Angling Etiquette: Tips to Share the Water
Planning a fishing trip? Whether you’re new to fishing or have been doing it for decades — you can help make the most of your time on the water by following these guidelines below. They not only help to support fun and safe angling trips, they also contribute to sustainable fisheries management, ensuring fish for the future.
Communicate openly and respectfully with fellow anglers
This is potentially the most important and universal etiquette reminder of all.
Don’t be afraid to talk to other anglers, especially when you might not be sure of the best behavior in a given situation. Good communications can help to create a solution-oriented environment.
Rotate anglers when possible
In many situations, anglers start at the top of a run and move downriver as they fish. This is particularly true for spoon fishing and fly fishing “swing” techniques, or any other technique in which an angler is actively covering water. Stepping into a run downriver of an angler who was already fishing, called “Low Holing”, isn’t recommended because it cuts the angler off from water they’d planned to fish.
Instead, step into a run upriver of anyone who was there first. You may have to wait your turn. Be sure to leave enough space between anglers. Make an effort to continually work downriver as you fish, rather than “sitting” on water. This allows other anglers to step in behind you and have a turn fishing the run. If you finish fishing a run and want to fish it again, you can return to the top of the run, behind anyone who was already waiting.
If another boater is fishing a section of water, do not cut in front, instead go above the other boat or ask the other boater if it is okay to drop in at a reasonable distance.
If you are lucky enough to hook a fish, it is also considerate to step out of a run afterwards and return to the top behind anyone who was already waiting to fish. If you’re lucky, one of the other anglers fishing the same water will help you land it!
Share pools when possible
Certain locations or fishing techniques don’t lend themselves to angling rotation. Some anglers like to choose a spot and occupy it for a length of time. If there is adequate space, they might not mind fishing near other anglers. This often applies to float or drift fishing techniques at popular spots, but can also apply to spoon or jig fishing. If anglers are not rotating and there appears to be an obvious space for an additional angler, it may be appropriate to join them.
However, if the new angler is using a different technique than the other anglers, especially one which requires more river space, such as fly fishing, it is probably not appropriate to step into the hole or fish near the anglers who were there first.
If the anglers are not moving from one spot, they might not intend to fish downriver. In this situation, it might be fine to step in below them. Again, when unsure, it is always best to ask other anglers whether they mind you stepping in. If there isn’t room when you arrive, or your preferred fishing method doesn’t fit in well, it might be best to move on to new and less crowded water.
When floating, ask wading anglers where they’d prefer you pass or default to passing on the far side of the river
When floating or motoring where it is allowed, past anglers fishing on the bank, it’s common practice to keep your boat far to the opposite side of the river. However, if there is room and the bank anglers are wading deeply, they might prefer you row behind them.
The best option is to ask the anglers where to pass. If that isn’t possible, take whichever route seems least likely to disturb the wading anglers. If safe to do so, raise your oars out of the water. If you need to row, make shallow, quiet oar strokes while you pass.
Ultimately, the goal is to avoid spooking fish or floating directly over the water the bank anglers are fishing.
Respect tribal fishers
Fishing is an integral part of tribal culture and subsistence. If you see a tribal fisher exercising their tribal treaty right to fish in a tribe’s traditional area, please be courteous and show respect. You can learn more about how WDFW works with tribal co-managers to set conservative fishing seasons in our blog post: A guide to the salmon season setting process.
Be courteous of commercial fishers
Local Washington seafood is a cornerstone of Washington’s maritime heritage, whether you prefer to reel it in yourself or seek it out from a local market. When you’re out fishing, you should always be aware of your surroundings and cognizant of other fishers nearby to reduce conflicts between sport and commercial fisheries. Learn more about local Washington seafood and how the state support sustainable seafood management at wdfw.wa.gov/LocalWASeafood.
Handle fish with care
Landing fish quickly, handling them carefully, keeping their gills flushed with water, and releasing them safely are always important practices, but they become especially critical when run counts are low. We need all of these fish to spawn successfully. Handling fish responsibly is not only the ethical thing to do, it is also one of the best things anglers can do to ensure we have these fisheries in the future.
Practice kindness when launching your boat
When launching a boat, try to get in and out quickly for other visitors. This means that it’s best to prep your boat in the parking lot or designated area and unloading out of the way of the boat launch. When you’re ready to get in line to launch, be courteous of other boaters by sticking in within one lane when you launch. Turn lights off while your trailer is in the water so headlights don’t impact visibility of other boaters.
Follow these #RecreateResponsibly guidelines to keep others — and yourself — safe and support stewardship of Washington’s great outdoors.
Before heading out, anglers should check the current fishing regulations valid through the end of June at wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations, and any emergency rules at fortress.wa.gov/dfw/erules/efishrules/.
In addition, the free Fish Washington app, available on Google Play, Apple’s App store and at WDFW’s website (wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/app) is designed to convey up-to-the-minute fishing regulations for every lake, river, stream and marine area in the state.
Be Whale Wise
If you’re heading out in marine waters, follow Be Whale Wise practices to support the survival of endangered Southern Resident killer whales.
Washington law requires boaters to stay at least 300 yards on either side and at least 400 yards in front of and behind Southern Resident killer whales. Boaters must also reduce their speed to seven knots within one-half nautical mile of Southern Residents.
Boaters are encouraged to watch for the Whale Warning Flag, an optional tool from the San Juan County Marine Resources Committee, that lets others know that there might be whales nearby.
If you observe harassment or disturbance of marine mammals, please help by reporting it as soon as possible to NOAA Fisheries enforcement hotline at 1–800–853–1964 or the WDFW enforcement line at 877–933–9847 and/or or report online at bewhalewise.org.
Thanks for taking the time to brush up on these best practices for your next fishing trip. Learn more about fishing in Washington state at wdfw.wa.gov/fishing.