Pay to Play

89 comments / Posted on / by

Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

By Justin Pickett

Something a little different this morning…

I’d like to have a friendly discussion with you, our readers, about something that I’ve noticed popping up on social media more frequently than I can remember happening in recent past. Over the past few weeks, I’ve caught a handful of posts, either an article or a video, that showcases an angler grinning ear-to-ear while holding a slab of a rainbow or brown trout that he or she just caught on a private, “pay to play” piece of water. Good for them, right? Well, some of the comments that have been posted and shared in response to some of these photos and videos might lead you to think that these anglers have made a deal with the devil and forsaken all that is holy in the world of fly fishing. Now, I can certainly understand some of the negative feelings that some anglers might have towards privately held and stocked sections of water that often require deeper pockets in order to fish their kempt waters, if they allow access to the public at all.

There are all sorts of private, “pay to play” waters that exist across the country.

My home state. The Southeast. Throughout the Western states. Everywhere. And it’s not even limited to just trout fishing. There’s a small lake just down the road from my house that’s locally known for producing monster bass. You can fish there too as long as you can pony up $12,000 for the initial membership fee and monthly payments of $150. Places like these have been around for a long, long time, and there is no doubt they’ll be around as long as there is enough water for fish to swim.

I’m not writing this article as a way to call anyone out or “bash” these opinions in any way, nor do I think they are completely wrong. This isn’t about hurt feelings or defending anybody. I’m more curious about the rationale behind the reactions and opinions. The anglers that oppose private water, just like everyone else, are entitled to their own opinions and beliefs. I think we all would agree that there’s nothing quite like pulling a wild monster out of the depths of a public section of water. But what it all boils down to, I could care less how or where someone chooses to put a bend in their rod as long as it is done legally. Besides, we’re all in this for the enjoyment. Right? If that means all you’ll ever do is chase wild brook trout, Great! Or maybe you prefer pig pickin’ on private water, Great! Just have fun!

I would like to know what it is, that always seems to get a handful of anglers riled up at the sight of a big fish caught from a private section of stream or river.

No call outs. No reason to be up at arms. I want to hear what our readers’ opinions are. Is it the cost of access? The “pet fish” perception? Environmental issues? Is it because these fish aren’t wild so you see them as inferior? Give us a shout and share your thoughts!

A little disclosure… I am a guide in N. Georgia. I guide on both public and private waters. Yes, we have a lot of private water that I guide clients on frequently because that’s where they choose to fish. However, we also have tons more public water available to the angler wanting to tangle with our wild populations of trout.

Justin Pickett
Gink & Gasoline
Sign Up For Our Weekly Newsletter!

Follow Gink & Gasoline on Facebook:

89 thoughts on “Pay to Play

  1. Justin,

    Public, private, wild, or stocked, it all really boils down to the specific situation that makes a landed fish so special to each of us regardless of where it’s caught (and you generally need to have been there to fully grasp it, of which photos don’t always tell the full story). That’s the big picture that most anglers miss when they jump at the opportunity to spew negativity on this subject.

    I’ve had many days on private water that turned out much more technical and challenging for me in terms of fishing than I’ve had on public water, and vice versa. Every day on the water, with the dozens of living variables that take place forces the angler to overcome ever changing sets of obstacles.

    It’s not about where you caught it, it’s about how and what made that fish landed so special to you. I could write an essay on this subject, but I’ll leave it at that.

    Kent Klewein

    • You have to pay to fish Armstrong Spring Creek outside of Livingston, Montana, but, when you hear the fish giggle after the perfect presentation, of the perfect fly, doing a perfect drift, through the fish’s perfect feeding lane….well, while you know this is “pay to play”, you’d just like to play a little more. So paying doesn’t automatically mean much of anything.

  2. This is quite different from what I’m used to in New Zealand as people there are not permitted to lawfully own water bodies or fisheries. They could however charge for access, but that just doesn’t happen. So, as an outsider, it really does appear to be a jealousy thing. I think it is a case of people being ‘each to their own’.

  3. You fish the way YOU want to, and, nobody else counts. I don’t hear folks bemoaning someone using a guide, or an $800. rod, or going to a lodge, or driving 400 miles for a road trip. Or even like me, retired, and able to fish the Yellowstone area for four months every year. Get over it.

