Fresh water
News & Media
Fresh water
News & Media

When there are too many rods on the water

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Phill Davis
December 2006

As our fly-fishing water becomes more crowded it can lead to frustration between parties, but a little commonsense and courtesy goes a long way and there are some things you can do to prevent friction.

Photographs by Phill Davis and Geoff Thomas

With the pressures of our daily lives pushing harder and harder and doctors and psychologists telling us we need a better balance between work and play the prospect of a day on a trout river becomes more and more appealing.

But then you think about the increasing privatisation with land-owners trying to lock out the general public from having access to certain waterways. Once beautiful clean, clear rivers are now running polluted with stock effluent, and we have not mentioned the greater demand put on our rivers and lakes from irrigators who seem hell bent on taking every scrap of water that falls from the sky without a thought or concern about the impact on the leisure industries who have as much right to the water as anybody. We could go on to talk about the impacts of logging and mining as well, but I’m starting to get depressed talking about all this doom and gloom.


But what does this mean for you and me?

Something that is becoming more and more apparent is the pressure on our fisheries. And I am not talking about the external factors that affect us all; I am talking about the fishing pressure from anglers.

This is more evident on the waterways that are easily accessed by vehicle. It is not uncommon to drive two and a half hours to your favorite spot and find someone else there, in particular on a Saturday or Sunday. I very rarely fish these rivers or lakes in the weekend any more because they look more like the main street of town than a remote high country river or lake. Even mid-week at places where in years gone by you would never see another soul, are now being fished much more regularly. This can be tremendously disappointing when you've driven anywhere from one to three hours to get to your destination.

Brown trout are more susceptible to angler pressure.


So I would like to touch on something that will have an impact on all of us fishermen at some point in the future and it’s a little thing called etiquette.

You might be asking yourself what I am talking about; well that is why I feel this should be such an interesting topic.

You might be saying,” but isn’t it just common sense?” But in my travels and experience common sense is not that common anymore, and with the greater pressure on our fisheries it is something that we all deal with from time to time.

So what to do when we are faced with the scenario of arriving at our destination to find we have been beaten there by another party of anglers? If you are thinking about letting down their tires you really need to read the rest of this article and change that chip that’s on your shoulder while you are at it.

Put yourself in this scenario: it is a beautiful summer’s day, no wind and you and your companion are talking about the prospects of having the river or lake all to yourselves. But when you arrive someone is already there.

This has the potential to ruin your whole day, firstly because no one wants to fish dirty water (fishing water that has already been fished that day), especially when fishing for brown trout. It is a fact that browns take longer to settle down and return to their regular feeding patterns than their cousins, the rainbow trout, after being spooked or disturbed.


Now this situation is compounded when you don’t have a back up plan and you decide to press on any way, particularly on rivers where you are trying to find feeding trout on the edges. Once they have been fished to or disturbed, they become increasingly hard to catch and you know it is going to be a hard day at the office.

There are some things you can do to improve your chances of success.

It is a smart idea to give the leading group a large head start to give the trout as much time as possible to settle down and begin feeding again. You can do this by walking down stream before you start fishing, which gives you a clear run fishing new water before you get back to the point where the other group of anglers started earlier.

A helpful and courteous thing to do for other anglers is to have a card that sits on your dashboard that simply says: “GONE UP STREAM” or “GONE DOWN STREAM”. This will give following anglers a clear indication about which way your party has gone and they can proceed in the opposite direction.

Now I believe that the person or party who arrives first has the right of way, but this is where we anglers tend to lose our heads.
I have had just such an experience one day where we arrived at our destination and were the first on the scene. However, while
we were still getting kitted up another angler turned up, jumped out of his vehicle, put his boots on and grabbed his rod without even acknowledging we were even there. So before he ran of ahead of us I approached him and asked what direction he was intending to go and let him know what our intentions were for the day and hopefully come up with a plan that would suit both parties.

Unfortunately this particular bloke was what I refer to as a big steaming pile of monkey turd! He couldn’t care less about anyone else but himself and he looked at me and ran off laughing, leaving me with thoughts of smashing the windows of his car or letting all the air out of his tires.

Thank goodness sanity prevailed, along with the fact that I was guiding and had two clients with me.

To this day I do not know why some people are not willing to compromise so everyone can have an enjoyable day, and on this occasion we were blessed with the fact that this particular bloke left all the fish behind for us to catch because we had a great day’s fishing anyway.


Another scenario which we get faced with is the idiot who arrives after you but decides to try to get around you by sneaking through the bush to get in front of you as if he has been there all day. Then he looks at you like you are in the wrong. In my humble opinion these clowns deserve to take a swim at your nearest possible convenience, and preferably fully clothed.

Of course if he is bigger than you, well, just smile and wave boys, smile and wave (quote from my daughters’ DVD called Madagascar).

The good thing is that these situations are isolated and if you are able to talk with the other parties concerned most people are polite and more than accommodating, so everyone can enjoy the day’s fishing.

Now where possible when you arrive at a river and someone is already fishing it is expected that you would give them a reasonably good space of clear water so as to not cause any unnecessary confrontation on the river bank.

Most angler access points on rivers in the South Island are between one and about three kilometres apart, and this represents a good gap between fishing parties.

If the water is fished and covered properly it will take a good part of the day to negotiate. Some rivers, like for example the Tekapo River in November when it opens, can have 100-200 anglers both fly and spin fishing on a 15-kilometre stretch of water. As you can imagine this leads to a lot of grief between anglers and looks more like a zoo than a high country river.

But even in these high pressure situations there are things we can do to ease the tension, for example if someone is already fishing a run or pool make sure you acknowledge them and begin fishing BEHIND THEM!

The number of times I have seen people dive into a pool that is already being fished and begin fishing above the other angler just astounds me; and then they wonder why they get abused. This kind of behavior is just plain ignorant and rude.


All we really ask for is a little bit of consideration for other fishermen, which is not too much to ask or expect.

This brings us to the big one.

The Tongariro River - or any other river that receives a similar level of pressure - has its own set of rules and guidelines, and if one ignores them it can cause a lot of unnecessary friction.

You must first realise that you are going to be fishing in and around other anglers, so before commencing it pays to watch and see what others are doing before you leap in.

These rules of etiquette apply:

~ The correct starting position is behind the angler or anglers who are already fishing. If the pool or run is full, then enter at the bottom or tail of the particular piece of water.

~ Once you are in and fishing, you and all the other anglers should be slowly working their way up the pool and once you reach the top go back to the bottom and start again. No fisherman should be stationary and hogging one particular spot, and you are totally within your rights to ask them to move because you are moving through
the pool.

Now during this process you or someone else is going to have a fish on so you need to be aware of what is happening around you and let them through to land the fish. Secondly, once the fish has been landed the angler is allowed to commence from the point where the fish was hooked, and sometimes that could be five to 10 minutes later. It is a good idea to know and identify the other anglers fishing the same stretch as you, because it is not uncommon to have two or three people hooked up at the same time when the fishing is hot.

~ When these rivers are firing there are sometimes literally too many anglers for the pool and you might find you have to wait for a while before you can get in to the water. It calls for tolerance and patience, which is not easy to do when you are sitting on the bank watching other anglers having all the fun.

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