Rafters and Fly Fishermen: Friends or Foes?

Skier vs. snowboarder, paddleboarder vs. surfer, rollerblader vs. skater — in sports as in life, we often define ourselves by what we don’t do, as much as by what we do. The river is no exception to this competitive phenomenon, but boaters and fly fishermen may have more in common than they think.

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At first glance, fly fishermen and rafters seem like natural companions. They both love rivers, and they can both talk for hours about their favorite stretches. Out on the water, however, they are often at odds.

Fly fishermen are introspective, particular, cautious, and can focus on an unseen goal for hours on end without talking. They wade along riverbanks like a blue heron, quiet and intense. They notice tiny blue-wing olives on the overhanging leaves. They scan the water looking for shadows, gauge windspeed, water clarity, sun angles, and adjust their line and cast to the conditions. They are consumed in their own nuanced world.

Then a raft comes crashing past on a wave train.

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Boaters are boisterous, bright, and active, digging into the current with muscled arms. Their jovial, group-nature is formed from long hours telling jokes during flatwater, punctuated by moments of intense teamwork, and raw adrenaline. They bring costumes on overnight trips, and appreciate a good prank. From the boat, everything on shore is passing scenery, a blip on their joy-bent mission downriver.

Tensions mount when competing goals collide. Fishermen resent rafters for scaring away the fish and boaters think fishermen are crowding their course. Both believe their sport ranks above the other and easily get wrapped up in a singular goal.

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They may be from different crowds, but they have a mutual interest; enjoying, understanding, and protecting their rivers. The guy standing on the banks in neoprene waders with a vest-full of dangling objects has a certain kind of river knowledge, just as the tan gal in a trucker hat and sunglasses aboard the raft does.

So next time you float by a fisherman, be respectful and offer him a ride, you may get a free dinner out of it.

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