Private land

Discussion in 'Fly Fishing Forum' started by wbugger, Jul 19, 2013.

  1. Ok...can anyone tell me what the law is regarding private land on rivers in the state of WA? Can you own the land right up to the water or is there some sort of easement allowed?

    I will often park at a public access and fish along the river as far as I can...just want to make sure I'm not violating property owners rights...thanks.
  2. First of all, it depends on whether the river in question is considered "navigable."

    On navigable rivers, adjacent property owners own land to the river's bank. Usually the "high water mark."

    On creeks, smaller streams and many "non-navigable" rivers (some of which are actually still navigable by paddle craft, drift boat, or raft), the property owner owns to the center of the stream bed, if their property is only on one side of the river. If the property owner owns land on both sides, then they own the entire stream bed. They don't own the water, though, so if you can float on thru without touching bottom, you're probably good.

    So you have to know what "navigable" means, and if it applies to your particular situation.
  3. how do you know if a specific river is considered "navigable"? Also, what about rivers that you are able to float for part of year but they drop to a point where you can longer navigate them?
  4. I was heavily involved in this matter. First of all, you have Federal rights that applies to all States:

    It explains quite well what your rights are and where you can and can not wade.

    The Supreme Court has upheld these rights many, many times. The rivers are considered the same as a highway because in the old days, that is exactly what they were. Land owners could not stop someone from using the waterways anymore than a land owner can stop you from using a freeway that is adjacent to their land.

    I'm not sure of Washington State and their laws but as far as the feds are concerned, you have river rights as per the article. I have a feeling they are similar to the laws in Oregon.

    In Oregon, we have gone to battle a number of times with land owners and in each case, the land owners have lost. It makes no difference if their deeds were written in error... if they think they bought the river along with the land, they are mistaken and that is their problem.

    Now, you MUST legally enter the waterway before your rights kick in. You can not cross private land without permission to gain access to a waterway.
    Tacoma Red likes this.
  5. And there are places such as the small river that flows at the end of my back yard in the small private community I live in where each property deed has a covenant clause providing a 50' easement from the water's edge for fishermen access. Thus, it is legal for fishermen to walk the bank to fish or go around obstructions when fishing. They just cannot park in my driveway, or walk up my driveway and the rest of my yard to get to the river. They must access the river from the WDFW public access 200 yrds downstream of my house, or at the public access site upstream near the hwy bridge.

    I'm willing to bet that there are folks who live in this community that have never bothered to read their deed and see that there is that 50' easement from the water's edge for fishermen to access and use the river. It doesn't change the fact that it is included in each property owner's deed whose property borders the river. So if someone takes the time to find out about this little easement, he could challenge a property owner who says he is trespassing and would win in court because the easement is an ironclad permission in the legal deed to the property for fishermen to walk on the property up to 50' from the water's edge.

    I'm sure there are many other places that have the same easement included in the deeds of the property owners.
  6. I was one of the founders of a group that eventually became these folks. Unfortunately, they've moved their current info to Face Book and I'm not keen on FB so I don't go there. However, there is still good info on the old site in regards to both State and Federal rights. I pretty sure Washington State has the same river rights in their State Constitution.

    Regardless, the Federal Trust includes all States.

    The conflict between land owners and river users is an ongoing battle. The land owners believe they own the river and the river bottom. As they are the ones with the big money the subject will continually come up. In Oregon, we are diligent in watching for new state legislation that attacks our river rights and it does pop up from time to time.
    Kent Lufkin likes this.
  7. Same going on in Montana as well... and has been thoroughly discussed on many threads. Still, I love this topic as it keeps the focus on an issue that I too am active as I support the public's right to access our nations treasured resources. All of us "little people" should care about the growing trend of traditionally public lands being closed off by those who believe they are the new kings and queens.

    While in Montana the last two weeks and fishing the Ruby with my brother, I took the opportunity to swing by Seyler Lane and piss on Cox-Kennedy's fence post... a rather childish act I admit, but it made me feel much better. I made sure I was turned away from the closed circuit camera system... stage fright ya know ;).
    cuponoodle breakfast and Builder like this.
  8. As I understand it, a Sheriff has no idea if the land owner owns the land or not, so if someone yells "trespassing" it is technology a "citizen's arrest" and enforcement can not be held responsible if it turns out the guy doesn't really own the land.

    This is how they avoid "false citations" so you can't sue the Sheriff's Dept (I checked).

    Most of the DAs in Oregon are aware of the Attorney General's opinion(we sent them all copies) on river rights and adhere to that opinion. They don't bring charges against you if you are within your river rights. It's an easy way out for them to point to the State AG opinion instead of going to court.

    The biggest issue the land owners tried to use as a reason to remove river rights in Oregon was due to litter. That is normally their excuse for attacking river users. Thing is, there are already laws against littering in just about every State so if they want to report someone as littering, they are justified to do so. However, this gives them no valid reason to restrict Federal and State river rights.

    Regardless, this is a good reason to pick up any trash you find below the high water mark.

    Respect the land owner's property and avoid entering the area above the high water mark at all costs. Do not give them a reason to freak out because farmers and ranchers are the guys who belong to organizations with the big bucks and they usually have a politician in their pocket.
    Jim Wallace likes this.
  9. I'm not sure why someone with big bucks doesn't challenge that Colorado law. It goes against the grain of the Federal river rights.
  10. Same with Wyoming.
    They tried with the WY law and got shot down.
  11. I think CO and WY can do it because they don't prohibit floating, just setting foot, or anchor, on private land. What has always struck me as odd is how a landowner can get so pissy about someone floating or walking down the stream along their property in the first place. No matter what they believe, the river is not their living room, or legally their property.
  12. No pissing and moaning allowed...take action on this and join organizations like Public Lands and Water Access (PLWA). No kings, queens and fiefdoms here thank you.
  13. Let me get this straight. You pissed on a man's possession while it was on his property!
    Well...there's a giant step backwards in landowner/fisherman relations.
    At least you could have had the cajones to show 'em your face...
  14. so you left your DNA behind....
    smc likes this.

  15. Actually, I suspect that the Game Department PAID for that easement years ago. They need to post the rules on the access site. There are many rivers in this state where the Fish and Wildlife Department has allowed to fall in disuse and therefore lots of property owners that do NOT realize the restrictions on their property and the right of public access.....which the public bought and paid for years ago.
  16. I am also puzzled as to why they don't challenge the state laws. As you will note in the link I gave, kayakers were successfully prosecuted for touching the bottom on the Colorado River. There is no advocate for the public.....
  17. So when kayaker touch the bottom of the Colorado River, which is private land, what is the penalty for the damage they must cause?

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