I spent several days in a on the Cowlitz this week. Some days I only worked my line for a few hours and other days I spent most of my time wading in and out of the water whenever someone hooked a fish and I saw a photo opportunity in the making.
I started the week hunting fall Chinook (my favorite fishing season), but ended up stalking summer-run steelhead as I watched angler after angler hook into them and haul them out of the water.
There have been fewer anglers than usual at the Barrier Dam lately, so these last few weeks — before the fall Chinook season heats up — is a terrific opportunity for you to hit the water and warm up your throwing arm or learn a new fishing technique.
It’s also a terrific time to learn to apply the “10 Rules of Combat Fishing Etiquette” while the traffic is still light and anglers aren’t (yet!) gearing up for a fight.
10 Rules of Combat Fishing Etiquette
There are a few rules of etiquette in river fishing I have learned to follow that tend to keep the “combat” of competitive steelhead fishing in the water and against the fish, not on the banks against the guy standing next to you.
Rule 1: Wait to cast your line until the guy downstream from you has cast his.
Rule 2: Have patience, don’t cast over someone else’s line. If they hook into a fish at the end of their drift, you’ll end up being the bad guy when he loses the fish.
Rule 3: Don’t let your line drift too far downstream. And start to reel in when your line hits the three o’clock mark (you’re standing at six), or else you’ll risk hooking the fisherman next to you.
Rule 4: If you notice your line drifting faster than everyone else, add a bit more weight to slow your line down. If your line is moving slower, take off some weight.
Rule 5: If someone moves out of the line or off the rock, don’t move into his spot unless you are sure he has quit fishing that area. Always ask before you take someone’s place.
Rule 6: If someone hooks a fish, reel in your line — quickly — and be ready to move out of the fisherman’s way in case he has to work the fish up or down the bank.
Rule 7: When you get a fish on the line, yell “FISH ON!” loud and clear so everyone can hear you and get out of your way.
Rule 8: If there is plenty of room on the river, don’t stand too close to your neighbor. Spread out and fish your own water.
Rule 9: Fish the same way everyone is fishing. If everyone in the area you want to fish is drifting, you need to free drift fish too. If they’re using a bobber and jig, jig up too. Plunking? Plunk. The experienced anglers will use the best method for the water, listen to them and watch how they work.
And Rule 10 (the most important rule): If you don’t know something, ask. Most of the experienced anglers I have met on the river are happy to explain to you how you can make your day — and his day — a better day on the water.
May your lines stay tight and your feet stay underneath you. Happy fishing.