I just returned from a fishing trip in Ireland. There, much of the river fishing takes place on established “beats.” You sign up for a certain stretch of river, pay a fee (prices vary by location, season, etc., and the price is often more reasonable than one might imagine), and fish your heart’s desire for a defined time period.


Ghillies and river keepers keep a watchful eye over the whole system, and the anglers are quite courteous and respectful of others, gradually rotating their way through classic runs in a timely manner, just like players on a golf course move from hole to hole at a commonly accepted pace of play. For example, I got to fish the fabled “Ridge Pool” on the River Moy in downtown Ballina in County Sligo (pictured here). I was there with four other anglers. I started at the top of the pool, then cast my way downstream at a gradual pace, covering the salmon runs as I went. When I got to the end of the beat, I took a break, had a cup of tea, then started over at the top of the pool as the other anglers worked downstream.

Now, granted, the beat system might not seem like your cup of tea, but I actually thought it made perfect sense and enhanced the overall experience. I wonder if certain American fisheries might benefit from the same approach. Before you fall off your chair, let’s be clear: what makes American fishing great is our abundance of wide-open spaces, and by no means am I advocating putting a price tag on 99.99% of American fly water.

Gentrification of fly fishing in America is not a good goal to strive toward. I get that. But in certain walk-wade-accessed rivers where total chaos now prevails, where angler etiquette seemingly is nonexistent, where guides will camp on a single run all day long, I think we have to make some changes.

I’m talking about places like Cheesman Canyon and the Dream Stream sections of the South Platter River in Colorado, certain parts of the Madison in Montana, the Bend Pool on the Frying Pan River in Colorado, and so forth.

Whether those changes include pay to play on public water (with a hefty “locals discount”), or just merely requiring anglers to sign up in advance to limit pressure in one spot at one time, which happens in some American fisheries already, I think it’s worth a closer look. The notion of a truckload of dudes hopping into the Ridge Pool and squeezing themselves into the mix at any time of day, or a guide camping on a run at 4 a.m. so he can monopolize prime water for several hours, is completely unthinkable in Ireland. Thank goodness for that. Can you think of some candidate waters where a beat system might be in order?

I think maybe we’d all get more enjoyment, and fly fishing would benefit as a whole, if we thought of more refined ways to share rivers. That wouldn’t necessarily require monetizing prime runs. Done right, it would actually be spreading the wealth.