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Rules of Family Fishing

Words to live by

(page 1 of 2)

A father and son are walking down the hill toward their favorite fishing hole when they come across another man and his son who are just leaving.

In their wake they have left a tangled mess of tippet broken off in frustrated snags, wrenched fishing hooks, empty soda cans, and fish heads littering the bottom of the lake. “Look,” says the boy to his father, “what a mess!” “I only hope,” says the father to his son, “that I can be as great an influence on you as that man has been on his son.”

Parents are their children’s most powerful role models. And when it comes to following fishing decorum, our children learn the rules and regulations of fishing by way of example: what we say, what we do, and whether we follow our own advice.

While most of the basics of fishing etiquette are self-evident, since they derive from the existential circumstance of sharing nature with others, some protocol may not be as obvious. To clarify matters for parents and their budding anglers, Idaho’s Department of Fish and Game has published Family Fishing Water Regulations, a guidebook that includes a list of simple “do’s” and “don’ts” that can assist us with our etiquette engineering. Here are a few of the highlights:

Elbow Room

Personal space is at a premium in some fishing spots and must be respected and maximized. Accordingly, there is a first come, first served rule. If someone is already fishing, search for an unoccupied stretch. If there isn’t one, either wait, or keep moving.

When moving past other anglers, proceed slowly and quietly. While many anglers don’t mind a friendly “hello,” most anglers do find noise and lengthy conversations intrusive. Local fishing guide Dave Faltings reminds us to “respect people’s distance,” both personally and spatially. And should you strike up a conversation, try not to use any exaggerated movements too close to the water. Unless, of course, you want to see just how fast a trout can swim away, and how angry you can make the angler who is trying to hook it.

Obviously, loud music or ringing cell phones infringe on the privacy of anyone trying to enjoy the wilderness. On the flip side of things, be polite if you ever have the need to hush a loud angler. One favorite technique is to look worried and ask everyone to be silent so you can determine whether the moose you saw earlier is lingering on the bank just ahead.


Needless to say, never leave your energy bar wrapper on the ground or fish heads in the pond. If you insist on bringing consumable items with you, pack them out; never throw anything in the water. Faltings always encourages anglers to leave the area better than it was, emphasizing that rivers and streams are delicate ecosystems that need to be protected not only for our enjoyment, but also for the animals and plants that live there.

Ask First

Of course, any discussion of fishing etiquette must include how to gain access to a lake or stream. One cardinal rule deals with private land: It is considered trespassing to enter and fish on someone’s land without permission. If you do need to cross private land, by all means, ask. Most owners will usually grant your request to fish, but it is always polite to ask. If you don’t, they might just decide to teach you a lesson and have you “reeled” away from the premises. Finally, as Faltings reminds us, “leave the property the way you found it,” so that future anglers will be allowed to fish there. >>>


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