Why Do Fly Fishing Only Sections of River Exist?

Sometimes it might seem unfair and just plain wrong that sections of great trout rivers only allow fly fishing. Rest assured there is a logical explanation why fly fishing only and artificial lures only areas exist—in this post I’ll explain why.

Fly fishing only sign on the Madison river in Yellowstone.
This image was taken on the Madison river in Yellowstone National Park. Many areas of Yellowstone are fly fishing only.

Why is Fly Fishing Better for the Fish?

It’s simple really, when a trout eats a fly it will usually hold the fly for only a few seconds before spitting it back out. Examples of a fish swallowing a fly are almost non existent. I can speak from experience here after being a fly fishing guide for over a decade. I release thousands of fish each year and I cannot think of one time I had to remove a fly from the throat of a trout. If you are careful and use good catch and release practices, you can release 90+% of the fish safely and they will survive to be caught another day.

Bait Fishing is Likely to Harm Fish

When a fish eats a worm, it immediately recognizes that it is a natural food and will begin to swallow it almost instantly. Trying to safely remove a hook from the throat or gills of a trout is not easy to do. The odds of a throat hooked fish surviving after hook removal is very slim (unless you simply cut the line and let the fish swim off with the hook in it’s mouth). I recall talking to some very upset anglers on a section of river several years ago in Michigan about this very subject. They felt like they were being discriminated against because they weren’t allowed to fish for trout using their method of choice.

The Introduction of Invasive Species Can Occur with Transporting Live Bait

Yes it happens all the time. By bringing a bucket of minnows or a coffee can filled with non native soil and worms from another area, it is very possible to bring insects and other non native animals or plants into a fishing area.

All it would take is for one seed from a noxious weed mixed in with the dirt in your worm bedding and a new plant from a different part of the country (or even the other side of the world) could easily take hold on the side of the river and crowd out the native plant life.

I doubt I need to even explain what kind of devastating effects a non native fish or snail (like one possibly found in your bucket of minnows) from another area could cause in a sensitive trout stream. A fish brought in from another area will possibly become direct competition for the native fish.


In my experience fly fisherman have invested a lot of money and time to become able to hook and land trout. They tend to be more careful with the fish and are much more likely to release them unharmed. Of course there are a lot of anglers that use bait that are very careful with the fish, but there are only so many ways to avoid killing a gut hooked trout.



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