You are here:   Home » Fishing » Plan Your Fishing Trip » Ethics & Etiquette » Angler Ethics

Ethics, Etiquette Can Help Reduce Conflicts

Fish engraved

The impression that Montana's rivers are becoming overcrowded is shared by many people living throughout our state. All recreational interests, including canoeists, rafters, kayakers, motorized boaters, anglers and commercial outfitters, are feeling the strain and are, subsequently, becoming less satisfied with their experiences on Montana's waterways.

As a result, in the spring of 1994 the Fisheries Division of Fish, Wildlife& Parks formed a committee comprising representatives of the various user interests and other natural resource and recreation management agencies to discuss river recreation conflicts, with the hope of resolving some of them.

At the first meeting of this River Recreation Conflicts Group, two subcommittees were formed. One is addressing etiquette and ethical practices that river recreationists might exercise to minimize conflicts, while the other is investigating possible legislative measures that might alleviate some of the river use problems now being witnessed.

In this brochure, produced by the etiquette subcommittee, we hope to suggest ways in which river recreationists can be considerate and mannerly to other users. We firmly believe that in many cases when an irresponsible act is exhibited in a river corridor, the person or persons at fault generally are unaware of the dissatisfaction they are causing others. Therefore we hope to educate all types of recreational rivers users throughout Montana about the place of ethics and etiquette in river recreation.

Following are a number of suggestions that we hope will lessen the presence of conflicts among river recreationists. These suggestions should be viewed as guidelines rather than rules or regulations.


  • When using a boat launching site, you should be organized before you approach the actual launching area. If rafting, have the raft inflated, the rowing frame ready and most of the gear in the raft before you move to the river's edge. Canoeists and kayakers should put their lighter items into the boats before approaching the launch area. Fishing rods should be rigged and unrigged well away from the access ramp. Once in the water, clear the area as soon as possible.
  • If a river access parking lot is full or very busy, consider moving on to another location.
  • When camping at a river access site, camp in an area that does not interfere with boat launching or parking.
  • Look out for wading anglers and other craft just as you would natural obstacles and plan an avoidance route well in advance. The bottom line is that the boater, whether motorized or non-motorized, should avoid the angler if at all possible.
  • While giving the angler a wide berth, try to avoid floating over the anglers fishing hole. If your boat must come close to the angler to refrain from disturbing the area being fished, make eye contact and explain your actions. If the fishing hole can't be avoided, you need to apologize, letting the angler know you meant well but couldn't avoid the disturbance.
  • Motorboats and personal watercraft, such as jet skis, can cause wakes that are hazardous and intimidating to operators of small water craft and wading anglers. Travel at a no-wake speed when floaters or wading anglers are in the area. If you are a floater, please recognize that the motorized watercraft may need speed to go both up and down some rapids.
  • If you are "playing the river" in a kayak or canoe, you should yield to "through boaters" traveling up or down the river.
  • Do not drag a boat anchor on streambeds. This can cause adverse effects to the stream habitat. Instead, pull your boat over to a slow pocket of water to fish.
  • Respect rancher's needs for fencing, and learn how to use floater gates and portage routes.
  • Unnecessary impact on river corridors, such as unexpected overnight stays or the need to build campfires, can be avoided by carefully preparing your river trip (for example, carry a raft repair kit).


  • Be aware that boat access areas can be busy places; you may wish to fish in a location that wouldn't cause congestion.
  • Don't encroach on another angler's space. Use the "visual rule of crowding" and attempt to keep out of sight of other anglers, if possible.
  • Try not to monopolize a good fishing spot on the river; fish for a while, then move on.
  • Understand that there are going to be instances when the wading angler should yield to floaters because there is no other channel for the floaters to navigate.
  • When possible, avoid using the streambed as a pathway. This type of foot traffic can cause damage to the fragile aquatic habitat. Anglers should use the shoreline to travel from one point to another if doing so doesn't violate trespass laws.

Considerations For All Users

  • Dog owners should always have their dogs under control or leashed.
  • Try to minimize your group size. A large group can be annoying and intimidating to other recreationists.
  • Adopt a self-policing policy. Try to educate others about ethical considerations and boating and fishing regulations as tactfully as you can. Contact the appropriate authorities when you observe or expect a violation of regulations.
  • Keep noise to a minimum.
  • The use of firearms in a river corridor, such as for target practice, can be hazardous and disturbing to others. During hunting season, remember that others may be using the river.
  • Have a clear understanding of Montana's Stream Access Law. In general, this statute says that all surface waters capable of recreational use may be used by the public, without regard to the ownership of the land underlying the waters. It also states that recreationists can use rivers and streams up to the ordinary high-water mark. But there are certain stipulations. The specific language of the law is explained in a brochure distributed by Fish, Wildlife & Parks.
  • Respect private property. Do not trespass on posted private property. Fish, Wildlife & Parks also has produced a brochure that explains Montana;s trespass law.
  • Use public toilets if they are available. If they are not, use portable toilets to pack out human waste.
  • Don't litter. If you pack it in, pack it out. Leader wrappers, tippet material, cigarette butts, strike indicators and styrofoam bait containers must be kept and then discarded properly, not along the stream.
  • If camping, concentrate your use on established camp sites, rather than spreading impacts over the entire river corridor. Practice "no trace" camping procedures as much as possible.
  • Consider not building a camp fire if one isn't absolutely necessary. If a fire is built, leave no trace of it. Better yet, consider using a fire pan.

It is inevitable that many of Montana's waterways will experience a continued increase in use. Therefore, we could expect that conflicts will become more common. Yet, in most cases, conflicts are not caused solely by overcrowding. Rather it is the attitude and practices of some of those using our waterways that are the principal catalysts of problems. Education, cooperation and communication are tools we can all use to ensure that a quality recreational experience on Montana's rivers can continue to be a reality.