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Smith: Trout, etiquette elusive in friendly waters

I almost launched into a lecture on manners recently to someone else’s child. I didn’t, but in hindsight I probably should have. Apparently, no one has taught the boy how to act on a trout stream.

My friend Ted and I were fly fishing one of our favorite rivers. The fish were finicky, a result of too many people after too few fish for too many days. After about four hours I had a total of five strikes, one hookup and one LDR (long distance release, which means it got off).

Few trout were rising to nibble at anything resembling an insect on the surface and they were equally reluctant to bite the plethora of emergers, nymphs and streamers we flung at them until our shoulders were sore. Yet we persevered.

I had just noticed a trout rising occasionally in some slack water at the bottom of a pool Ted and I were fishing. Ted left to seek more productive waters upstream, and I said I’d join him shortly if the rising fish refused to strike. I had just made a pretty good cast, for me, which means the fly landed on the water and not in a tree, and was watching the number 14 elks hair caddis float across the spot where I had last seen the trout dimple the surface, when a boy, 10 or 11 years old, walked to the edge of the water, not five feet from where my fly was drifting.

Had he been schooled in the proper etiquette of trout water he would have known to stay well back from the edge lest his shadow or some noise spook an already tentative trout. He got close.

Then he fell in.

He splashed heavily, sending ripples across the pool and putting down any trout that may have had any notion of trying to eat a ball of fur and feathers.

That wasn’t all that bad. I’ve fallen into the odd river from time to time myself and Ted always finds a bit of amusement in my bedraggled appearance when I catch up to him asking for the keys to his truck so I can change into the dry clothes I always carry on fishing trips. Semper paratis.

So I chuckled, after noting that the boy was not hurt in anything but pride.

But he stood up, cocked his arm and cast into my pool, straight across my fly line. That’s when the lecture should have burned his tender ears.

I should have waded the 30 or so feet to the bank, put my hand gently on the lad’s noggin and explained that proper fishermen do not encroach on pools occupied by other fishermen. And they certainly never cast across another’s line.

Had he asked if I minded him fishing the pool, I’d have invited him to come upstream so we both could fish without threat of fouled lines or fouled tempers.

I should have explained that courtesy makes just as much sense on a stream as it does in school, church or his dining room.

I should have warned him that not all fisher folk he’ll meet in life will be as understanding as I and that some may be more apt to inflict pain than instruct in etiquette.

I didn’t. I surmised that he would dismiss me as a meddling geezer and the day was too nice to ruin with that thought. I had also noticed several people on the river with more tattoos than teeth and figured that any one of them could be the boy’s parent.

So I let the opportunity slip away, reeled in my line, gave him a disgusted look and waded up stream, preferring calm to confrontation. I abhor confrontation, especially if it offers even the slightest opportunity of my face meeting someone’s fist.

I found Ted and was explaining the incident to him when I looked downstream just in time to see the boy pull a nice trout from the very spot I had been fishing.

At that point I muttered some useful words I learned from my army drill sergeant during basic training.

Under the circumstances, it seemed appropriate stream etiquette.


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