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.