There's an important and sensitive subject in fishing that needs to be addressed more often - etiquette.
It's something that affects all anglers, often in a negative way. As a Colorado Springs native with 16 years of fly-fishing and fly-tying experience, it wasn't until I was teaching a recent Orvis 201 class that I became aware of the fact that many people simply don't know proper etiquette.
To survive "combat fishing," we need to understand one basic fact - the right to fish public water belongs to anyone carrying a valid Colorado fishing license. It took me a long time to realize this and let go of my territoriality and feel comfortable letting people fish in my "occupied" space. There's an omnipresent fear of someone walking on top of your water and scaring your fish, combined with the fact that most anglers drive up the mountain as an escape from everyday life, and that includes other people.
As more get excited about fishing, which is a beautiful thing, and more discover treasures such as 11 Mile Canyon, it's going to continue to get more crowded. Experienced anglers who want peace and quiet have two options: Find somewhere less popular to fish - maybe the entire lower half of 11 Mile Canyon - or accept the crowds and embrace the fact that you're going to come across people who are either missing the respect gene or simply haven't been taught proper etiquette. Be patient with these newcomers.
So what is proper etiquette?
The question I fielded the most from class attendees was "what is a good distance to keep from other anglers?" Under no circumstance should you fish directly across from someone without permission! This is by far the biggest cause of altercations on the river.
I always tell people that if I'm approaching an area I'd like to fish and somebody is there, I give them at least enough space to cast 200 feet - roughly the length of two fly lines. This way the other angler has at least 200 feet on either side where they can move around and fish different spots.
Most days, I take it a step further and avoid a stretch of water altogether if I see a vehicle parked near it. But sometimes it's simply too crowded to do that. If that's the case, ask the angler if they are OK with you working around them. Find out which direction they are fishing. You'll come across a cranky pants or two who'll tell you politely to jump off a bridge, but typically they will appreciate the gesture and give you the green light to fish either downstream or upstream from them. I can't begin to tell you how many shells I've cracked by asking someone if they mind me fishing next to them.
Lastly, don't stay in one spot all day, especially if people are waiting patiently for a chance to fish the area. Trust me that you're blowing it if you stand in one spot all day changing flies trying to catch the same fish. Push yourself to be better anglers by exploring new water.
Coexisting on the river in harmony is important. It starts with conservation, companionship and being in nature. Remember, if you're a newcomer to Colorado or a newcomer to fishing, be as respectful of people's space as if you were visiting their home. If you're an experienced angler who considers these amazing places we play your backyard, keep in mind that people come from all over the world to experience this. Be ambassadors of the river and we will all reap the rewards.
Kleis is a Colorado Springs native and professional fly-fishing guide for Angler's Covey Fly Shop. Read his columns on the third Thursday of each month in Out There. To schedule your fly-fishing adventure, email firstname.lastname@example.org.