4 Easy Things Fly Fishermen Can Do To Protect Their Fisheries

Perception of fly fishermen by the rest of the sporting world is loosely based on stereotypes and mythos. The days of the old man in a tweed hat standing knee deep in a Montana stream daintily casting a butt-heavy chunk of bamboo have gone the way of the wicker creel and Howard Johnson’s. There are now more fly anglers than there every have been. Fly fishermen today are into new gear technology, advanced fishing and casting techniques and an every growing sense of stewardship over their local fishing resources.

Groups like Trout Unlimited and the Nature Conservancy have been committed to the preservation of game fish resources for years. The number of anglers who volunteer their time and donate money to protect the fish and their habitat continues to grow yearly. Dam removal, stricter retention laws and a myriad of other legal and educational programs put forth by these groups continue to protect our fisheries. However, there continues to be a few practices that are often overlooked, ignored and sometimes even condoned by the same anglers on a local level.

Here are a few of the issues that I still see on the stream and lake that each one of us can help change:

“Banking” Or Killing Less Desirable Native Species

I was driving down the road that runs along one of my favorite local streams the other day dodging the occasional chukar while I watched the river. It is very popular stream and there are always a bunch of people there, even through fall and winter. There was little groups of anglers about every quarter of a mile and as I passed them I usually saw someone with a fish on. As I passed one group of fishermen, a sudden movement by one the guys standing near the bank caught my eye as I passed by at 30 MPH. I didn’t think too much of it and continued down the river.

Fishing was good that day. There had been a nice Blue Winged Olive hatch and I had caught quite a few fish. As I made my way back up the road towards a pizza and a beer I rounded the corner and noticed a blue truck pulled over on the shoulder of the road. Instantly I knew that it was an Oregon State Police pickup.

White fish lying in the water next to a fly rod
Whitefish are maligned but they can save the day in the end. They are also an indication on the health of the stream.

As I slowed down, I looked down to the river to see the officer with his citation book out standing with two fishermen. My subconscious jarred me a tad and poked the memory of the sudden movement I had seen one of the anglers make as I had driven by earlier. Then it was clear what was going on.

I pulled over and waited up the road about half a mile for the OSP pickup to come by. The game officer was a friend and he rolled up next to me about 10 minutes later and rolled down his passenger window. “How many?” I asked knowing full well what had been going on.

That day there 14 Mountain Whitefish died needlessly at the hands of the two guys that had just gotten sited. There was no reason for it other than they were frustrated at catching more whiteys than trout. Which can be very common on a lot of western rivers, particularly if the person doing the fishing doesn’t know how to steer clear of a “whitey bucket”.

The sad part of the deal is that the rear window of the vehicle the violators were driving was slathered in stickers from various conservation groups. White fish and the Largescale Sucker are two fish native to western waters. They both indicate the health of the stream they live. Sometimes a nuisance, but sometimes they can save the day when nothing else is biting.

There are other native fish in other places that are just as maligned that get tossed on the bank or bounced off of the transom. Archaic reasoning and cultural bias perpetuate the killing of these less desirable game fish that play an integral role in the health of your fishery. There is no reason to kill a fish unless mandated by the state you are fishing. It is just bad juju and sets a poor example.

Was Your Boat Hull And Rinse Your Boots

This is a simple practice which could save your or another’s fishery. An example of why this needs to be done is the Zebra mussel. This overwhelming crustacean

A man steam cleans the hull of his boat after a day of fly fishing
Cleaning boat hulls and props can help prevent the spread of invasive species

has steadily made its way west from the Great Lakes where it first appeared in the U.S. The mussel’s tiny babies can attach themselves to a boat hull or motor to hitching a ride to another non-contaminated body of water. Some states have gone so far as putting boat washing stations equipped with steam power sprayers at their borders to combat the spread of this invasive species.

The same goes for your wading boots, net or anything else that has been dipped in the water before you travel. Snails, small non-native fish fry and invasive plants can be spread this way. Not easily, but is it worth the risk?

A light bleach water solution and a five minute short soak might save your favorite lake or stream.

Barbless Flies

This is probably the most often ignored conservation and in some fisheries, violated regulation. Even if it isn’t the law there are two very good reasons to fish barbless. The first is that it is good for the fish. The second it is much safer for the fisherman. This is common sense.

You wont lose any more fish than usual and maybe even land more because of the hook penetrating more easily. The bonus is when your buddy that you are standing next to drives his #2 Wooly Bugger hook into your ear it is much easier to remove.

Bass and carp fishermen you guys get a pass because of the mouth and lip configurations…..

Pick Your Leaders And Tippet Up

This is litter, very deadly litter. I have seen countless birds wrapped in mono and fluorocarbon tippet material that was wantonly tossed into the stream or on the bank. Fish also can get tangled in a wad of this synthetic, barely degradable material. Take the time to either put it in your pocket or at least cut it into tiny pieces smaller than an inch. You will save some creatures life.

There’s Lots More We Can Do

These few things are just a few of the things that fly fishermen and anglers can do to protect their favorite fishing resource locally. There are countless other little things that you can do on a daily basis that I am sure I missed here. If we all think and use common sense on the water, then the fish and us will reap the benefits at the end of the day and a fly line.

Author: Sean Johnson

Sean was raised in Northeastern Oregon in the Wallowa Valley. It was there that he learned to hunt and fish. After receiving his history degree from the University of Oregon, Sean guided fishermen from Alaska to Chile. There were a few interludes where he sailed as a crew member on a ship and even worked in the craft brewing industry.Eventually he found his love in writing about the outdoors. His articles and fiction stories have a unique style and voice that conveys his love for the natural world. Currently he is the main writer for Always A Good Day, freelances and is working on a book of fiction.

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