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November 26, 2007

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Water Greed Will Undo Flyfishing

Last month I learned that the Rocky Mountain Farmer's Union in Bailey, Colorado, will close its mile-plus of the North Fork of the South Platte River to the 75 dues-paying members who have been fishing it for years, as well as outfitters and their clients. A wealthy individual agreed to pay $80,000 per year for five years to lease the property exclusively. So, he gets the big "F.U." from the rest of us.

The Rocky Mountain Angling Club also described in its last letter how an outfitter and his sugar daddy financier wheedled a lease from the group by promising untold riches to a landowner. Then of course, there is the infamous Donny Beaver squeeze on Pennsylvania's Little Juniata ... and Montana, it seems, is always beating back efforts by wannabe land barons to undo what may be the most enlightened stream access law in America.

Don't get me wrong, I support private landowner rights, and fish private water often myself. But the trend of privatizing, excluding, and raising the price of admission will kill this sport ... at least as far as trout fishing is concerned. And it's time for all the shops and manufacturers who collectively fret and whine about the shrinking fortunes of the flyfishing market to wake up and admit the obvious ... flyfishing is killing itself. Unless we all get aggressive about expanding stream access nationally, there will be a few winners, and everyone else will lose.



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fly fishing AS YOU KNOW IT (non native species on private land) maybe killing itself. there's a lot more to 'fly fishing' than just what you like to do. trout fishing is turning the way of golf anyway, and golf looks to be doing just fine.

move to the coast where you can still 'fly fish', it'll be a while before they privatize the ocean.


If you support private ownership of water (and, I assume, support the restricted access laws that go along with that), this seems like a hard position to justify. It's ok if you're a member of the club, but if you get kicked off the club, it's not ok anymore?


I do support private landowners' rights, I support the right for clubs to exist, for groups to lease properties, and all of that. What I do not agree with is the constriction of a resource ... in this particular case, while Farmer's was a semi-private club, you could get on and fish by going with a member, or a guide. This summer, it is clear that hundreds of people fished that property. I do not know what will happen next summer. Theoretically, maybe only a handful of people will ... When you replace hundreds with a handful ... that's problematic. I'm not saying it's wrong ... I'm just saying if nobody has a place to fish, nobody's going to buy any trout rods or reels.

As for you Joey ... you know I do it all ... but look at golf as a good example. Private clubs ... sure, great ... but look where the USGA is putting its promo money ... in the city and the burbs ... and you don't see a lot of public courses turning private.


well stated, Deeter.



gentlemen, all waters of the United States are public waters. waters of the United States as defined by the supreme court consists of any water that flows into any stream that eventually flows into any navigable stream.


i was referring to golf as a business, not a natural right. i really don't give a crap about golf nor managed trout fishing...but i don't see either of them going away any time soon. the priveledged (ie rich) will pay handsomely to have anything to themselves. it's inherently 'american'.

David Boones

The problem is, cinnamonriver, is that proving a stream is navigable is often very subjective. I know that some groups have fought Donny Beaver over this by floating animals down PA streams. Some of my favorite waters are small brookie streams that you could never get a kayak down. They're public now, but in 10 years I might have to throw a chicken in an inner tube to be able to prove that I have the right to fish there.

Chad Miller

In regards to stream access and navigability, this goes back to the formation of a state. Indiana became a state in 1816 and was given the soil and water rights from the federal government. Streams at that time that were used for commerce were designated as navigable. These streams were to be used for future interstate commerce. They of course did not foresee highways and automobiles.

Navigable is not a judgement call. If you can get a watercraft down a stream it doesn't mean it is designated as navigable. Only those that were designated as such by the federal government before we became a state. The law in Indiana is very clear. If the stream is navigable you can enter the stream and wade to the highwater mark, it is public. Non-navigable means you cannot walk on the creek bottom, the land owner owns the creek bottom. There is a state roster of streams that are navigable on our natural resource council website.

The reason I mention this is that I am confused by other states and their inability to define this. This was never a state issue but a federal issue. The law is very clear here and it rarely is an issue one way or the other.

I have one other question. Where is T. U. in all of this. From what I understand they are no longer in the land rights issue business. I understand they are going to stay neutral. What a mess this industry is in. Trout has been loved to death and the indusrty is headed down the wrong path. As a fly shop owner I am glad my business is diversified into other species in particular warmwater. Thousands of miles of rivers in Indiana and we have them all to ourselves. COOL!!!


I wish we all had river access like Montana.


go to the ocean, it's wide open...

Dan Fink

Colorado and Wyoming have some of the worst stream access laws in the USA. You can get arrested for dropping the anchor on your pontoon boat on a private stretch of river--even if it's legal for you to float down that river. At least the rest of the US doesn't have such stupid and crazy laws.

Some blame lays on the ranchers, most of whom don't fish....look up the Farm Bureau insurance company's position on stream access. I guess they are worried about the strange things hippy fly fishers might do to their cattle if access was allowed.....

Besides Colorado and Wyoming, I've fished this year in Arkansas, Michigan, Washington, Idaho....all these latter states have 'normal' stream access laws for anglers. If anglers or boaters cause a problem with litter, fires, etc, you simply call the cops on them! What's the big deal?

Field and Stream should both publish a definative list of fishing access laws for anglers state by state, and campaign to press the Federal stream access laws upon the backwards states (such as Colorado where I live, same with Kirk and Tim) that refuse to recognize them. It seems Trout Unlimited is not willing to do so anymore, or even to let their local chapters pursue the issue.


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