5 Ways to Be a Conservationist While Fly Fishing

conservationist while fly fishing

Whenever you set out for the river with fly rod in hand, don’t forget to bring along your conservation hat. It’s important to be think and act like a conservationist while fly fishing.

Here are five ways to be a conservationist while fly fishing:

1. Pick up after others (and yourself).

Not long ago, I fly fished the Owyhee River in eastern Oregon. It was a gorgeous October morning, with a light fog hanging over the surface of the river. I could see ducks gliding in the water as well as the glow of the morning sun trying to burn through the mist.

It was perfect, except for the crushed Miller Lite cans and the empty Oreo package along the river’s edge.

Before I left the area, I stuffed the aluminum cans and the plastic package into my fly vest. I don’t expect a conservation medal, but a thousand little acts like this (if we can all do this on a regular basis) can help beautify and protect the rivers in which we fish.

It goes without saying that you should pack out your own trash—wrappers, beverage containers, even the old leaders you’ve removed.

Don’t be that gal or that guy.

2. Land your fish quickly and release it slowly.

My friends complain that it takes me forever to get ready to fly fish. I suppose that’s true. There is a fly rod to assemble, waders to don, fly boxes to arrange, and so on. But when it comes to landing fish, I try to get down to business and haul them in as quickly as possible. The longer a fly fisher plays a fish, the less chance it has to survive. So make quick work of it.

But once you have the fish in your net or hand, slow down. Gently hold the fish in the water, letting it recover and get its bearings. Take whatever time is needed. When the fish is ready to go, you’ll know it!

3. Obey every fishing regulation.

Personally, I’m not big on barbless hooks. But when I’m in Yellowstone National Park, I follow the regulations which require me to use barbless hooks. The reason I carry a small pair of pliers to crimp the barbs on my hooks is not because I’m afraid of getting caught. It’s just that we can’t afford to have every angler doing what is right in their eyes.

So to be a conservationist while fly fishing, use lead-free flies and non-toxic split shot when the regulations require them. Don’t fish in closed areas. And read the regulations before you cast a line on the water.

4. Stay off the redds.

When you fish in the spring when the rainbows and cutthroats are spawning, keep off of the redds — that is, the spawning beds. The same is true for fall fishing when the brown trout are spawning. The females create these redds, or nests, by using their tails to turn over rocks. A typical nest is often the size of a couple throw rugs placed end to end. You’ll be able to spot a redd by its clean, shiny gravel.

I’m not opposed to fishing near a redd (although some fly fishers are). But I’m careful to avoid wading where I see or even suspect a spawn bed.

5. Give fish a break during low water and high temps.

This is typically an issue in the ‘dog days’ of August.

The combination of low water and high temperatures on rivers like the Lower Madison in Montana can make it stressful for trout. If you happen to land one in such conditions, you put its survival at great risk. So pay attention to river flows and water temperature. In some cases, it’s “safe” to fish early mornings as long as you’re off the water by 11 a.m. I use trusted fly shops as my source when I’m trying to decide whether or not to fish a particular river or stretch of it.

Conservation happens one fly fisher at a time.

Soothing Words for the Fly Rod Owner’s Soul

Some of the most encouraging words I ever read appeared on a little card I received back in 1996 when I purchased my first Orvis fly rod. The card simply said: “We will repair your broken rod for 25 full years, no matter how you broke it.”

Those are soothing words for the fly rod owner’s soul.

Of course, I didn’t realize that at the time. I thought, “That’s nice. But I won’t need it. All I need to do is be careful.”

After all, I grew up being careful with sporting goods.

When I was eight, my dad drilled it into my head that baseball players do not throw their baseball gloves. They oil them and otherwise keep them dry. But they do not slam them to the ground or fling them high into the air to free fall to the ground. When I was ten, my dad was emphatic that I take care of the 20 gauge shotgun he gave me for my birthday. If I handled it carefully, I would not break the stock if I fell, and I might not even scratch it. And I didn’t. I didn’t throw my baseball glove. It’s still in use forty-five years later. I also took good care of my 20 gauge shotgun. My sons both used it, and it’s ready for my grandsons to shoot when they get a little bit older.

So taking care of a fly rod would be no problem. I knew the old adage: “Most fly rods are broken getting in and out of a vehicle.” Or, they get stepped on when they are leaning in a closet or in the corner of a room. What kind of a fool lets that happen?

Uh, that would be me.

