We’re calling today’s post ‘Spey fishing etiquette’ just because that’s a more manageable title than ‘swinging flies on foot working down a run etiquette.’ Our suggestions apply to any situation that matches that description – single or double-handed rod chasing any anadromous fish. And, in case it isn’t obvious, these rules apply to conditions in which more than one angler is fishing a single piece of water. If you’re fishing alone…it’s all up to you.
We’ll start with three rules of etiquette that are pretty well-known in our neck of the woods. We’d love to hear your input on this one – leave your comments here.
Spey Fishing Etiquette
- Don’t step in below anybody. This is the most basic rule. Anadromous fish are almost always facing upstream, and when you’re swinging flies, you’re gradually working your fly down towards the fish’s face. If you step in below somebody, you’re getting between the fish that they’re headed towards – it’s the equivalent of cutting in line. Enter a run at the top of the run, above the last other angler.
- Keep moving. Anglers move at different paces, and that’s OK. But – everybody should be steadily moving downriver at roughly the same pace because otherwise, it’s tough to maintain adequate spacing between anglers. Small differences and delays are OK – big delays are a problem. If I’m taking four steps each cast and you’re taking 3…fine, I just need to be patient and wait a little. If you get a small tangle in the middle of the run, fine – untangle it and keep fishing. But if you blow five casts in a row and haven’t taken a step yet…that’s not OK. Move along, son.
- If you hook a fish, you reel up and go back to the top of the run. Most folks in the Pacific Northwest agree with this one – if you’ve had a solid hookup, you give the water below you to the anglers behind you. Most folks around here would also agree that this doesn’t apply to a missed grab, just a hookup. Others might say that you need to land a fish before you step out. People from other parts of the world might disagree entirely – what do you think?
And that’s a perfect segue! Etiquette is an inexact thing, a regional thing, and a situational thing. What other points of etiquette do you believe in? Do you disagree with any of our three listed above? How else can fly swinging anglers be polite to each other on the water?
Leave us a comment right here to join the conversation. Thanks!
Nobody likes a stream hog. Its as simple as “do unto others – – -” and using common sense to extend the same courtesy as you would like to receive. If you just had a heart pumping hookup, give somebody else a chance to have the same experience. AND, I am never bashful about pointing out proper etiquette to someone who is an obvious duffus. Yes, we do have our share of knotheads in our own ranks.
Ed Filice says
Had to give this a little thought. I have to qualify it; if the line-up is swinging, OK. I like thinking along the lines of a spey brotherhood thing. A solid hook-up, fish-off; take your place at the start of the line-up. Call it what you will; “being nice”, “do unto others”, or good Karma. I’m in. But, if your following me with a bobber, sorry, I’m staying put;).
Jacob Hirst says
also, if you are the person fishing below and a fish happens to pass you and the person above you hooks up, make sure you pay attention and maybe just step out of the run to help a brother out, he will probably thank you 🙂
Mark N says
The lineup etiquette extends to both sides of the river. If you can reach the middle of the river from either side then you start behind the lowest angler. I had two guys step in below me on the Motel Run last year. They seemed to think that because they’d crossed the river and were on river left that that made it acceptable to fish below me. When I pointed this out one dude stated that he was “…fishing different fish.” When I proceeded to drop a cast at his feet he conceded that maybe there wasn’t as much water as he hoped.
Gene Brenowitz says
On the way back to camp, if you pull out a flask of single malt, you should offer tastes to everyone in the boat.
Man, you guys need to visit some of the Great Lakes tribs. 🙂
Who has time to worry about how many steps the guy below you is taking when you just watched him kneel on a fish’s face on the stream bank and then kick it back into the river?
I dont think its much of problem when a boat with a couple of guys is fishing a run themselves. It gets messy when another guide shows up and says,,,”hey bud, mind if we join the party?” when there is the whole river to fish. Most guys go up to AKW to get away from the crowds and pay to do it….create space and its not an issue.
Here in the Great Lakes region…
Etiquette: when an angler is swinging through a run and a jet sled drops below right into the bucket, chums a handful of roe then has his clients run bags through just to show you where the fish are and how easy this whole steelhead thing is.
Brandyn and Chad speak truth to power,,,,you havent lived until you fish the great lakes and actually witness that kind of etiquette. Which is why I fish for the first chinooks and in the winter for steelhead when there are mostly no people because its 20 degs.
The magic words here are respect and manners,,,,and distance.
Does not sound like fly fishing to me. Why don’t you just tie a big sinker on the old Shakespeare and have a swing.
Stepping out of a run after you’ve landed a fish is a noble idea and it might be appropriate if the folks behind you are all swinging flies. The problem is that most of the time good runs have other fishermen besides swingers and they don’t have a clue to spey fishing etiquette. So if I’m in a run and a boat comes down the river and a couple of guys jump out or several dudes pile in behind me and I happen to luck out and hook up I’m sure as hell not going to give up the run to them. The proper etiquette is if someone is in a run go to the next run and stay the hell out of their way-this has been forgotten especially by guides.
