Tuesday, March 20, 2012

"You can't fish this. This is my property, I am fishing it today."

I ran across a recent post from Joe at Big Sky Anglers about a some interactions he has had with a "prick" of a land owner who built a vacation home on the upper Madison River. Joe describes a specific encounter:

The home owner who erected the sign above is a newcomer to the river, one of those guys who has arrived to the valley in the last 10 years. He reigns from Colorado, where the laws are different from that of Montana. The slick in front of his house was renamed Prick Slick, because of how this guy treats anglers who walk the bank (below the high water mark).  In fact, I was there the night this name was conjured up and it was  a result of how this guy treated us as we snuck by the pool full of rising trout that he was fishing to.  No, we didn’t spook the fish or fish to them, in fact, we gave the guy a wide berth and didn’t fish 100 yards above or below him – even though he called us various names and threaten us, all because we were on “his land”.
The Big Hole River at Brown's Bridge during some of the high flows of 2012. photo courtesy of Stonefly Inn

Joe goes on to explain how it is good river etiquette "to give an angler ample room as to not spook the area he/she is fishing...sometimes called 'high banking'. Walking 20-30 feet off the bank, keeping a low profile, just get around another angler is good etiquette. Some folks call this trespassing; others call it an unwritten rule of the river."

This post struck a chord with me and reminded me of an encounter I had with a "land owner" on the Big Hole about a mile upstream of Browne's Bridge this past summer. I have been fly fishing four trout for more than 3 years now. Certainly not a long time, but, between field work and angling time, I have spent my fair share of time on the water. My fly fishing mentors schooled me in the ways of the river. I subscribe to the same school of good river etiquette as Joe. How to respect the land, the fish, and our fellow fisherman. In Montana, we are lucky enough to have a recreation-friendly stream access law. An access law that allows the public to use rivers and streams for recreational purposes up to the ordinary high-water mark. But, some land owners (in-state and out-of-state) don't seem to have a clear grasp of the stream access law or practices in good river etiquette.

It was late August or early September 2012. I was fishing the east side of the Big Hole upstream of Browne's Bridge. Bucko was working the river from the west bank. With an extremely high runoff earlier that spring (...and summer), the high water mark was well above the high bank. As I progressed upstream, tossing streamers to some unwilling browns on a blue bird day, I noticed a fisherman working some rising fish from the inside bend. Not wanting to "high bank" him, I followed an established path (that was still below the high water mark) a good 30 to 40 feet away from the bank to move upstream.

As I walked the foot path, I heard a shout. "Hey, this is my property," the man yelled. I walked over to the bank to talk to him. From the opposite side of the river, he shouted "You can't fish this section today. This is my property, I am fishing it today." He continued to pontificate about his version of the Montana stream access law, telling me that I was breaking it. I was comfortable in my assessment of the high water mark. He told me that my only option was to walk downstream and stop fishing "his" section. I tried to explain my actions and let him know that I was within my rights to access this section of the river. But, reasoning with this California vacation home owner was a lost cause.

Good river etiquette was thrown out of the window. Words weren't going to communicate my point. I let my actions speak and showed him the alternative to me walking an established legal path along the opposite bank. Even with the "gentleman" across the bank, I crossed the Big Hole 5 feet below the water he was fishing. The fish stopped feeding. I walked up his side of the bank. I crowded him so as to "stay within the high water mark." After walking about a quarter mile upstream, I looked back. He was talking with his friend and pointing in my general direction. Was he going to call FWP? If only I was that lucky. The fishing was no good that day. I was game for a chaperoned discussion with a FWP officer and that "good sir."

Here is a google map depiction of the Big Hole incident.

View The Big Hole Incident in a larger map

Let me know what you think. Was I in the right? the wrong? or the grayest of areas?


BillyP said...

I've had some interactions with the Prick of the Slick. I've also nailed some nice fish in that hole! I think you made your point nicely. If you want a beat to yourself, buy a day on Armstrong's. I also have a few similar stories, like the lady on the Smith who yelled at me for anchoring in front of her house to land a fish.

GeeRam said...

As a Coloradoan I can only dream of Montana's access laws.

Far far worse here with an absurd amount of our water reserved for private property owners.

Shame as fisherman we can no longer talk to each other and work out fair ways to share the water.

Alex Metcalf said...

As satisfying as it may be to have a confrontational interaction with some of these folks, I've found over the long-haul it is far more productive to kill them with kindness and find a way to interact with them professionally and off the water. Are you part of a local fish club? Have the group do some outreach to stream-side landowners asking them what problems they have experienced on their land and do some work to try to mitigate/prevent/educate. Give them some info on the stream access law (so they're aware you ARE allowed to be there), but emphasize that you want to prevent conflict/litter/damage/crowding. Landowners with uber control problems have usually had a bad interaction with a recreationist/trespasser or simply don't know the rules. A little good faith and outreach can go a long way. Just my $.02!

DarkoV said...

As a concerned "outside" observer & totally clueless on the Right of Way as far as fly-fishing goes, I can only hope, Sir, that your eyes and mind are sharp enough to detect if such River Idiots are packing light artillery before making your valid point. The long term outlook principle should reign here; another day on the river is more preferable than not another day, ever.

Right, Ivan?

BTW...as a licensed angler can't you guys report these yahoos to the FWP for being threatening to your fly-fishing environment?

The Bum said...

This type of thing happens all the time here in the Ozarks on our smallmouth and trout streams. We have the same stream access law in Missouri and Arkansas as Montana but it doesn't stop numerous encounters with stupid landowners. I could go on and on about the morons we have encountered wade fishing and even in my drift boat. Priceless...

Anthony said...

Owning riverfront property doesn't make someone God, and it certainly doesn't give them the right to threaten me or my personal property. As long as I am within the confines of the law. I wish they would all go back to California and take that dipshit mentality with them.

Jimbo said...

You need to work on your tossin' tactics. That'd solve your problem.

Fred Telleen said...

It's a touchy subject and I've handled encounters in a confrontational way and with good natured discussion. I must concur with Alex that most often, kindness usually wins the day. We all just want to have a great time on the water and catch fish.

joe said...

Thanks for posting this Ivan. There are in fact, too many stories of Prick Slick incounters....this guy has been reported to FWP - countless times. Killing him with kindness never worked...we tried and all he did was spout his BS of trespassing. These types of folks need to keep their opinoins above the high water mark.

Sanders said...

the guy sounds like a real asshole, too bad he doesn't seem to understand the law. Do you know anyone at the FWP that could give this guy a call :-)

Anonymous said...

Someday through productivity you'll own land too, hopefully some beautiful stream bearing pieces. Until then don't hate on your land-owning brothers. It smacks of class envy, a liberal Obama tool used to destroy our great country. Of course it's the normal high water mark. Please, just respect our privacy above that mark. Good fishing!

Anonymous said...

Thank you to the previous post. The only one I truly agree with. I understand the law, but some things aren't about the law. What about respecting someones privacy in their back yard. Yea, yea, so theres some water there and the law says, blah, blah, blah... What about common curtesy to the landowner as well?

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