  4. We are fortunate in Michigan to have plenty of wild trout water, but there are still private fishing clubs and Resorts that cost a pretty penny to be a member. Whether you choose to chase native 8″ brook trout or hatchery pet fish that tip the scales in pounds rather than inches is a matter of personal choice. Some people would rather be a member and pay for exclusivity rather than bust through raspberry bushes to find a section of water that may not have seen a fly or hook in months or years, to each their own. I have fished and caught the hatchery brood stock and found that their verve for life is less than enthusiastic. I would rather hunt, stalk and outwit the average 10″ wild trout anyway… Tight Lines!

  5. I think Fred said it mostly right. No one seems to freak out if you hire a guide, go somewhere unaffordable, or can afford an $800 rod. I definitely agree that as long as there are no auxiliary effects on wild fish, who cares? I don’t think it’s about money, though.

    I do, however, see the “canned” fishing view too. Not all private water is the same. Some private water is managed for hogs only. They may even be artificially fed. It’s just like hunting at a game farm. You can’t tell me that you don’t think differently about that big elk picture your buddy shows you when she tells you that she shot it in a fenced area in Texas next to an automatic feeder. It’s canned and your buddy didn’t really earn it. It’s like printing out a degree but never going to college. Or, even worse, it’s like chumming carp!

    I think the real problem is the grip and grin. The most overplayed and boring photo ever! Stop taking grip and grins, and this whole thing is over.

    • I can understand the “canned” perspective. Haven’t previously heard it compared to fenced hunting but it definitely makes sense. I can say that the waters that I guide on are not fenced like some are, and we actually see a lot of fish that move in and out, even when the DNR stocks the main river for the delayed harvest season. Thanks for your comment!

    • 100% agree. Get rid of the hero grip and grin photos with the “hog” trout,then no problem.

      If a guy catches a 7″ brookie, we usually see a photo of the gorgeous fish. If the high school football coach catches a 5 pounder on the Soque we see a grinning photo of the angler and the fish becomes conquest rather than the object of our admiration.

  6. Private water is a malignant taint on sportsman access.
    Take for example Victory Ranch in Utah. Located on four miles of braided channel of the Provo River, this ranch offers golf and fishing for the 1%. It is a tail water fishery, and the dam above is paid for with state taxes. The state has stocked Kokanee right below VR, spending more tax dollars in this effort that benefits VR more than the public.
    Now, the Utah Stream Access Coalition is fighting a court battle with VR and the State of Utah for access to that water. Legislative and judicial precedence from the state and VR have effectively shut down access to over 2,700 miles of streambeds in Utah.
    So when I see some fat cat pulling a monster out of the private section on VR, or any private water, it puts me out. The cost of their play is more than monetary payment to a greedy, selfish group of corporate elitists, it’s taking from my pockets and the pockets of the majority of working class anglers and sportsmen who pay taxes for the benefits those pay to play anglers are reaping.
    If it’s some private pond or canal that’s been created to allow the lay-angler a chance to stick a trophy, they know as well as anyone else that it’s not really a trophy. They paid a pimp for a a hot afternoon of self-aggrandizing fun. It’s not sportman-like and it’s damn sure not on an even playing field.

    • Jack, as a fellow Utah resident and fly fisherman, I completely agree with your position regarding stream access. The Utah Legislature and our Governor decided to pass legislation that essentially prohibited historic stream access on private lands. Thank God for the Utah Stream Access Coalition and their pro bono lawyers for challenging this attempt to lock up a large amount of our streams for the benefit of a few. We can only hope (and support) their legal challenge to this affront.

      However, there are other private waters (e.g. Falcons Ledge in the Uintah Basin) where they have created a “pay to play” fishery within the confines of their property.

  7. For me it’s envy at work. There I said it
    I simply can’t afford the tariff to fish the “big name” pay venues. Thousands of dollars to (maybe) catch a fish is out of reach.
    But I buy a license each year, and am working on a backwater boat that began as a hand-me-down. I fish a few private ponds at suffrage, water not on my land and for which costs and taxes are paid by another.
    If one can manage it, so be it. I’m not gonna let anger or envy stop me.

  8. Agreed fish how you wanna fish. But the more public waters disappear, so will the numbers of young flyfisherman . Clubs have there place in my opinion , but they don’t lend themselves to development of an anglers skills . But for older men/women who it’s easier to walk around club water or a guy who works 60 hours a week who just wants to relax for a few hours on a weekend and have success I get it . But in an age of instant gratification I’m not sure club waters really help people fall in love with flyfishing , it’s just on to the next thing kinda deal .
    As far as the buisness end goes how many club guys do you know travel , buy a full line of rods and reels with appropriate lines plus luggage . I don’t know any , perhaps the industry should think about that .

