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Originally published Tuesday, July 5, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Trout bums: The bum's rules of thumb: Be careful, and hands off

I just returned from nine days of fishing in one of the most beautiful places on earth. It was small-river fishing — wading, no boat...

Special to The Seattle Times

I just returned from nine days of fishing in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

It was small-river fishing — wading, no boat. That is the real fly fishing.

As I wandered upriver with no serious brain-wave activity, it occurred to me after a few days, "Hey, there aren't any boats or rafts or people around." All that solitude made me reflect on summer fishing back home on the Yakima.

So, fly-fishing etiquette is our subject this month.

That's etiquette, from the French word meaning: Don't float through my water; or the German interpretation of: Leave me alone, I'm fishing.

I can deal with the recreational floaters, drinking and giggling their way to melanomaville. My only request is that they curb the littering. Littering is bad. Stop it.

No, the folks that get my goat are some of my fellow anglers in boats or assorted blow-up watercraft.

The custom since the time of Caesar Augustus is that the bank angler has the right of way. After all, boats have access to the entire river. The boat pilot, upon spotting the bank angler, should back out into the river, leaving the bank angler's water unmolested.

But how many times have you had them float and cast right through your run? This is rude. Stop it. It can make even a mellow old trout bum like me boil. For years, I have engaged these people in loud conversation, explaining the ins and outs of river etiquette. I've had some colorful responses.

Finally, I figured it out. These folks just don't know any better. It's not personal.

However, some fly-fishing etiquette is very personal.

It's probably better not to pick up another angler's rod and reel without being asked, much like fondling a stranger's Harley Davidson is not the best idea.

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Please don't ask to look into my fly box. This is where I keep my secret, deadly, one-of-a-kind flies. If I want you to see the box, I'll show it to you.

It's not necessary to ask if we've been fishing (hello?), or how many we caught, or where exactly we were on the river. Most trout bums would lie to their own mothers when asked these questions. As a general rule, it's best to treat your serious trout bum like a skunk: Give him lots of space and room to escape.

Ultimately, the lessons that fly fishing teaches are patience, observation, cunning, humility and grace. These are some of the differences between a trout bum and a trout bozo. Now you know.

Trout Bums, a column authored alternately by Randall Sumner and Mark Littleton, appears on the first Tuesday of each month. Sumner owns Blue Skies Guide Service on the Yakima River. Littleton, who also lives in Yakima, has been an avid fly-fisherman for more than 25 years. They can be reached at guides@blueskiesfishing.com.

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