Practice patience and kindness while fishing

By Patrick Straub EBS Fishing Columnist

A curmudgeon might sum up Montana’s seasons as one of winter and one of road construction. The same curmudgeon, if asked to pontificate further, would scoff at how busy our local waters have become.

Summer is indeed a popular time to fly fish in this area; couple that with visiting anglers and tourists, our rivers and streams are a flurry of activity during our short summer season.

As July fades into August, our streamflows will continue to drop to well below average. Because of these low water levels, being aware of other anglers and river users will be especially important.

It’s midsummer in Montana, and that means sharing our rivers and streams. PHOTO BY GREG LEWIS

It’s midsummer in Montana, and that means sharing our rivers and streams. PHOTO BY GREG LEWIS

The majority of our rivers originate in some of the wildest country in the lower 48; however, given the ease of access, anglers must share these world-class waters. It’s important to touch up on some river etiquette and acknowledge that you’re not the only one who loves to fish for trout. Here are some suggestions.

Practice what you preach. If you’re concerned with being crowded or feel others might be in your favorite hole already, find another place to fish. If you start fishing near someone else, you’re probably encroaching on them. If you’re wading upstream and spot another angler above you, look for another spot or get on the bank and try to take a wide path away from their water. And do not trespass on private property.

Respect landowners and private property. Know the law: Public property is below the mean high-water mark. If you’re uncertain, find another place to fish or wade. If you’re fishing with your dog, leash it or keep it under control. Always obtain permission before crossing private property. Your actions can affect future opportunities for other anglers.

When floating, be very conscious of wading anglers. Give wading anglers a wide berth—whether floating to fish or just to have fun—and do not float through their fishing zones. As our rivers continue to drop, and low water becomes a reality, common courtesy goes a long way. A polite “hello” helps all parties enjoy the encounter.

Be boat ramp ready. If you’re at the boat launch putting in or taking out, be ready to do it quickly. Have your rods rigged, coolers loaded, and trailer-backing skills honed. Inflate rafts away from the ramp. When taking out, pull your boat out of the water then unpack the gear once out of the ramp area.

Share the love. This may sound crazy coming from a fly shop owner, but if you’re in the best hole in the river, feel good about sharing it. We’re lucky to live in Big Sky where we’re great at welcoming folks from all over the country—and the world—into our hamlet for the few short months of summer. Get your fish on then head to your next favorite hole. Remember, those fish will still be there when the summer crowds leave.

Be kind and courteous. If you approach another angler, do it courteously by letting him or her know that you’ll be walking at least three bends upstream before beginning to fish. A kind-spoken, “How’s the fishing?” will usually elicit an answer that tells you whether the angler wants to talk. If they drop their head to the water and grumble, just keep walking. If they perk up and say, “They’re crushing a size 12 orange Humpy,” then you might offer up some advice as well.

Leave it better than you found it. It’s pretty simple here: Don’t leave trash and pick up after others—all the things you learned in kindergarten.

Having your cake and eating it too is wonderful. But summer in southwest Montana means we have to share the angling love for a few more weeks. For those curmudgeons out there, summer’s business will be over soon and then you can go back to enjoying less company on our local waters.

Fortunately, even during the time of the most use on our water, there are people who work tirelessly to preserve and protect the resources that brought us here or continue to keep us here.

Pat Straub is the author of six books, including “The Frugal Fly Fisher,” “Montana On The Fly,” and “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Fly Fishing.” He and his wife own Gallatin River Guides in Big Sky, he is co-director of the Montana Fishing Guide School, and co-owns a guide service on the Missouri River.