Fishing Ethics


The topic of ethics can be a very touchy subject. Depending on whom you are discussing it with, it has always come down to the “Who made you king of the world?” or “Is this right or wrong for the greater good?”

I think about the challenge of ethics often, probably more than I really should or need to. In my life timeI have had many debates and arguments, discussions and disagreements about all kinds of ethical issues. Be it agreeable to others or not, I enjoy the various points of view and the passion this topic evokes. Whether or not you have a strong opinion on a ‘standard of conduct’, or you really don’t care either way about how people “feel”, it comes down to the breadth and depth of how important ethics play in our lives and everyday social behavior.

Ethics can touch us in every part of our lives. There are business ethics, legal ethics and life ethics. People try to live by The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. All in all, good advice.

As fly fishermen, there is a code, an ethic model that we all SHOULD follow….How to be respectful to the fish, the environment and other fellow fishermen. Again, this is solely my take

DOW Fishing Ethics

I have featured a photo of a sign that is posted prominantly on the first big ‘pull out’ on the Frying Pan river, in my beautiful stomping grounds outside of Basalt, Colorado.

Giving thought to the message that the DOW is hopefully conveying, I expanded this list with my translations that can be brought from the river to your everyday life.

Fishing Ethics Brought to Life

*Use barbless hooks and a landing net  Transl: Choose your words carefully, don’t be hurtful and handle with care.

*Land fish as quickly as possible. Don’t play it to exhaustion  Transl: Be concise, be clear and do not labor your point. Brevity is the soul of wit…

*Keep the fish in the water as much as possible when handling and removing the fly or lure Transl: Understand that everyone will always thrive in their own environment when difficulty becomes present.

*Wet your hands before handling fish Transl: Understand that others should always be handled or treated with care, physically and emotionally.

*Remove the hook gently, trying not to squeeze the fish or put your fingers in its gills. If it is deeply hooked, cut the line. The hook will corrode or dislodge within a few days Transl: People will always get hurt. Take time, listen and help if you can. Remember that sometimes the best help is time and patience.

*Release fish after it has retained its equilibrium in quiet water Transl: Be thoughtful, be caring and not in haste. People and fish benefit greatly from a compassionate attention to detail.

Everyday I’m on the river, I pass that sign and wonder if the Department of Wildlife knew that they have also laid out a pretty decent list of ethics and philosophy for living a pretty decent life.

Next weeks blog will take on the gigantic task of how a Zen Buddhist justifies my love of catching fish.

6 thoughts on “Fishing Ethics

  1. The issue of fishing ethics is one we find thought provoking, so thanks for this post. We have been engaged in an ongoing conversation about the ethics of catch-and-release fishing itself for quite some time. Me, going back to the 1970’s when catch-and-release was first gaining popularity; Barbra, having come to fishing more recently, more recently. We particularly find the idea of catching and releasing anadromous fish during their spawning runs to be troublesome – these fish already have an exhausting journey ahead of them. And while we’re not fans at all of catch-and-kill fishing tournaments, we’re not high on catch-and-release tournaments either.
    Some have argued – quite persuasively we think – that the most ethical manner in which to treat a fish you’ve caught (at some considerable discomfort to the fish, it might be presumed – after all, a certain percentage of fish caught-and-released end up as caught-and-slowly-died) is to knock it on the head, place it on ice, take it home and eat it.
    Our own ethical dilemma is that we love to fish, and we’re decent enough at it that we catch many more fish than we could possibly eat. We’re thinking, though, that this will be the year we go strictly barbless in all our fishing, because at this point it really doesn’t matter much if we lose fish here and there. We already go strictly barbless for trout… So, for us, our fishing ethics are still evolving. Perhaps always will be.


    1. Thanks for your comment Jack.

      It is a interesting issue, I am not a fan of catch and kill. My perspective may be different. The tack OS that people will always fish and the have the right to, but where I stand as a professional guide is that I see the number of fishermen on the river daily, recreational fishermen only see the impact on the days they visit the river.

      If everyone kept their fish the resource would be thinned greatly, with C&R, at least there is a fighting chance for the fish to survive. All in all, it is difficult on the fish. The saving grace to me is that most fishermen are average in skill and catch less fish than a pro.

      This is why I have Always tried to promote the entire fly fishing experience being the scenery, the poetry of the process, the calmness, over “meat hunting”.

      Thanks again for showing interest in my blog.

      Best and tight lines



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