Adventure August 13, 2008

Rules of Family Fishing

Words to live by

A father and son are walking down the hill toward their favorite fishing hole when they come across another man and his son who are just leaving.

In their wake they have left a tangled mess of tippet broken off in frustrated snags, wrenched fishing hooks, empty soda cans, and fish heads littering the bottom of the lake. “Look,” says the boy to his father, “what a mess!” “I only hope,” says the father to his son, “that I can be as great an influence on you as that man has been on his son.”

Parents are their children’s most powerful role models. And when it comes to following fishing decorum, our children learn the rules and regulations of fishing by way of example: what we say, what we do, and whether we follow our own advice.

While most of the basics of fishing etiquette are self-evident, since they derive from the existential circumstance of sharing nature with others, some protocol may not be as obvious. To clarify matters for parents and their budding anglers, Idaho’s Department of Fish and Game has published Family Fishing Water Regulations, a guidebook that includes a list of simple “do’s” and “don’ts” that can assist us with our etiquette engineering. Here are a few of the highlights:

Elbow Room

Personal space is at a premium in some fishing spots and must be respected and maximized. Accordingly, there is a first come, first served rule. If someone is already fishing, search for an unoccupied stretch. If there isn’t one, either wait, or keep moving.

When moving past other anglers, proceed slowly and quietly. While many anglers don’t mind a friendly “hello,” most anglers do find noise and lengthy conversations intrusive. Local fishing guide Dave Faltings reminds us to “respect people’s distance,” both personally and spatially. And should you strike up a conversation, try not to use any exaggerated movements too close to the water. Unless, of course, you want to see just how fast a trout can swim away, and how angry you can make the angler who is trying to hook it.

Obviously, loud music or ringing cell phones infringe on the privacy of anyone trying to enjoy the wilderness. On the flip side of things, be polite if you ever have the need to hush a loud angler. One favorite technique is to look worried and ask everyone to be silent so you can determine whether the moose you saw earlier is lingering on the bank just ahead.


Needless to say, never leave your energy bar wrapper on the ground or fish heads in the pond. If you insist on bringing consumable items with you, pack them out; never throw anything in the water. Faltings always encourages anglers to leave the area better than it was, emphasizing that rivers and streams are delicate ecosystems that need to be protected not only for our enjoyment, but also for the animals and plants that live there.

Ask First

Of course, any discussion of fishing etiquette must include how to gain access to a lake or stream. One cardinal rule deals with private land: It is considered trespassing to enter and fish on someone’s land without permission. If you do need to cross private land, by all means, ask. Most owners will usually grant your request to fish, but it is always polite to ask. If you don’t, they might just decide to teach you a lesson and have you “reeled” away from the premises. Finally, as Faltings reminds us, “leave the property the way you found it,” so that future anglers will be allowed to fish there. >>>


Use Fisherman’s Access Trails

These lovely stretches of land have been set aside for the angler to access waterways in the least intrusive way. Look for the big brown state government signs and follow them. It may mean a slightly longer walk, but take your time, enjoy the scenery, and get your trip off on the right foot.

One last suggestion: Read and familiarize yourself with local fishing rules and Idaho Fish and Game’s Family Fishing Water Regulations before casting your line.

While it may take up a little of your fishing time, teaching your children these simple rules will provide them a better overall experience. More important, you will be modeling behavior that will protect Idaho’s pristine waters, and ensure that basic fishing etiquette is passed down from angler to angler for generations to come.

The eerie sound is caused by air whistling through the wing and tail feathers at great speeds, the pitch almost vocal, like a high yelp. I have never tired of that defining sound of spring, and have learned to listen carefully for it.

Summer at Silver Creek was about fishing, of course. On many a summer afternoon, I would crunch up the road, watching—as I had been warned to—for rattlers sunning on the road and heading for the stream in the hopes for a shot at Sullivan’s Pond, where the big browns lurked. I liked the gentle bottom of the pond, the slow sway of silt underfoot, the stillness of the water and the shadowy forms of big trout moving quietly along the banks. Cottonwoods and willows cast tendrils of shadow across the water’s surface, some of the branches overhanging the banks, making casting close to the shore difficult and rewarding, or difficult and frustrating, depending on whether your fly hung up in the branches or not. Sullivan’s Pond always proved deeply challenging, the big browns wary and skeptical, and all the fish finicky. I can’t count the exact number of fish I ever brought up from the depths of Sullivan’s Pond—it certainly was not very many—but every single one of them was a hard-earned treasure.

For me, sunsets have always been the most impressive time of day on Silver Creek. Evenings I sometimes walked up the road to Kilpatrick Bridge and stood looking down at the water, nearly hypnotized by the nodding and pulsing of cattails tugged by the water’s flow. In the fading light, colonies of yellow-headed blackbirds perched defiantly on bent tulles, krucking reedy warnings to hovering hawks and harriers. Muskrats, their bodies slick-black and greasy looking, padded from their cattail lodges and cut smooth lines across the stream, inexplicably blurping beneath the surface, then reappearing fifty yards away, swimming casually. Skeins of blood-orange light shimmered on the Picabo hillsides, the colors temporary, kaleidoscopic, numinous. When the sun finally set I would stand shivering, listening until the last quack and splash of landing ducks ceased, and then I’d boot back down the gravel road to the cabin with coyotes howling mournfully, the taste of dust in my throat, my heart full.

A manager’s perspective

“There are many ongoing and changing issues that threaten the integrity of the Silver Creek landscape on different levels,” states Preserve manager Dayna Smith. “Ecological issues such as the spread of the New Zealand mud snail or other invasive species and impacts on habitat related to the amount of use are ongoing. We also continually monitor water quality and quantity because issues of flow, sediment accumulation, temperature, and habitat diversity are at the forefront of our concerns.”

Silver Creek is an incredibly unique and sensitive spring creek system that includes wetlands, marshes, springs, riparian areas, and also sage uplands. All of these habitats require protection and monitoring. Do your part to help. Follow the rules of use carefully. Donate your time and resources whenever possible so that we can ensure the protection and enjoyment of the area for future generations. For more information about the area and the Preserve, contact Dayna Smith, Preserve manager, at 208.788.7910; or email her at



Buddy Levy is the author of American Legend: The Real-Life Adventures of David Crockett and Echoes on Rimrock: In Pursuit of the Chukar Partridge. He is clinical assistant professor of English at Washington State University, and lives in northern Idaho with his wife, two children, and two black Labs.


This article appears in the Summer 2006 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.