Fly Fishing Only for the Rich and Famous?

Your access rights, as an angler, to streams and rivers can be quite different depending on where you live in the world. In the United States it’s varies from state to state and in Europe each country.

In England much of the water is private, which means paying every time you go fishing – from a westerner’s view in the United States this seems absurd yet in Colorado we have arrived at the same situation on many rivers. Landowners can keep you from fishing sections of a river that runs through their land making that section totally private – no fishing at any cost. In Colorado, you supposedly have rights to float a river and get out on the bank or in the water but evidently a number of landowners and sheriffs in Colorado currently believe that the public only has the right to navigate on the surface of the water. This means that even if you follow the law you may still get turned away or harassed because local sheriffs and landowners decide to interpret the law differently than how it is written. Other landowners offer fishing for a fee like in England which is generally too expensive for the average angler.

Montana’s state laws seem reasonable in that you can fish a river or stream up to the high water mark. This means from a public access point you can walk up and down the river or float it freely in your boat. New problems; however, have reared their ugly head recently in Montana such as landowners fencing off public access points making it difficult for anglers to get to the water. You have access rights, but yet you don’t, or at least you have them but at the risk of ripping a nice hole in your waders and putting a painful gash in your leg as you climb over the barbed wire fence.

On Wyoming’s North Platte River if you anchor or step out of your boat in the wrong spot – watch out! The local landowner may be taking a picture of you with his telephoto lens and emailing it to the sheriff. End result, when you take out at the end of the day the sheriff is there handing you a hefty ticket for trespassing!

Likewise, in New Mexico, on the San Juan River you can float through private property but you can’t anchor or get out of the boat.

Where is this all going? Is it just a matter of our population growing too fast creating an unmanageable load on our rivers and streams?. Will fly fishing be available only for the rich and famous?

Share with us the situations you face in your local area and let us know your thoughts on what you think reasonable water rights should be.

3 Responses to Fly Fishing Only for the Rich and Famous?
  1. Fly Guide Network
    January 25, 2008 | 4:17 pm

    Colorado does have some weird regulations. I once got permission from a land owner on one side of the Big Thompson to fish, the owner on the other side, however, decided to throw rocks into the river where we were casting… Since the river was the property line, they each had rights to the middle of the river.

    And, yes, you can float the river legally, but my understanding is that once you set foot in the river bed you are trespassing. It’s really a shame. And, you’re right, it’s not clear or equally enforced everywhere in the state.

  2. earl johnson
    March 6, 2008 | 10:42 am

    This whole issue about water rights and private property, “Keep Out” mentally has been around for centuries. We all know this individual, we deal with him/her on a daily basis, whether its in the office or next to a stream. I’ve seen people gobble up land in Gunnison, Co area and the first thing they do is post the property. He’s got his little piece of Colorado and he’s not going to share it with anyone!!

    Its going to take an effort by people, landowners and anglers to create an understanding, a situation if you will, that would allow anglers to access property with a fee, knowing that the fee is going back into the stream to promote fishing. This type of coordinated effort needs to be publized and promoted so others will participate.

    I agree with the Montana law, it makes it easy to understand and to abide by. It does away with the question of whether or not the river is navigable.

  3. Carey Edwards
    November 4, 2008 | 2:02 pm

    I live in Washington and fish in Oregon, Washington, and Oregon. None of these states have a really good guideline to follow about what water is accessible. I believe that any water that is navigable, by foot or boat, should be legal to access.

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