With the fishing season beginning to kick into overdrive I thought it would be a good time to talk a little about ramp and river etiquette. During the next three months there will be a lot of anglers using the waters around Montana and if we all follow a few basic rules of the river, we will all have a great time on the water.
I'm sure everone has noticed how busy a boat access site can be during the summer. Usually all of the sites with ramps have a staging area for setting up your boat. Two things that will get you a lot of dirty looks are jumping ahead of someone waiting in line to drop their boat or dropping your boat in the river and then using the ramp area to get things set up. If you happen to get your boat ready before the person in front of you, it's okay to ask to drop your boat. Most people are totally cool with you putting your boat in the river ahead of them if they're not ready yet just make sure you ask first.
The most obvious rule of etiquette is probably the most important. It is also one that most of us, including myself, have broken at one time or another. That rule is not to encroach on another anglers space. A good rule of thumb, if possible, is to fish out of sight of other anglers you are sharing the river with for the day. In some places this isn't possible, like the Lower Madison because it is so wide open, but try to give someone a couple hundred yards at least if you can. A river that comes to mind that we can all easily share is the Gallatin. This river is 119 miles long. At this length it could have 476 people fishing with a quarter mile of river for each person.
Along with giving someone their own space is trying not to monopolize a fishing hole. We all have certain places we love to fish but others love those same places too. If you have been fishing the same spot and it has produced some fish it's probably a good time to move to the next hole. Usually, if you keep moving and covering more water you will catch more fish. Generally I spend around 20 minutes in one spot and then move on to find other fish.
If you own a boat and are floating you need to give wade fisherman the right of way and let them have their space. One of the few times a wade fisherman should yield to a boat is when the boat has no other place to float past them. This is usually a situation that occurs in a side channel and the boat doesn't have anywhere else to float past the wading angler. If I happen to come across a wade fisherman along the bank I'm floating I will usually just row over to the other bank if it is open. If there happens to be both floaters and wade fisherman on both sides of the river, just float past them down the middle of the river. If it's really tight and the middle of the river is where they are fishing pull over upstream of the angler and ask them if they'd like you to float behind them or in front of them. Sometimes it's necessary to get out of your boat and walk it behind them so that you don't disturb their fishing.
The last thing that can be the hardest rule to follow is not using the streambed as your pathway down the river. Whenever it is possible to do so, wade back to the bankline and use the edge of the river to get from place to place. If we didn't have this rule we would eventually destroy the rivers habitat that the fish need to survive. Sometimes we do have to wade in the river to get past a highbank or obstruction like a pile of trees or to stay below the high water mark. Montana has the best stream access laws in the country and we don't want to risk loosing them. If we all can try to remember and follow these rules of etiquette we will all have a great time on the water. Thanks and tight lines to all!
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