  9. For me, there’s just something cringe-worthy about holding up a fat, ugly, rubbed fins, mutant stocker for a grip-and grin shot. They are relatively dumb and will eat anything, so the challenge is not there. They are regularly fed. Its just a very canned experience which is the antithesis of fly fishing. Can we also put an end to the “balance the fly rod on your shoulders” shot, or worse yet, the “hold my rod between my teeth shot.” So lame.

  10. I’m with you, Justin. You can’t say it’s like shooting fenced deer when those heavily pressured fish are just as or more finicky about taking flies as ones you would find on public waters. Fish how and where you want. Just fish legally. And have a great time!

  11. Everyone has a different budget, style etc. Of course there’s different opinions out there. If you do what you enjoy and feel is right, it doesn’t matter what others do or say. Quick example: my cousin would rather get skunked than fish with a guide. Says guides are like going to Disney World. I like getting a guide for new water and want to learn from an expert. Neither one of us is right. It’s preference. Spending money on gear, guides, private water or trips is about preference and opportunity. Enjoy what you do and the rest doesn’t matter.

  12. People fishing is always better than people not fishing. Hopefully those folks writing big checks for dues and rod fees on private water or lodge/guide fees also buy a few licenses and write a few checks to support conservation on public waters.

  13. I don’t think people are being honest in these comments. Private water begets more private water. THAT’S what’s got people feeling unsettled. When does it stop? We need to see the trend go the other way. MORE PUBLIC WATER! Better laws so that EVERYONE can fish rivers and streams.

    Sure private water has always been around, but public access is getting harder and harder to find.

  14. Well, I’m sure some of my fishing brethren voted for the current Government. As near as I can tell, this collection of rulers (including conservative State Governments like Utah) is all for private everything and against public anything. Take a look in the mirror the next time you see a “PRIVATE” sign across your path.

    • I get your inference, but I think voting strictly party line for fishing is a bad idea. Let’s not fill the country with illegal immigrants to save the fish. Lets support causes and organizations for fish habitat and public access.

  15. I fish SE both public & private waters. Retired but can’t go blue lining for leg and back issues, so stuck with stockers or private venues. Private waters is definitely a luxury for me and do enjoy a chance to catch a monster fish. Can say one thing, it’s not easy to catch them. You still got to fish hard. Ain’t a gimme. Public waters last few years have been disappointing. Stocking has been poor, over crowding on streams, lack of access to much of streams and major poaching issues. Would like to see more public waters open up. Have to travel 3 hrs plus to trout fish so try to make it productive. Lot of overhead costs. So a day trip to Private waters makes since to me. Have considered using a guide to improve my game. Still looking into that. Basically don’t have problem with how or where people fish. It’s more accessible than hunting now.

  16. Not a fan of fishing private waters in general but for me, it’s just gets TOO phony when they feed the fish to produce “trophies” for their sports.

    • You don’t get trophies in SE unless their protected. Once DH over bait fishers will clean out a stream in no time. Sad, but true. Private waters have terrible time with poaching. Have their streams lined with trail cams. So they feed the fish to ensure they survive. Glad they do.

  17. It’s a slide toward the European model. The majority of people in Europe have no understanding of the hunting and fishing lifestyle because these are activities of the wealthy few. Charging money to hunt and fish turns wildlife into a commodity which encourages others to cash in also.

  18. A complicated issue for sure. Get out and fish, that’s what I care about,. Not where or how. The issue that concerns me is stewardship. When private water becomes business, decisions are made which affect the ecosystem and the wild fish therein. Pay to play outfits here in GA routinely stock fish without a permit. (Not that the sate of GA should be trusted to make good choices either, unfortunately.) When I heard that a GA outfitter had stocked big tiger trout (notoriously predatory) in a stream full of six inch wild fish, it made my blood boil. That’s what a friend of mine calls, “Doing God’s work.” It’s unethical, short sighted and illegal.

  19. Wow, lots of opinions already on this. There’s nothing wrong with it in my personal opinion. I do a lot of upland bird hunting and the way I see it spending some money to fish private waters is no different than paying to lease a nice patch of pasture ground in Kansas to chase some quail. Oh sure you’re the only one hunting them but that doesn’t make it to much easier. You’ve still got to have good dogs to find them and be a good shot to shoot them. Just like in private water you’ve still got to fish with the right flies, in the right spot, at the right time. I see why some would be upset with it but fish is a fish is a fish.

  20. “Pay to Play” violates the spirit of sport fishing. Pretending otherwise is pure denial. The very existence of such canned fisheries is proof enough.