I would add that if you are going to get in line behind some one that is already fishing go up to them and ask if they would mind if you came in behind them. I have made a few new friends and fishing buddies this way. This was after I watched them and knew that they were swingers.
Dan, you bring up a good point. We have all been assuming that everyone in line is swinging. If there are other types of fishers in the mix you are right, most are not going to have a clue about spey etiquette, (or ANY sort of etiquette) in which case all bets are off as far as I am concerned. I have too often encountered this situation and have had some pretty terse conversations with a few duffus knot heads that definitely didn’t “win friends and influence people.” Probably the same guys who would cut you off in traffic and flip you the bird for being in THEIR way. My experiences with encountering guides has been mixed. Most are pretty good about not “invading” your space, but there are some with whom I have had one of those terse conversations.
The Daily Steelhead says
Love these tips of course, but I just fish where nobody else is. So I only have to worry about proper etiquette towards myself: “1 chew per run, 1 beer on the way to the next one, make this cast better than the last one.” Word to fish by.
On our Atlantic salmon rivers in eastern Canada, we don’t have to worry bobbers , bait sacks and such. It’s fly only and except for the dry fly guys, everyone’s swinging, and swingers have right away over the Bomber boys. If you raise a fish but don’t touch him, it’s considered okay to stay put a minute and show him another cast or two – maybe even a quick fly change if you don’t make a fumble tit about it. You’re pushing it however with a 4th cast and if you don’t hook him on that, beat feet.
And I agree with Gene, please pass the Laphroaig! Hope you’ve been well man! 🙂
Etiquette is dead around here where I am.
What you say is right and I agree, I live in Italy and fishing in BC for a month every year, I found more rudeness in foreign fishermen, while locals do not want you to ever fish on weekend …. even in November, if I catch steelhead behind them, this is not the issue, the problem is to respect the fish ,river s and other people that have started fishing before you. I respect everything and I never had any discussions, if someone will not let me fishing I go somewhere else …. the world is huge.Ciao Daniele
Sam Sickles says
The only real issue is with 1 and 3, boat in spots versus walk in spots. The rules are not the same. If I’m in a run and you pull your boat into it, high or low, you better be my friend, and you better not join the line up. I would clarify this point.
Cam Groner says
Like Bruce, I have found that if the first thing you say to a guy already in a hole (after “Hi, how ya doin’, having any luck?”) is “Would it be alright if I come in above you and follow you down?”, you are likely to get a good reception. I also use this approach proactively to ward off ignorant (as opposed to rude) short-holers. When I’m fishing a run and see someone appear from the bushes, I immediately say “If you’d like, you’re welcome to go in above me and follow me through the run”. This establishes what the etiquette is, and makes people feel like following it. I have been thanked many times for “sharing the water” when I do this.
So, never step in below someone. Unless you have asked politely to go in above and are given the verbal or digital FU, in which case I occasionally go in below them to spite their obnoxious asses.
As to leaving your place in line, it depends. If I’m fishing my camp water on the Deschutes first thing in the AM, I’ll tell the first drift boat guys who come along that they’re welcome to fish behind me, but I’m not getting out of the water if I hook a fish — I’m finishing the run, in part because I camped out overnight to get it, and because there is so much competition for holes that this is the only “fresh” run I’m going to get all day. If I’m at BC West with two buddies working a run, then we have the luxury of discussing how we want to handle it, and can adjust for who has already caught fish that day, etc. Except you never step out to let Larimer have the water. 😉
Depends on the river, Here in Idaho people generally don’t know what spey etiquette is but they do understand distance and they generally keep there distance from you and move to the next run. I find that the worst case of spey etiquette comes from people who are from neighboring states who dont have a steelhead run(Utards) and they are all holding spey rods.
This is a very touchy subject in Great Lakes and I am guilty as charged.
My first swinging catches got me breaking unwriten rules but quickly I realized what bothered me and I learned to respect others. Some of our rivers gets crowded and I come to learn that if you want to have a productive day in solitude one must be in waders early. Most of my fishing days I start at dusk just to work a good run quickly before crowds shows up. Later in a day is mostly chatting with those holding rods with long bottom grips, line testing, ect. Cant wait to get my Water Master to avoid it all in the first place!
Yes – there is a ‘spey’ brotherhood and even a suggested hierarchy in ‘spey’ fishing technique but its really nothing more than a select group of fishing dudes discussing what they’d like to experience on the water. The secret to this situation is communication and respect. YOU can’t always be right with YOUR wants and desires. You can more often have a good day fishing by talking to fellow anglers than assuming you can guess what they want. There’s more than 1 fish, more than 1 run, more than 1 day. Relax, breathe, and enjoy so you can get more than 1 year.
Darrell Wadden says
Love this etiquette discussion, i am originally from east coast Canada and mostly folks follow these same common sense rules. These days we fish the Yakutat yearly in the spring and it is getting silly with inconsiderate persons
that are not following basic courtesies and harming the fishery. One would think that in remote Alaska u would not have this problem, but lots of fishermen showing up.