Thursday, June 14, 2012

Pot, meet Kettle.

I have a special inventory of bile reserved for private land owners who reserve public waterways for their own use. It's especially vile when they chase off, sue, and otherwise harass those who have a legal right to be on the water. As a wild trout angler, I also find the stocking and feeding of large trout puzzling and sort of not the point.

So when I received an invitation recently to fish such waters, I immediately accepted.

I didn't even take the time to rationalize this decision, it's pure hypocrisy. But the fish are rumored to be big and dumb so that's gotta account for something, doesn't it?

This club is ancient by U.S. standards having been founded in the late 19th century. It's name would not be recognizable to the lay person and nary a peep about it can be found in Google. There's no website. There are no fishing reports ("The fishing today was the same as yesterday, excellent!). The roster of members (I expect wealthy types) cannot be found anywhere. All very discreet in a gentrified sort of way. And the fishing....

I fished the Connetquot Hatchery River a few years ago before it got shut down for whirling disease. The river ran past the hatchery, on the grounds of a former Long Island fish and game club, and they stocked the hell out of it. I hear they're stocking it again though not nearly at the levels of before. Schools of large fish prowled the pools and you stopped counting after you caught fifty fish, which was usually before lunch.It was a Disney experience for trout anglers. This club is sort of like that too.

The club is on a small river. It's about ten feet wide at most points and is classic riffle-run-pool structure though I assume some of the natural structure has been "augmented" or at least maintained. The property is well posted and while you can't float this tiny river I'm reasonably certain that wading it from upstream or downstream would technically be legal. However, their gamekeeper would sick the law upon you and you'd need a good lawyer and a pile of cash to win your day in court.

The club has dozens of beats of Browns, Rainbows and Tigers fed every other day with a hearty diet of pellets. There were six other anglers on a mile of water; a busy day according to the game keeper.

The fishing was very good though my host apologized for it being so poor. In the space of three hours of fishing I hooked at least two dozen fish landing half. The small ones taped out at fourteen inches and the large end being eighteen plus with two hogs broken off. Great fun on a four weight rod.

What's ironic about this stream being managed as Disney is it's also rumored to be a good wild trout stream. Plenty of cold water. Plenty of bugs. But for some, that's not enough which I guess is the point.

I am conflicted by fishing this river.On the one hand this club's limited membership appears to be better stewards of the river than most landowners, especially homeowners. There are great riparian buffers. Access to the river is limited to certain locations to maintain stream banks. The area remains well forested providing good cover from the sun's warming rays. Heck, the quality of the river downstream is likely enhanced by this organization's stewardship.

But is it right?

Should I care?

I'd have to go look up the land records to confirm my suspicions that the club holds no title to the river despite their postings. But let's say for a moment they don't and some court case prevailed upon them to open their waters to anyone who wades in. So now the entire business model of the club collapses and they sell of to a developer so a crop of new homes can appear along the banks with bright green grass mowed straight down to the river bank.

Would we really have won anything?

Tricky stuff, but I'm moving on. It was nice to visit Disney, but I'm returning to my home waters. There's still this trout that lives three trees up from the dead one and I haven't caught him yet.


  1. Excellent commentary!!! It is a conundrum.

  2. Those are our only options? Either it's private or it's lined with homes?

    I don't think even you believe that, Z.

    1. All the downstream water is state owned so there's no development. All the upstream water, well the upstream water between the club and the sand and gravel quarry, is two acre lots with cookie cutter homes with green grass right to the water's edge. So, I suppose there could be another future there, especially given the quality of the economy, but sooner or later simple economics takes over.

    2. I guess I was speaking more generally - not about that river specifically. I just don't like to see folks "justify" the rampant privatization of waters by arguing that it's either that or kiss it good bye. (I'm not saying that's what you think...I just thought it MIGHT have been what you were saying.)

    3. I understand. In the town the club is in there's lots of development so the outlook on a couple hundred acres of available land would be dire. In my town we've been pretty successful at turning private land into public space through grants, etc. though that's an indirect result of GE polluting the Housy. They set-up a fund for this sort of thing as part of the court settlement. So perhaps not all pollution is bad.....

    4. Luckily, your blog description warned me ahead of time to be ready for some sarcasm.

  3. I have been in situations similar requiring me to know the law. Growing up with state land, a wild trout stream, bass pond, and FI sound all within sight of my back yard, I became well versed in angling laws. The more I knew, the better I thought my chances were of landing fish. In Ct., low tide line to high tide line is public domain. Except if measured on federal (51%)(Amtrak land) you can walk anywhere on a Ct shoreline! All streams/rivers that empty into the sound are navigable waters up to a dam or bridge, making many shoreline streams in fact saltwater territory.. and aside from rt1/I95 local designations, year-round fisheries. Carrying a fishing rod in state parks grants you 24hr access. And most importantly... and how it is written, getting me out of a 1992 lawsuit; you can own the land on both sides of a stream, but not the stream itself. I went fishing the next day. Be carefully not to make a scene, fishing is spiritual, right? Let the landowner/local cop make the scene. Don't get out of the water! It is your right to request supervisors presence at any time. DEEP officers know these laws, not local townies. Fish on! Its actually fun pretending to have an iPod on while troutfishing in march while getting yelled at. If they disturb you..... they are the ones breaking the law harassing a licenced sportsman. If they throw rocks, throw lead back!

    1. The finer points of water law are often lost on local law enforcement especially when you start talking about federal rights vs state's rights. It will be interesting to see how the Virginia case on this subject comes out. Civil lawsuits against anglers are en effective deterrent to wandering about unless you have deep pockets. A loss in Virginia will certainly embolden river owner pretenders.

  4. The Connetquot is 35 minutes from my house and I used to hit it very hard starting February 1st until the stripers showed up.

    I had mixed feelings about it. On the one hand it was an artificial fishery, holding ridiculous trout in ridiculous concentrations. And you had to pay to fish it in four hour segments. On the other hand that money went to fund a beautiful state park nestled in the midst of suburban sprawl. When they opened it up to cull the river after the IPN (Infectious Pancreatic Necrosis) outbreak, and it quickly became a meatfest. A river like that not managed like that would become a barren stream in such a densely populated area. Was it "real" fishing? I don't know. In any event I refused to nymph there because, come on, do you really need a strike indicator in that setting?

    But I'm harping on a minor mention in your post.

    1. Our TU chapter used to make a run there once a year. It was a great spot to bring new anglers. The phrase "stupid good fishing" comes to mind.

  5. It's important to have a special inventory of bile, no matter the length of the trout.

    I fished that LI river with you years ago. It reminded me of those buffoons who hunt "trophy game" in small pens. The only difference is that we get to leave with consciences marginally cleansed by virtue of the fact that we put the animals back in the pen.