  21. i think there are varying grades of “Pay to play”

    1.) A stretch of larger, mostly public water where the money is used for habitat creation and restoration etc, where the fish are basically no different than any fish in the public stretches
    2.) The ‘rod and gun club’ fisheries, where the waterway can be essentially man made, the fish are bred on site or nearby, are artificially fed, and cannot migrate out of the area. A Club (with INSANE member fee) near me is exactly this, and that is what they advertise.

    Option 1 I’m fine with (though Ideally I’d like to keep water public).
    Option 2 I don’t like as much. Sure its fun, but are you really being challenged or learning anything other than fresh fat ass stockers will hit hooks with tan yarn on it all day?

    the artificial fisheries seem to just take the “sport” aspect out of it. It’s kind of like going to a field where the owner trucks out loads of clipped wing roosters each season and feeds them in the same spot so he can cart people out there in a 4 wheeler to blast away at them.

    I think comparing to guide trips/lodges is a false equivalence. Typically you hire a guide or a lodge to help put you on fish with their knowledge and specialized gear, but they aren’t artificially inflating your chances of success by altering the fishing environment or population. Guide/Client is a team relationship, Private Club Owner/Client is a Producer/Consumer relationship

  22. We get riled up because we’ve always championed the idea that nature is free. If everyone wants to start paying a fee before they look at the mountain, hike up the canyon, or catch the big fish out of the river, then by all means, keep supporting the pay to plays, and one day nothing will be free, and fishing will be an economic situation privilege. Its ironic to me that guides, including the writer (Justin), feel justified guiding on private waters, but I also fell there is a gigantic difference between a private lake, and a private portion of a free flowing stream.

  23. “Pay to Play”…. If the water is truly private and in no way, shape or form reliant on tax payer dollars then more power to them. One can then make an independent decision whether or not to fish them.

    Here in Missouri we are having problems with interpretation of the law, much like in Virginia with the whole “Crown Grants” BS. How can the government, State or Federal allow private land owners to own a river bed? Unfathomable.

    I really like what the Wisconsin DNR has done with the driftless area leasing out land access to what is defined as public water. It is a model that I would like to see used throughout the United States in greater numbers.

  24. Fences divide. Fishing should unite, not untie.

    For the last ten years or more, fly fishing has been trending toward being more inclusive and accessible, and private waters indirectly contribute to the retro-perception of exclusivity and elitism.

    It’s all about balance, and right now many people are understandably feeling a bit off-kilter.

  25. All fishing in this country is “pay to play”
    If you want to fish for wild fish on a public stream you have to buy a license to play
    If you choose to fish in a national forest you have to buy a forest permit to play
    If you choose to catch hatchery fish on state managed water you have to buy a trout stamp to play
    All legal fisherman are “pay to play”. Some choose to play more.
    The beef shouldn’t be with fee fisheries, it should be with privatizing public water for the sake of charging a fee. If a stretch of water has always been private and the owner chooses to “open it” by charging a fee how is that so bad. In fact wouldn’t that make everyone who owns fishable water who never opens it at any price even worse? I say let the energy be focused on preventing water from being privatized, don’t hate on someone getting a return on his property. The government gets a return on it’s fisheries.

  26. Hey, folks, just to remind you that the new person who has oversight over the EPA (Mr. Oklahoma politician) has sued the EPA 14 times to allow such things as the dumping of coal slag into trout streams. Thanks y’all as he might say.

  27. I don’t care about the grip n grin photos being taken with big fish on private water. I care that private water exists in America. It’s one thing to create a pond or lake on private property and charge what you like, it’s another to buy a stretch of river and deny access(depending on the state) then charge a fee to fish it.

    The idea of owning a river or stream is beyond me. It was here before us and should still be here after we are gone. It should belong to all of us.

    Is it land of the free, or land of the free to do what you’re told?

    • Here in NY, if you own land on both sides of a river, you also own the rights to the stream bed, and the thus the water flowing over it. This gives you the right to deny access or charge money. The DSR on the Salmon River now turns a serious profit from a man-made fishery created with public tax dollars (Lake Ontario salmon and steelhead). That doesn’t seem right.

        • I was told years ago that this stretch of river was purchased by someone in the state legislature and he was able to establish this monopoly. It had previously been a run-down farm. NY river laws are pretty complicated–I’ve seen lots of people over the years on the Delaware (East, West, Main) who think they can keep people away from or even off their riverside property.

