Learning how to fly fish for trout can be hard enough between practicing casting techniques, researching entomology, and understanding how to read the water. By the time you actually catch a fish, you’ve put in an incredible amount of work. But, there’s one very important part of the trout fishing equation that all anglers need to consider … how to be an ethical angler. These are some of the key ways that we can be better stewards on the water.

Many anglers fishing the same run

1) Respect Other People On The Water

In many fishing situations, you will find yourself in an area that is also being used by other anglers. One of the most noteworthy ways to show respect when sharing these areas is to keep proper spacing between you and others around you. Depending on the scenario this spacing will be different. For example, in a popular tailwater fishery anglers might be standing as close as 20 yards from each other, while in a backcountry creek anglers may prefer hundreds of yards, or even miles, of space. It all depends on the situation at hand and the preferences of the anglers.

If you do come in close contact with another angler, it’s always best to practice good communication skills and talk with them about their plan of action. Figuring out whether they’re moving downstream, upstream, or spending the day at the honey hole will help you plan your approach in a way that will be beneficial for both of you.

Brown trout handled in the water
Courtesy of @dan.zaz

2) Handle Trout With Care

This is an important tip because without the proper care of trout, we won’t be able to continue trout fishing for years to come. The biggest piece of advice about trout is that they are incredibly fragile. Unlike other common freshwater sport fish, they require meticulous care in order to avoid mortality after catching them. A few ways to help limit the mortality rate of trout are wetting your hands before handling them, pinching the barbs on your hooks, and not sticking your fingers in their gills when you’re handling them. When it’s time to release the fish, point the fish upstream and hold it in the water until it’s ready to swim off on its own.

For more information on proper trout handling check out this article.

Anglers picking up trash on the river

3) Pack It In, Pack It Out

Many of you may have heard the term “Leave No Trace.” This is the concept of participating in outdoor recreation activities while limiting your negative impact. One easy way of achieving this is to leave with everything you came with (aka no littering). It’s pretty self explanatory why it’s important not to leave beer cans and food wrappers on the banks of a trout stream, but one item that not many anglers tend to think about is tippet and leader material.

Monofilament line can take up to 600 years to decompose in the wild. And if you think that’s bad, fluorocarbon can last up to 4,000 years in the wild! That means that every piece of line that has ever been left out on the river is still out there!

A sign with fishing regulations
Courtesy of Kirk Marks

4) Follow Local Laws and Regulations

This is a big one! Before you hit the river it’s always important to take a quick look at the regulations for the zone you’re traveling to. This is a great time to grab a fishing license/stamp online, and an opportunity to take a look at other rules pertaining to hoot-owl restrictions, keeping fish, de-barbing hooks, and cleaning wading materials.

trout redd
Image courtesy of Real Deal Anglers

5) Watch Where You Wade

When it comes to wading through trout streams, it’s a good idea to tread lightly. During spawning seasons anglers should be hyperaware of areas where trout are spawning. These areas are called “redds.” A redd is an oval-shaped section of gravel located near shallow riffles and other well-oxygenated areas in the river. A redd is going to be lighter in color than the surrounding rocks because trout physically clean out a “nest” area where they do their business. Anglers should avoid wading in these areas at all costs because these redds are where the future generations of trout are being incubated. For more information on this tip check out this article.

There ya have it! Those are five of the most important tips for trout ethics. You are well on your way to being a steward of our waters.


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