There's been a discussion on FAOL recently
on private waters and pay for play fishing.
The article which started the discussion is
from the New York Times and has to do
with a private club, "Spring Ridge on 125 acres
at the confluence of the Little Juniata River
and Spruce Creek, [Pa]. More important for its
members, the club leases almost 10 miles of
trout-fishing waters, with "beats," or sections
of river, on Spruce Creek, the Little Juniata,
Yellow and Penns Creeks and Warriors Mark Run."
The opinions were mixed, and some quite unhappy.
I thought a bit of history might be in order.
The idea of private ownership of property is
actually quite new. For many centuries the
'upper class' the noble and their entourage
owned all the property. The whole country
was owned by the King. Kings 'gave' out
pieces of property to those noblemen who
supported them. The noblemen allowed lesser
people to live on the property, farm it, serve
as servants, or as members of their court.
Life was pretty good if you were at the top
of the heap. If you weren't it was pretty
bleak. Some domesticated animals were kept,
cows, horses, pigs, chickens, ducks and so
forth. However, all game (and fish) belonged
to the nobleman on whose land they existed.
The King of course laid claim to all of those
too, but allowed the Lord of the manor to hunt
them, or have his gamekeeper hunt them for the
Lord's table. There were river keepers way
back when, and they and the gamekeepers were
probably what we would call game wardens now.
They couldn't arrest a violator, but the Sheriff
was brought in and justice was administered.
(Or what passed for the Lords idea of justice.)
Enter Robin Hood. You already know that story...
People were hungry. Depending on the country
and who the King in power was, the plight of
the surf (those not of the noble class) could
be very bad. People poached fish, game, whatever
they could find to eat. In some countries it
could be worse than starving, the punishment
Fast forward to the settling of the New World! America!
No more noble class. No kings. No Lord of the
Manor owning all the land and everything on it,
including the people.
While all the other reasons for fleeing to
America were certainly valid, the one which
bares on our discussion here is the right to
own property. The 'common man' could own a
piece of land! HIS LAND. To do with whatever
the owner pleased. He could farm it, grow
things, cut the forest, plant other things,
build a house, a farm, develop a trade and a
business - anything he could achieve on his own
- or with the help of friends or family. Groups
did get together and built communities, business,
a whole successful culture.
Amazingly property could be transferred. You
could sell your property and buy another one -
And the overriding concept was it was YOUR property.
You could choose to keep people off, or allow them
to come in.
As this country grew and expanded, land which
was 'new' - that is not yet owned by anyone was
'government' land. Parcels of this land were
given away for free simply for going there
and living on it. Some land-grants required
'improving' the land. Claims for mining property
required certain work to be preformed, and the
'proof' of the claim be shown. For the most part,
the early grants stayed in the families for a
good many years.
Water rights for those properties varied a
great deal. Mostly depending on how plentiful
water was. Scarcity required management for
watering stock, growing crops and development
of communities. It should be pretty obvious
that these water rights were very well tied to the
ownership of the land.
As commerce developed, people who made large
fortunes bought more property. Built homes,
summer homes, hunting and fishing camps and
expanded their holdings. Water rights usually
went right along with the deeds to the land.
Many of the very rich were hunters and fishermen.
Fly fishers. They developed their waters, enhanced
the fisheries, and managed the waters carefully.
After all, it was part of their investment. The
value was not lost to them. And they had a certain
image to uphold!
Fast forward again to Henry Ford and the automobile.
Travel had been by horse, train, stagecoach
and not many common people were traveling to
fish. If they fished it was local and on
either their own water, or 'public' water
set aside by the State.
With the advent of cheap travel, a car, people
did travel. Maybe not what we consider travel
today, but the common man went fishing, camping,
hiking...to the beach, to the lake - anywhere
his Ford would take him. Quite often the family
outing or vacation (a new concept to the common
man) was to a church camp, or a commercial camp
with rustic building, these could be anywhere,
but often on lakes. Again, private property.
The idea of "national parks" didn't happen until
Teddy Roosevelt's administration.
If you want to dissect a little further, those
early travel and church camps were no more or
less than what we today call pay to play. You
paid for the privilege to stay there and to fish
the waters. Some places offered boats to rent,
or launching ramps for those who owned their own
boats. They did usually charge boat rental or
a fee to use the ramps.
Fly fishing as we know it really did not become
'popular' with the common man until after World
War II. Yes, there were folks who fly fished,
but usually the wealthy who had the leisure
time and money to spend.
Enter Men in Tights (well at least waders).
But the returning GI, wanted more. Many took
advantage of the GI Bill and obtained a good
education. They found good jobs, built homes,
raised families and had the leisure time and
money to pursue other interests. Fly fishing,
ownership of property on fishing waters was
all part of the good life.
It was the returning WWII vets who designed,
built and used the first fiberglass fly rods,
it was their generation who started conservation
organizations like Trout Unlimited, Ducks
Unlimited, the Nature Conservancy and others.
It was also this generation who conceived
the idea of catch and release.
Of all those who lived before us, in my mind
the "greatest generation" as Tom Brocaw so
aptly calls them, left us the greatest legacy.
It is their work and sweat which has provided
us with the fisheries we have. The laws which
protect our waters and fish did not exist
before they interceded.
I am immensely grateful to all those who
have worked so hard.
Sure there are problems, and there probably
always will be. We don't live in a perfect
world. Pollution needs to be stopped and
cleaned up. Zoning is needed to provide
green belts on any development which could
impact our watersheds. Verifiable limits
are needed for ocean and near shore
commercial fishing - slot limits and/or no
kill restrictions need to be imposed in many
places. More public access is needed, as
are more trained conservation officers (fish
cops) - the list may be endless.
Putting everything in perspective, the ownership
of 'private water' is probably the least of our
concerns. The history of private waters will
out-live any of us, and the choice of those
owning private waters is to use them however
they see fit. If the conditions and fishing
are lousy they won't have any takers. If the
conditions and fishing are great, does not
Conversely, how many times have we seen
public waters terribly mismanaged by state
or federal government? Perhaps local
management, with a vested interest, does
a better job?
Before you get your shorts in a twist, it
might serve you well to take a look at how
we got here, and what happens when we are
gone. There is more than one side to the story. ~ DLB
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