          • Yes. Former NYS senator Hugh Barclay leases land from one side of the Salmon River in order to run the DSR. One day fees have climbed from $10 to a max 0f $75 per day in the peak of salmon season. The entire fishery is a product of taxpayer money.

  28. I’m reminded of a quote by John Gierach regarding “pay-for-play” fishing (I paraphrase): “You’re not buying trout. You’re just renting time on a stream that happens to have trout in it”.

  29. I personally fish both and for different reasons. What I appreciate about a pay to play fishery is that they are usually meticulously maintained and set up for the experience of the fisherman. Just this past weekend I had the pleasure of taking my 75 year old dad (lifetime big game offshore fisherman) to some private trout waters and put him on slabs. He never knew trout could fight like that and get that big, an EXPERIENCE neither of us will forget.

    The other benefit is these are often easier to access than some public waters and you know what to expect. As in my case I knew there were several spots I could put my dad in with ease (double knee replacements) and not worry about his safety. These types of areas are also great for programs like Project Healing Waters to put people on quality fish and get and opportunity to ingest this drug!

  30. The increase in negative comments appearing in all social media platforms is alarming. These social media “warriors” seem to be growing in number and boldness. It’s hard to pinpoint the root of this type of behavior. When I see something I don’t like or agree with I just keep on scrolling. If I see it often enough then I simply just unfollow. The old saying, “If you don’t have anything good to say…” would certainly help a lot these days.

    The Pay to Play fishing issue is complex, and frankly I don’t care where someone chooses to fish so long as it’s legal. Our looming challenge is that private interests are looking to monetize a public commodity (fish and wildlife). The more popular these private fishing clubs become the more the private sector will look to expand that industry. I think as an angling community we need to advocate for public access and wild fish whenever possible, and in the meantime keep your finger off the post button when you have a negative, snarky comment.

    • Maybe what’s negative and/or snarky to you is meaningful to someone else. Even negative or naive comments might hold a grain of brilliance. Just because something isn’t “good” for you doesn’t make it “bad” for everyone.

  31. While I don’t agree that public water turned private is OK, what disturbs me more is public water being taken over by guides. I understand that people need to make a living. That being said, my home water is the Deckers area of the South Platte in Colorado. If you have to fish on weekends you need to get there before daylight in order to find a place to fish. Not long ago one run I usually fish (about a quarter mile stretch) had 2 guides and 10 clients. It was obvious that this was their first time fly fishing but they all ponied up $200 to $300 each for a half day of pissing me off. I guess what I’m getting at is that our sport, just like any other sporting event or concert or entertainment, is being either squeezed out by people who don’t understand or care why we do it or priced out of the average person’s comfort level.

  32. If you have the money to pay to play so be it. Many of us either choose not to go that route or can’t pay the sometimes steep prices. I’ve used guides in several western and eastern states and almost without exception happy when I do so.

    My concerns right now which is not a direct answer to your question. We are about to loose a lot of our western public lands to states that have no intention or resources to maintain them. They will be sold to cronies or the highest bidder. You want to talk about pay to play then…you’d better have some deep pockets.

  33. I see both sides, as I’ve fished both private and public in my short fly fishing career. What boils my blood is the friend that consistently fishes private, stocked water, and implies that he’s a better fisherman because he lands slabs every time.

    I joked the last time I came home striking out on public water, and he had multiple pics of 20″+ Rainbows, that it must be fun catching fish that have names. “I haven’t caught Walter in a couple of trips, sure hope he’s up for a fight today!”

    I think it all comes down to ego. If you play a private golf course (aside from it possibly being in nicer condition) you rarely shoot a better score. Tennis is played the same whether you’re at a public court or Flushing Meadows….but fishing private water usually means more fish, bigger fish, and less competition, thus usually increasing the odds significantly of landing a trophy.

  34. I think Fred has it down. We will continue to see more private land because public land has a diminishing legislative voice. Cries of “less government” mask a tipping of our state and federal resources toward moneyed interests that can afford to restrict access. That said, there’s also the landowner who wants to get some return on his investment/taxes and so he makes a deal to allow limited access. I can understand this guy’s situation, but not the fishermen who support the people who will undermine their ability to access fishing and hunting.

  35. The problem with “pay to play” fisheries is that they can give an angler a false perception of how well we are protecting our environment. If you fish areas that have fed fish and there are tons of them and they are really big, of course your going to assume we are doing a great job protecting our environment and there is nothing wrong. But when you have to fish public land that is overpopulated and rivers that are being environmentally destroyed, it’s tough to catch fish and you realize that we are doing a terrible protecting our waters. Often times those that fish the “pay to play” areas are the wealthy and have a great influence on environmental protection or destruction. If the Trump’s of this world had to fish and hunt the same land as everyone else perhaps more money and effort would be put into protecting our waters.

