Know the tricks to rule the river

Posted: Monday, April 10, 2006

There are two kinds of rules for sport fishing, the written and the unwritten.

You’ll find the written rules in the Alaska Sport Fishing Regulations Summary. These spell out where and when it’s legal to fish, and they explain the legal and illegal methods of fishing. In pamphlet form, they’re available at no charge wherever fishing licenses are sold.

If you go fishing before reading them, you run the risk of violating the law and getting fined.

The unwritten rules are established by you and your fellow fishermen. They vary from place to place, and even from time to time, but some are common to all places and times.

For example, it’s considered bad form almost everywhere to take another angler’s fishing spot without asking. Fishing too closely to another angler isn’t as serious, but it’s still considered bad form.

What’s “too closely”?

Take sockeye fishing on the Kenai or Russian rivers. Crowded fishing is common and considered acceptable by anglers who fish there. Early in the morning or late in the evening, people might be 25 feet apart, while at midday, they’ll be separated by as little as 6 feet.

No matter the time or season, it’s only fair to give other anglers as much space as you reasonably can. This is even more important on a small stream, such as the Anchor River, where too many anglers in a hole can spook the fish and spoil the fishing.

An unwritten rule for salmon fishing on streams is to always yell, “Fish on!” when you hook a fish. Salmon often run downstream when hooked. Your shout is the signal for other anglers to pull their lines from the water to avoid tangling your line.

A rule on crowded streams is to use tackle that’s heavy enough to bring in a salmon quickly, so as not to keep other anglers from fishing.

In some spots, bank anglers who hook salmon are expected to walk downstream, yelling, “Coming down!” The idea is to fight the fish where it can be landed easily, say, in a back-eddy. The alternative is to stay put for the battle, which can prevent several other anglers from fishing.

If you accidentally hook a salmon somewhere other than in its mouth, it’s best for both the fish and other anglers if you break the fish off. (A good way to do this is to point your rod at the fish, and thumb down hard on the spool.) If a salmon is hooked in the back or tail, landing it will take several minutes, time that would be better spent fishing.

A good way to learn unwritten rules is to spend some time watching other anglers for a while before you start fishing. If you do what others are doing, you won’t go far wrong.

— Les Palmer

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