Fishermen are set to clash with ranchers
July 22, 2008
Anglers are catching 20-inch trout where they haven’t fished in a decade since the Utah Supreme Court decided they could walk on riverbeds on private land.
Where the beds are considered private property, "the public has the right to touch privately owned beds of state waters in ways incidental to all recreational rights provided for in the easement," the 10-page Supreme Court opinion issued July 18 states.
The decision stems from a case that involved a group of rafters in Morgan County who were charged with trespassing for standing in the Weber River near the Summit County line. The Conatser family was fishing when they encountered a fence stretched across the river by landowners trying to keep people out.
The ruling could heighten the tension between ranchers and fishermen.
"Hopefully, everybody can get along," said Chad Jaques, the owner of Trout Bum 2, a Snyderville Basin fly shop.
The decision pleased many anglers, he said.
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"They feel like they are fishing somewhere where no one has been fishing for quite some time," Jaques said.
But fishermen shouldn’t taunt landowners, he warned.
"I’m worried that you’re going to upset someone so much that you’re going to have a physical altercation," Jaques said. "These are people who do not want you there."
Wanship resident Mark Robertson owns land on the Weber River and understands the desire to keep people off private streambeds.
"There comes a point where the river is impassable, so the only way they will be able to continue on up is to walk through your property," Robertson said.
His land is about a mile from the dam at Rockport State Park.
"I understand how the guys really want to have the opportunity to fish, but there comes a point where saturation is just hard to deal with," Robertson said. "I don’t have a problem with the guys walking up through the river, but you don’t want to over-fish that area and you don’t want to over-saturate that area."
Trespassers leave behind used toilet paper and other messes, said Wanship resident Vern Williams, whose property also abuts the Weber River.
"Everybody has to poop and they don’t poop in the river," Williams said. "These people aren’t able to stay in the river banks and like to get out and stomp your fences. They think they can just go do what they want and throw their garbage wherever they want."
He doesn’t "own a fishing pole and I don’t like fish," Williams said.
"No one wants to walk up a rocky riverbed that I can see," he said. "It’s a whole lot easier to climb a fence and walk along that grassy area to get to your favorite fishing hole."
A landowner in Henefer has also tried to keep people off his riverbed, Henefer Mayor Randy Ovard said.
"That’s going to affect him dramatically because he’s not going to be able to go down there and throw people out of the river if they are standing in the water," Ovard said about the opinion from the court. "To me it gives an advantage to fishermen to be able to walk through a stream and not have to worry about being caught for trespassing."
But fishermen are split on the issue, Jaques stressed.
"Some would like to have their backyards as private steams Even a little creek that is only about a foot wide is now legal to walk up," the store owner said. "There are a lot of issues that all the sudden have been opened wide up."
The Supreme Court opinion states that: "In addition to the enumerated rights of floating, hunting, and fishing, the public may engage in any lawful activity that utilizes the water."
"In many cases, touching the water’s bed is reasonably necessary for the effective enjoyment of those activities," the decision states. "Swimming and wading, for example, are lawful activities that utilize the water but cannot be effectively enjoyed without touching the water’s bed."