorial Weekend, however the calendar lies and depending on the waterway's governing entity.
So if you're headed out to try your hand at a fish that hasn't seen a fly in quite some time, you may be headed into some great opportunities. I would just urge you to assume that fishing will be crowded...and that's just how it is. River etiquette is VERY, VERY important. We must remember that we are ALL entitled to its usage, so let's work together.
Let's run through a couple of points on river etiquette:
Don't crowd another fisher-person. If someone is fishing an area that you wish to fish you must judge what reasonable space means, and it's generally relative to the waterway. On a small waterway that is easily wadable/crossed, especially in the riffle heads (although runs/pools may or may not be cross-able) the situation is pretty easy to judge. These are typically younger rivers/creeks and are generally full of meanders. You should probably give one single angler an entire bend, from the shallow riffle head, through the tail-out of the pool before it spills into another riffle.
Contrast that with a larger river, especially one that is popular amongst the fishing world, and you may have to make more of a judgement call. We all like to have as much space as possible so I like to err on the side of caution and give as much space as I can. However, there may be a long run that more than one (or even multiple anglers) can share or maybe every run has a fisher-person in it already. Well, in these cases, whether you're slipping in above or below the person who is already there, make sure you maintain distance.
A typical fly line is 90 ft. A typical angler cannot cast all 90 feet. That being said, most of us want and should have the ability to move around at least a little bit. I would suggest accounting for this as well. Watch the angler a moment...see where they are casting and what their drift looks like. Never ever pick a spot that allows the end of your drift and the cast/top of the drift of the other angler to cross...or even come close...or flip that if you're in the downstream position to your cast/top of your drift and the end of the other's drift. Look for the riffle, the seam, the depth that they are fishing and pick another feature above or below the other person making sure your drifts and casts don't come close in the slightest bit AND allow for them to adjust up OR downstream a bit (at least 10 yards or so).
What about across the river on the opposite shore? Well, use similar judgement. If you could stand on one shore and easily cast to the opposite shore, well, I wouldn't ever fish directly across from someone you don't know. People tend to get a little aggressive in those situations and you may get a fist-full of 3/O sinkers hurled at your face. In such an instance, it's better to stagger yourself up or downstream from the person across from you and make sure your drifts never get even close to one another.
Never Shufflef! Some know it as the San Juan Shuffle or some other local nomenclature but shuffling is a no-no. If you don't know what shuffling is, let me give you the rundown: A streambed has hundreds of thousands and sometimes millions of little aquatic insects clinging to to bottom, under pebbles or rocks or vegetation, just waiting for its time to shine. For trout and many other fish species, this is food. All those caddis, midge, mayflies, stoneflies, etc you see flying around the river or lake...well...they start as little larva that breathe water and live sub-surface (sometimes up to 2 years or more) before hatching into adults. When a wade fisher-person disturbs the streambed, dozens or hundreds or a whole other big number of these aquatic insects are kicked into the stream flow. Sometimes you'll even see fish lining up downstream of your position to feed on this gravy train of insects. DON'T FISH THEM. It's not sporty in the slightest. You can't help or stop ALL shuffling...it just happens...but if you're intentionally shuffling for yourself or for your buddies, well, you're not sporty and I would argue that your actions are actually counter to the morals and ideals of fly fishing. Personally, I'm hard and fast on this rule. Call me harsh if you like, but it's not natural or decent. Deal with it.
How about floating? Some rivers have A LOT of boat traffic... and no matter whether you're fly fishing, kayaking, or party-floating (yes, even in an inner tube), you'd better be paying attention to the other people using the same waterway. Keep PLENTY of distance between vessels. If someone is going slow in front of you, ALWAYS let them know you're coming and that you intend to pass, and if they are fishing close to the boat...swing well wide to make your move. If they are fishing well away from their boat....pass just off the port or starboard. It always helps to (over) communicate with the guide/oarsman/oars-woman and work together.
If you're in a boat and you come up on some wade fisher-people, give them plenty of space. Sure you have the cool boat and paid the money for the shuttle, etc, etc, but wade fishing is more difficult. Wade fisher-people are hiking and fighting the current and are limited to public access for the most part so be aware and steer well around them. There's noting more frustrating than standing in the water or on the shore and working an line only to watch a boat come around the bend and run right over your fishing lane with no attempt at moving an inch to help you out. Back in the boat, you also don't want to cast toward a wade person in close quarters or drift the same line they are working (inside their line is a no-no too).
All of this goes for fun-floaters as well..rafters, kayakers, inner tube floaters... you need to be courteous and in control of your vessel. If you don't know how to row or row well, make sure you have an experienced person with you to help you and give you instruction. And for the love of all that is true, natural, and pure... DON'T ANCHOR DRAG!. Dragging your anchor as you go downstream to slow you down is not only bad for the river bottom, it's downright dangerous. I can't tell you how many times I've seen a boat slow-rolling down the middle of the river channel while the person who should be rowing is instead casually casting a rod. You can bet the house that you're going to see a taut rope angling about 45 degrees from the stern of said craft, straight as an arrow and vibrating rapidly as it strains to pull a lead or steel pyramid along the riverbed. You're doing two things here....negatively impacting the stream habitat and begging to wrap the anchor around a log or wedge it between some boulders leading to a sunken vessel and lives in danger. So don't. Do. It. The oars are for maneuvering the boat AND for slowing it down if necessary.
These are just a few things/examples of how to have a better experience on the water. It would be impossible to run through every single possible scenario here but I think we've covered the most common. This should, at least, give you somewhat of a foundation to build on and some basic ideas for conduct that can be translated to other situations. It's always best to err on the side of caution, give people space, and (like we tell the kids all the time) treat others as you want to be treated....and add even a little more sugar to that.
Happy Memorial Day/Weekend!