  36. When someone takes my public water and makes part of it private–that really angers me. I could care less where anyone fishes. I don’t care if they pay to fish for lunkers, etc. That is none of my business. Where I live there is a guy renting land along public creeks and posting it to allow only paying members. Water I fished since I was a little boy. Now that pisses me off.

  37. I have had the privilege to fish 2 “private” stretches of water. Both had a number of 20+” fish. I caught enough to make me happy and want to go again some time. In both instances I was fishing with 3 older guys with lots of experience (and money) who wanted the privacy and a target rich environment.

    I also have the opportunity to fish a couple of public rivers that have healthy populations of wild and wise fish. While the occasional 20″er may exist they are pretty rare but its just as satisfying to me to fish these waters without a guide and with flies I tied.

    I guess I think they are apples and oranges. Both scenarios are lots of fun. I hope I get to experience both of them for a long time to come.

  38. In Oregon all rivers and streams that are navigable are public. You can pull over your watercraft onto any shore. All of the the coastline is public, a law put in by a Republican governor. Back before there were may roads you could and still can drive on the beach. I believe these are part of the commonwealth as much as the air we breathe.
    This is why I don’t buy farmed fish. Because of the profit incentive to get rid of competing wild fish. Eliminating the competition is how profiteers control us. Not a problem for the ones in control or if you don’t know or mind being controlled. I hear that there are no more wild salmon in Ireland. That is ashamed. I love the uncontrolled wild. It is a constant battle just to keep the last little bit that remains.
    So that’s why I have strong feelings against private “pay to play ” fishing areas.

  39. Here in central PA we are limited access to local streams because a club owner from Spruce Creek PA leases every peice of private property he can get his hands on….. you can be apart of his club if you have 80,000.00 dollars laying around a year you don’t know what to do with…. it’s becoming a play ground for the rich around here…. our kids can’t enjoy life the way we had it growing up in the small local creeks… no wander why they find their way into drugs and other bad stuff….. this in my opinion is why the world is the way it is…

  40. Its an interesting debate, one we are more or less insulated from here in Australia, where rivers and public reservoir/dams are all public waters. So we just don’t have the same conflicts. There are plenty of private fisheries, but they are almost all private dam fisheries, avoiding any conflict between anglers who fish public of private waters. There are businesses who charge to access public waters from private property, but they aren’t all that common and the fishery is still public. So you can access it if you want, its probably just really hard to get there via public entry points, so the businesses are providing a useful service that most are more than happy to pay for (plus giving those landholders incentives to be stewards of the waters that run through their properties, which can only be a good thing). So again, there really isn’t a conflict. It really isn’t a debate that really exists here.

    I can see how management of sections of “public” rivers (rivers where public money goes into the fishery via habitat works, stocking, water allocation or other management actions) as private fisheries could annoy people and how that could in the long run undermine other public waters, by changing management and access norms. Especially in cases where the mangers of those private fisheries are feeding or stocking fish which may have much wider ecological effects that extend well outside of the private section of river… I can definitely say that I would be strongly against any moves to allow operations like that in Australia.

    End of the day though, those are management issues, not angler issues. They are solved via regulations and management. If those fisheries exist and people enjoy fishing them, I really don’t think that warrants personal abuse.


  41. As a newbie to fly fishing 4 years ago I was lucky enough to go and fish with guides who “taught” me how to cast a fly and catch trout. We never kept a single fish, but I learned “how to”. A new guy learning something is like a child learning to want to fish. If you catch nothing they lose interest and give the sport away. I was lucky enough to learn how to fish with a great guide, who was very sympathetic to my poor skills and understood that I wanted to learn a sport. Everything in life costs money, college, advanced degrees, etc. Catching fish is important to learning fly fishing, not all of us are lucky enough to grow up around wild water capable of giving the thrill. I have a lake on my farm that I spent thousands of dollars so I could entice my grandchildren the love of fishing. If a child catches no fish they become bored quickly, but a 3 oz bream, or a GIANT 1 1/2 lb bass makes them so ready to visit grandpa and immediately grab the poles. Have you ever seen the smile on a grandbabies face? Beauty has no limits here. Guess what happens in the future, they become part of the economy that buys flies, fly rods, leaders, and tippet to explore the world beyond this simple farm pond. I am an old guy who worked all his life, took up fly fishing, and have been “hooked” because of the wonderful guides who take inexperienced old guys to places to have fun and learn a new life. Thank you Kent, and Louis, and Dell, I love you all for making me feel like a child again.

