Keep Your Stream Pristine: 6 Rules of a Responsible Trout Fisherman

By Diana Rupp

The popularity of fishing is booming in the United States. According to a report by the Recreational Boating & Fishing Association, a full 18 percent of the U.S. population went fishing in 2020, the highest rate in over a decade. And the number of first-time fishing participants increased a phenomenal 42 percent. Many of these new anglers are taking up fly fishing; the number of fly-fishing participants jumped from 5.5 million in 2010 to 7.8 million in 2020.

It’s great news that more people are discovering the joys of getting out on the water and catching fish. At the same time, more people on the water means more pressure on the fish, and more impacts to our lakes, streams, and rivers. Next time you hit the water, make sure you are doing your part as a responsible trout fisherman and a good steward of our precious resources, and if you are helping a new angler learn the ropes, make sure they develop good habits as well. Here are a few things to think about:

1. Pack out your trash.

We all generate trash while we’re out fishing — whether it’s clipped-off pieces of fishing line, discarded strike indicators, or candy-bar wrappers. Carry a small bag or other receptacle and make sure you pack all of this out with you. Several companies make a small “trash pod” that clips right to your fishing vest or belt — these are great for stuffing in pieces of monofilament line or tippet so you can take it home and dispose of it. Oh, and if you see trash that someone else left, do a good deed and pack that out, too.

A trout in a wet net
If you are catch-and-release fishing, try not to remove the fish from the water. You can leave it right in the net for a quick photo. Image (c) Trail’s End Media

2. Keep it wet.

Are you a catch-and-release fisherman? That’s great—this practice helps provide more opportunity for other anglers. But it’s very important to handle the fish properly if you plan to release it. The mantra is, “keep it wet.” Don’t take the fish out of the water at all if possible, and when you handle it, make sure you wet your hands first so you don’t strip the protective slime off the fish. Use a net with a soft rubber material that won’t harm the fish. If you want to photograph your fish, consider doing so while it is still in the net and submerged in water. If you take it out of the water for a photo, do it quickly and return the fish right away to its natural environment.

3. Pinch it.

Another good catch-and-release practice is to pinch down the barbs of your hooks. That allows you to slide the hook easily and quickly out of the fish’s mouth and release it without removing it from the water.

4. Respect the redds.

Redds are spawning beds where trout and salmon lay their eggs. They’re usually round, light-colored areas that the fish dig into the stream bed in shallow, gravelly areas. There may be large fish guarding these spawning beds, which is very tempting. But responsible trout anglers don’t target spawning fish. Instead, look for non-spawning fish in deeper water below the redds. Leave the others alone to make more fish.

Fly-fishing on a stream
As more people discover the joys of trout fishing, good conservation practices are more important than ever. Image (c) Trail’s End Media

5. No hitchhikers.

After every outing, clean off your waders and boots. Not only will this help your gear last longer (and look better), it is crucial to preventing the spread of invasive species, including algae and water-borne aquatic pests, from one river or stream to another. Wading boots can be cleaned with household detergent or a bleach solution. Be sure to let them dry thoroughly after you clean them. Some experts recommend letting them dry for 48 hours to ensure that any hitchhikers you might have picked up are out of commission before your next fishing trip.

6. Volunteer.

If you really want to be a good fish conservationist, consider helping out with a stream improvement project. Many conservation groups and state wildlife agencies welcome volunteers to help with hands-on projects that improve local fisheries. Spending a day working on such a project will not only contribute to better fishing down the road, but you’re also likely meet new friends and pick up some valuable fishing tips.

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