About a year after I purchased my first Orvis fly rod, I wandered into our mud room (what Montanans affectionately call a little room you enter from the side entrance of your house or from your garage). As its name suggests, a mud room is a place where you can take off your muddy boots or shoes. We had a coat rack in ours and some shelves where we stored canned goods. More importantly, at the far end, just beneath a window with a great view of the mountains to the north, I had a fly tying bench.

One night, I entered the dark room to grab a coat I had placed on my fly tying bench. When I stepped near my fly-tying bench, I heard a splintering, cracking sound. I felt sick, realizing that that I had just stepped on my fly rod. I remembered that it was leaning against my fly tying bench. I had placed it there to dry after a day of fishing in the rain. Now I had cracked it between the handle and the first guide.

Suddenly I remembered the words on the card: “We will repair your broken rod for 25 full years, no matter how you broke it.” Ah, what soothing words for the fly rod owner’s soul! A day later, I took my fractured rod to Fins and Feathers, the Orvis shop in Bozeman, Montana. I had to laugh when I signed the “Orvis Rod Repair Form.” Under the description of how the break occurred, the guy behind the counter simply wrote: “Stepped on it in the dark.”

If you’re going to invest in a fly rod, make sure you buy from a manufacturer that offers a rod-breakage guarantee — unless you’re buying a low-end rod and intend to upgrade. Most of the higher end rods come with generous replacement policies.

But don’t assume this.

Confirm it before you complete your purchase. You may think, “It won’t happen to me.” But it’s only a matter of time until it does. And when it does, you’ll want to hear or read those soothing words for the fly fisher’s soul: “We will repair your broken rod for 25 full years, no matter how you broke it.”

Even if you step on your rod in the dark.

Episode 22: Choosing the Right Fly Rod

A River Runs Through It

Choosing the right fly rod is important whether you are new to the sport or a veteran. In this podcast episode, Steve and Dave help aspiring fly fishers select their next trout rod.

Dave is adamant that new fly fishers should not buy the most expensive rods, unless they have an indiscriminate amount of money. Veteran fly fishers may want to purchase more specialized rods. Listen to Choosing the Right Fly Rod here.

Be sure to download a podcast app for your smartphone and subscribe to our feed. You can subscribe to our podcast on iTunes or Stitcher for Android.

8 Tips When You Fall into the River

On more than one occasion, I’ve enjoyed watching my podcast partner, Dave, flail as he has started to head downstream at the speed of the river. Okay, I’ve done it too. Fortunately, neither of us has fallen into a deep, rushing section of river.

Several years ago, Duane Dunham, an outstanding fly fisher in Portland, Oregon, shared with me some tips for getting out when you fall into a river:

1. Don’t panic. Easy for me to say while I’m warm and dry. But even if you cannot swim, you can emerge safely from water over your head.

2. Don’t attempt to stand up too quickly. Wait until you are in knee deep water.

3. Never fight the current. Let it take you, but angle toward shore. Otherwise, you’ll get exhausted.

4. If the water is deep, you can take a breath and push off the bottom toward shore. Do this enough times, and you’ll get there.

5. Keep your feet down stream. If you are out of control and headed downstream, this will help you avoid hitting your head on a rock. Stay in a semi-sitting position. This may be the most important tip!

6. Don’t fish dangerous water alone. Okay, that’s not going to help you if you’ve already fallen into a rushing run. But it’s worth the reminder for strong-headed, stubborn fly fishers (which Dave and I can be at times!).

7. Let go of your fly rod. This allows you to use both hands to stroke towards shore. Obviously, this is not the first step you take. It’s for emergency situations. Better to lose your Sage rod than your life.

8. Learn to swim. Remember, though, cold water is extremely shocking to your body. An excellent swimmer will quickly tire, so don’t get cocky and take unnecessary risks. It doesn’t matter than you are an expert in a warm pool or lake.

Here’s one more that I didn’t learn from Duane Dunham:

Don’t laugh at your fly fishing partner when he’s floating down the river. I’m sure Dave would appreciate it if I worked on that one. Seriously, falling into a river is no laughing matter.

Stay safe, my friends!

Episode 12: The Stupid Things Fly Fishers Do

A River Runs Through It

Fly fishers can do stupid things when zeroed in on trout, steelhead, salmon, or whatever the fish. Some of it is hilarious, some of it (almost) deadly serious. In this episode, we recall some of our more stupid moments in the outdoors. Click now to listen to “The Stupid Things Fly Fishers Do”.

Listen to our episode “The Stupid Things Fly Fishers Do”

Great Stuff from Our Listeners. At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

Any plans for the new year? Do you hope to get more days on the water? Any plans for a bigger fly fishing trip? Any books you plan to read or skills you hope to acquire? Please post your comments below!

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