  42. Seems to me like we’re all part of the problem and there is no good solution. Ideally, govt and private owners should be able to trust us to respect the rules of good conservation so that resources are available to everyone. That said, I’ve seen plenty of people dunking worms to catch all the trout out of the blue ribbon sections of streams and no one there to enforce the rules. Is the best answer to make that land private? I don’t think so, but I don’t think anything I say will convince someone else to trust our govt and I don’t think I can be convinced that it’s better for someone to buy all the land around a river and charge me a fortune to fish there.

    Personally, I think we’d all be better off if everyone took at least one trip to see an unspoiled, back-country wilderness in person OR fished the driftless to see the stepovers private owners put in for the public.

  43. I didn’t realize that fly fishing was about pursuing fed, domestic fish on private water. It’s one thing to protect and charge for fishing a wild system on you private land, it’s another to stock large fish and artificially feed them in order to create an unnatural fishery for “sports”. Who needs wild fish and public water?

  44. I don’t mind landowners charging for access to the water even if it’s publicly managed water. I grew up in MT, the majority of fishable rivers and lakes had private land along it’s banks at some point. Many of the landowners would let you access the river or lake for a modest fee, some would even let you access it for free. Plus, there were other places were public access was available. Montana also had some favorable stream access laws, but I digress… I learned in that environment that you could either walk and wade to get to the water you wanted to fish, or you could pay for a shortcut. Good public access is there, you just might need to walk one run further than the next guy. Google maps is your friend. Find the water you want to fish, then you can figure out how to get there… Just stay safe and stay legal.

    Here to me are the issues. IF the “Pay to Play” operation is allotted public funds for improvements to an entirely private section of water (I.E. public funds used to stock a completely private lake or public funds to restore habitat on a private section of water…..), or if the “pay to play” operation creates a situation where they “Improve” their area at the detriment of the surrounding public water. Like Louis’s example of illegal stocking. Illegal stocking is something that seriously irritates me, and it can be detrimental to fisheries

  45. I also live in North Ga. while most of my fishing is for wild trout on public lands, I don’t have a problem with the private trophy sections of streams here. For one here in North Ga it seems like most of the guided trips around here are on the private trophy streams, so I think they help keep guides working down here year round. I think the main reason a lot of people bash them is cause they just don’t want to pay the money to fish them. For example around here a lot of the same people who bash the privative trophy waters love to fish Dukes and sure Dukes creek is a lot cheaper (just the parking fee) but in terms of the fish it’s the same thing as the private streams those fish can’t all get that big in that small a stream without being managed properly.

  46. For me it seems to take the thrill of the (hunt if you will out of it) i have chased trout from california to new himpshire. Though i think it’s fine for pay to play fishing access it’s definitely not for me,it seems like paying for a beautiful woman’s company rather than putting in the work

  47. My take on this is more simple minded. The more people who have the disposable income to pay to fish private waters, the less people there are where I fish on public waters stalking wild and native trout.That is a positive to me!

    • My concern is we are reaching a point where, if the states have their way, there will not be any public water. Utah and Idaho are leading the charge.

      • Agree, Many states are trying to sell public lands as is congress and the current administration. Publicly owned lands is a uniquely American concept. Let’s keep them for fishing and hunting access.

  48. It’s interesting to me to see that a lot of the comments here that are accepting of the idea of private waters focus on the experience of the individual angler doing the fishing (“Both scenarios are lots of fun…”). Another poster mentioned that the only downside to private stretches of stream is a longer hike (apparently assuming every state has wet-feet rules: they don’t). As if we’re little islands who can get by in life without a connection to or help from anybody else.

    What if every single road you had to travel on to get to that private water was a toll road? If there was no radio to listen to because the spectrum was all sold off to private interests? What if you had to stock your truck full of enough bottled water for the entire trip because the were no public water systems, and had to bring a nice big container to relieve yourself in because every gas station restroom along the way had a coin slot on the door?

    Water is literally the thing that connects us all; that brings nutrients created from the sun and soil high up in the mountains to the sea (and back again in the form of anadromous fish running back up the system). The conservation efforts of the people upstream — maybe in a different state — might be the only reason your little pay-to-play stretch can even support the fish you chase.

