Good manners can go a long way towards fishing harmony, writes Jim.

I promised myself when I started writing these musings of an old flyfisher that I would try not to be too much of a teacher, or be too negative. Well, I’m about to renege somewhat!

My grandfather paid for me to be sent off to one of those elite boarding schools as a youngster.  I remember the headmaster commenting that we probably thought we’d come to school for reading, writing and ‘rithmetic. However, he believed it was more important that we should leave the school with three alternative ‘Rs’; namely respect, responsibility and relationships. Today, some 60 years later, I reflect on the meaning and message of the latter three.

I look back on the many friends I’ve made through a life of having a flyfishing rod in my hand. Some have put their rod in the case for the last time. Some I’ve written about. Some famous, and most just ordinary blokes who enjoy the sport of flyfishing, possibly even calling it a religion as they contemplate their broad church of being outdoors on stream or stillwater.

I know there are always going to be better casters, anglers and fly tyers than I, and an odd few a little bit worse. It really is the rich tapestry of what we do. I’ve written before that I consider there is not enough time in the span of life to know it all. In fact, I’m not sure any of us get past page ten in the hundred-page book of flyfishing. We can all be better and improve.

Over the more than half century of being on the bankside, lakeside and out in the middle in a boat, I’ve seen some remarkable arrogance, rudeness, ignorance, genuine errors and more. As the owner of a boat, I’ve always tried not to mock another boatie as he or she tells the story of some disaster – even in good humour. I prefer to laugh with, not at, the teller of the tale.

We’ve all taken off from a boat ramp with the bungs out, or we might’ve run out of fuel, left things behind, or are able to tell some other horror story. I remember well a young staff member from the Compleat Flyfisher days asking if we were supposed to be wading in the boat? Actually, this time it wasn’t the bungs left out. We’d hit a rock reversing down the boat ramp at Little Pine Lagoon and that was why the boat was filling with water. Of course, in my eagerness to get to trout feeding on the hatching duns, I hadn’t bothered to check for damage. A dramatic race back to the ramp, boat back on the trailer, drain it, some two-pot mix to plug the quickly located hole, and back out on the water to cast to the risers. Apart from a red face, the day was not lost!

With the huge popularity of flyfishing today, it is now usual to have to share our fisheries. Rarely do we have a river or stream entirely to ourselves, and even more rarely a lagoon or lake. Sometimes our popular waters could even be described as overcrowded and so I’ve decided, in this short dissertation, to drop a few hints of dos and don’ts.

At a crowded boat ramp; be responsible. Undo the boat covers, undo some of the tiedowns. Unpack the rods, coolers, coats, fly vests, lifejackets etc. into the boat back up in the carpark, and only head to the actual boat ramp when the crew is ready to launch. Again, on return, be business-like in taking the boat out of the water. Chatting about the day’s fishing to other anglers; or worse, cleaning fish while the boat is in the way and holding up others, is truly not the right thing to do.

With good communication and courtesy, it’s even possible to share a broad wind-lane.

Also have respect for your fellow fishers while out on the water. Leave enough water for another angler to fish for at least an hour or so. Don’t ‘jump’ another’s wind-lane or go ahead of a drifting boat along a bank. Leave them space. I’ve seen some dreadful poaching of water in my time. If in doubt, have a chat with the anglers on the other boat about their plans. Many a time, I’ve asked or been asked to share a wide wind-lane.  As a general rule, always go behind a drifting or trolling boat.

Some waters like Little Pine and Penstock lagoons in Tasmania have 5 knot speed limits. On a mirror calm day, even 5 knots can disturb someone casting to rising trout. On the other hand, if your boat is the last on the lake, heading home at that pace in the late afternoon won’t bother anyone. Let common sense prevail.

I remember decades ago in New Zealand, anglers on the Tongariro River all traditionally fished wet flies across and downstream, moving a few steps down with every cast and had done so forever. Then an Australian angler came along and started fishing nymphs upstream. Much consternation at the time and many arguments, particularly when the upstream anglers started to outnumber the downstream guys! Articles in the angling press and arguments over what appeared to be an unsolvable issue raged on, until it all eventually died down. Most anglers learned to share the water and respect each other’s wishes.

Despite high angler numbers, thanks to good manners, not a single cross word was spoken during this Tongariro session, and everyone was enjoying themselves.

Every now and then, I see unhappy, frustrated anglers coming home from a day in the Nineteen Lagoons area of Tasmania. The growing popularity of polaroiding, has meant anglers today need to be mindful of the water they are using. I’ve seen Botsford with over fifteen anglers all trying to polaroid trout. As any angler who fishes Botsford regularly would know, the lake is shallow all over, and too small for a large crowd of anglers. However, if one zig zags down and across a selected avenue of the lake, staying just ahead of the drifting sediments and mindful of the space being taken, then many more anglers can fish and share the limited water.

Those who fish along the banks of lakes and lagoons also need to be aware of the needs of fellow flyfishers. I remember an instance when an angler friend of mine was fishing the shore of Flora or Odell, also in Tasmania. A quite well-known trout guide passed by and dropped into the water with his paying guest only 50 metres beyond my mate. Fuming at the cheek of what had just happened my mate reciprocated and went ahead by another 50 meters. The guide then lost his temper. My mate just smiled and cheekily said words to the effect of ‘An eye for an eye’. Everyone ended up having a disastrous day, one threatening to give the other a punch in the nose or black eye!

Some friendly discussion beforehand ensured each angler had the water they wanted, without fear of being ‘jumped’.

Again, there is usually no need for things to end up like that. A good-natured discussion about plans usually ends in agreement, and then everyone has a great day (and perhaps back at the car, a shared drink while discussing the day’s play).

In some parts of North America today, some of the more popular rivers are under allocation. Anglers have to apply for fishing on dates and sometimes even have to pay for the right to fish. I hope that the fishing pressure on some of our more popular water never gets to the stage of anglers being allotted time on the water after application. It would be a sad day indeed if we had to arrange our fishing on that basis.

For many years now, anglers have had to sort out their river or stream fishing. Some agreeing to walk up one or two kilometres and start fishing at an agreed pool or point, or perhaps agreeing to fish very methodically and slowly upstream. Others may agree to head downstream, and then move upwards later. Most times, this gets sorted out amicably.

The best results come from being a happy and friendly angler. Some amazing friendships have been made by introducing oneself and creating a positive relationship. Which brings me to fishing on or adjacent to private property. Farmers are nervous about strangers on their riverbanks, and a visit to the homestead can often (and dare I write, more often than not) have a positive outcome.

Respect, responsibility and relationships are more important than ever, and will reap angling rewards.