How to Manage Fishing Holes with a Group

Getting out on the water with a group of close friends is a great way to spend a day of fishing. There’s nothing better than getting to share the moment you land a monster with your best fishing buddies.

While fishing with a group generally makes things easier, with benefits like info-sharing and photo-taking, there’s one drawback to fishing with a group: determining how to divy up fishing spots.

When you’re alone, you simply fish where you want to fish. But, when there are a bunch of people vying for spots on the river, etiquette comes into play. You need to figure out the best way to give everyone a chance to fish without putting someone perpetually at the end of the line for each spot. Here are a few options for how to divide and conquer next time you’re with a group.

Leapfrog

This is one of the more commonly-used techniques for divying up the river.

The idea is that everyone moves in the same direction (usually upstream, but downstream works if that’s the direction you’re fishing). Once everyone is lined up in their spot, the person last in line leapfrogs the group when they’re ready to move. This puts them at the front of the line, giving them first dibs on the newest hole. Then, a new person becomes last in line, and they can leapfrog the group when they’re ready to move up.

This technique works better with fewer people, and is a great way to manage a group of two anglers. Each person takes a turn leapfrogging the other as they fish up the river.

The downside to this approach is that fishermen often have very different ideas for how quickly to move. Some will take a cast per hole and move on, while others may pick apart a run for 30 minutes before switching spots. If group members have different speeds and try to leapfrog, it’s inevitable that at some point, a speedy angler will leap to the front, and then continue fishing quickly upstream before the last person in line decides to jump up. This leads to the first person in line getting first dibs on a ton of runs, while the slower angler ends up fishing runs that have already been hit.

Six women pose in the snow holding fly rods and making goofy expressions.

Upstream/downstream

An obvious way to split up a group is for some people to head downstream and others to head upstream. Of course, if multiple people are heading in each direction, they’ll need to spread out from each other still (leapfrogging is an option here). And, if there are only two people in the group, this splits them perfectly and they’ll never have to worry about overlapping.

This is a great option if the group has some people fishing standard dry or nymph set-ups, and some swinging wet flies or streamers. Since regular dead-drift rigs are best fished upstream, and swung flies are fished downstream, it’s easy for both groups to move in the natural direction they would fish.

Of course, the drawback to this method, especially for groups of two, is that you don’t really get to fish with whoever went in the opposite direction. It’s generally more of a “see you in an hour” approach.

Opposite banks

If the river you’re on is accessible on both sides, and is large enough to support people on both sides, splitting the group into separate banks frees up some space. In this case, two people may end up fishing the same general area, but from two different angles. They’ll each have their own shore to fish as well.

Like the upstream/downstream approach, some leapfrogging and spreading out may still be necessary for larger groups. For two people, this one is probably better than splitting up between upstream and downstream, because you’re still able to fish together, even if you’re on different shores.

One possible downside to this one is that not all shores are created equal. Since some rivers are only crossable in certain areas, one person may end up on a shore that becomes unfishable, and then not be able to get back across without backtracking. This method is ideal for shallow rivers that are easily crossable.

Different flies

If you don’t want to deal with the hassle of leapfrogging, but want to all fish in the same direction, you can try using different flies. This won’t work well with huge groups, but groups up to three or four can work.

Instead of trying to divide up where people are fishing, the idea is to divide up how people are fishing.

The group lines up and moves in tandem, without switching order. But, each person has a different fly. Ideally, they all have different styles of flies as well.

So, you might have one person with a dry, one with an indicator rig, one with a streamer, and one tightline nymphing. Although the first person through the run probably does have an advantage, each person is targeting a different feeding fish, so they all have a shot at catching.

Two women pose in front of a backcountry river holding fly rods.

Take turns

This one really only applies to groups of two, and even more narrowly, is best suited for two people who are mostly just fishing in order to spend time together.

In this case, instead of trying to divide up the runs between the two anglers, both fish all runs. One person starts, and once they’ve caught a fish from a run, the next person gets a shot. They fish that run, and move up as necessary to other runs until they catch one, and so on. In this case, only one person fishes at a time, but it can be a ton of fun for a few reasons.

First, everyone gets a chance to experience every run. When you’re leapfrogging, you may be skipping massive chunks of river. This isn’t a huge issue, but sometimes it’s a bummer to know you’re missing out on fishing, or even just seeing, huge sections of water. By taking turns, even if you don’t do much fishing in a run, you get to fish it vicariously through your friend. This intel may even help you out the next time you fish the area.

Two women pose in front of a backcountry lake, and one is holding a beer up.

Secondly, it’s a great way to actually spend time with the people you’re with. Half the time when I fish with a group, I’m not paying much attention to anything but my fly and the river. If the point is to get out with your friends, this is the best way to actually spend some time talking to each other. You get to celebrate each other’s successes, laugh about mishaps, and help each other out. Some of my best fishing memories have happened during turn-taking.

What’s your favorite way to divide the group? Let me know in the comments!

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