    So, yeah; I don’t care of some farmer wants to stock his pond with bass and charge people. But I want anglers who pay to fish private stretches of rivers and streams, or property owners who restrict access to them, to feel a little bit dirty and ashamed. Because everything’s not all about just me, right now.

    Otherwise, what’s to stop everything good and beautiful in this miraculous country from being sold off to the highest bidder? What’s to ensure that my kids and my neighbor’s kids, or grandkids, will live in a world where fishing isn’t just this thing that only exists for rich people or in old stories their grandad tells?

  49. I haven’t had the chance to fish any private water technically. But I would question that even public water is a pay to play scenario. In AK you don’t necessarily pay to fish but you do pay to park in order to get somewhere to fish. There is a lot of public water but there is a fair amount of private land on the rivers here that are accessible by road. My take is I think we all pay to play in some form or other. Those who choose to fish and pay more do so at their own decision to fish a particular stretch of water. Those of us who don’t want the exorbitant fees we fish other water. Bottom line is go fish and do it the way you want to. Don’t judge someone else for their preferences and don’t worry what someone else thinks. Any money put into fishing in some way shape or form benefits all of us.

  50. I am more than pleased to see the amount of comments everyone has provided! Thank you all! Of course, there will always be a wide range of opinions. Some great points were brought up for both “pro” and “anti” private water fishermen. While I do guide on private water, and even recently spent a few hours on a private section of water after receiving an invite from an amazing couple that lives on one of our local rivers, I too wish 100% of our waters were accessible, wild, free flowing streams and rivers. However, the reality of it is that it will likely never be that way. And with the way things are threatening, it may be a good thing that some anglers do hold land along trout streams…otherwise it could be the state’s one day with access offered to no one, regardless of the paper in your wallet. You just never know what that sneaky government is up to. In my honest opinion, it will never bother me how someone chooses to fish as long as it is legal and ethical. Just go out and have fun and learn. Step away from the chaos of the daily grind and recharge your batteries. Spend time on the water with friends and family. Take your kids, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren fishing with you and get them excited about fishing. It shouldn’t be stressful in the least, nor should anyone have to worry about getting harassed because of where they fish. Wild or stocked. Rivers or lakes. Fresh or salt. We’re all fishermen and fisherwomen just looking for that next tug. Keep it fishy everybody, and thanks again for following G&G! We couldn’t do this without our readers!!!

  51. No, No, No, Hell No! This privatization of our American waters is continuing to grow and only caters to the rich. And it’s growing exponentially. We better fight for open waters and open federal lands, or we’re gonna lose it!

  52. When a private club makes money off of public fish that state hatcheries stock there is a problem. On Lake Erie Tributary streams in Pa this is happening. When the club or a guide service make a deal with the landowner marginalizing the State easement money there is a problem. When this approach starts spreading there is a problem. Sirs we have a problem.

  53. Yet again Kent states it first and correctly!

    As a guide I see both sides. For those who hate public water I invite and I’ll change your opinion of it.

    For those who hate private water and perceive it to be just a manufactured angling paradise with stupid fish who hit anything I challenge to come to my area in the late summer /early fall when the water is low and clear and no rain in months and challenge you to catch one of these stockers.

    Its all good. Kent is right again

  54. The ones that irritate me the most are the ones that post and lease land to private clubs to fish publicly stocked fish! This happens in Great Lakes tributaries for migratory Steelhead. If a land owner has problems with fisherman abusing his property I understand them posting it. However it should then be off limits to fish for everyone! Those who have money should not benefit from our publicly stocked fish above those whose license fees paid for the fish. This has happened on the nicest stretches of our waters.

  55. I disagree, and I don’t think it’s about envy. Think of England – the princes and rock stars fish for trout, the middle class fishes for tench and roach. When a fly shop negotiates for private access that it can rents to its clients, this encourages more landowners to rent out rights. This cuts the non-wealthy public off from more water. I live in Wisconsin and fish mostly here and Michigan, largely because of the good access laws. When I go west, it’s Montana -also good laws. I skip Colorado and Wyoming – bad laws. I have a friend who hired a guide in Colorado and caught some huge rainbows (couldn’t anchor the boat or wade of course) and asked the guide about the forage base. The guide explained that the landowner have machines that shoot pellets into the water. As libertarian free market thinking destroys things like access to health care, it is also causing a move to privatize public lands. If you want to see this happen, vote right wing. If you want to see more landowners lock up and rent out their land, pay to play. If you want to support the American tradition of sport fishing for all, . . . well, I think you know what to do.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Captcha loading...