Fly Fishing Depends on Public Land Access

In the past year the importance of public lands access has become a hot topic across the western United States. As a citizen of the United States, these are your waters and your lands. In a state such as Colorado, the majority of fly fishing for trout occurs on publicly owned and accessible waters. These federally managed, publicly owned lands and waters are the lifeblood of not only the trout that anglers cherish. But, also are crucial to the overall health of the environment and all wildlife of the Rocky Mountains. Politics aside, it simply makes sense for anglers to support the continued access to our rivers and lakes.

In Colorado, only a small percentage of state-owned land is actually accessible to anglers and all private waters are off limits to those without permission. Due to Colorado’s stream access laws, which deem the river bottom as private property wherever a river flows through private land. Legally accessed public waters are all the more important here.

Just on the Colorado River alone, without access to areas like the Pumphouse, Radium, and State Bridge BLM areas along with several downstream boat ramps and camping areas. Anglers, boaters, and campers would lose the ability to use nearly fifty miles of the river. Additionally, businesses like outfitters, fishing guides, fly shops, whitewater rafting companies and concessionaires would suffer greatly. Also think of the hiking, backcountry skiing and mountain biking opportunities that would be lost in Eagle County, Colorado alone. The Eagle Valley is also home to the world famous ski resorts of Vail and Beaver Creek who lease federal public lands for their ski operations. The rest of western Colorado is no different and the entire Rocky Mountain region of the United States also depends on these lands for recreation and a healthy economy.

At Vail Valley Anglers we do the majority of  our fishing and guiding on public lands and waters.

There’s also a good chance the fisheries themselves would suffer if access to these areas were taken away. Keep in mind that many of our most important native and threatened trout species rely on habitat refuges that occur almost exclusively on these public lands. Native brook trout in National Forest streams in the Appalachian Mountains, Cutthroat Trout in the lakes of Colorado’s Flattops Wilderness area, Bull Trout in Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness, and Wild Steelhead in Coastal Alaska’s National Forests are only a few of these examples. Without the protection these remote areas offer these species, angling opportunities would disappear.

Because the states are mandated to manage their own wildlife resources, including fisheries, without ample access and opportunity, angler participation would drop immensely, which would reduce fishing license sales which would further reduce the funding necessary for a state like Colorado to properly manage trout fisheries for the best angling experience possible. Many of the state’s best destination fly fishing streams like the Colorado River, Arkansas River, the North Platte River, the Gunnison River, and more flow through significant portions of publicly owned federal lands. It’s often been said “They aren’t making any more trout streams”. Simply put, this land is our land and what he have is a limited resource so anglers need to value and protect the access to and quality of the fisheries we currently enjoy.

There’s no question that private waters and limited access provide some excellent fly fishing, especially for larger than average trout. These private areas also provide a buffer against excessive angling pressure and private water can provide an outstanding experience for many anglers. However, without ample public access, the average angler would lose out. The amount of quality fly fishing that occurs on public water is what most anglers enjoy day in and day out. Whether it is an extended backcountry camping and fly fishing expedition into a wilderness area or a two hour session after work on your local river, public lands and waters provide most anglers the best possible outdoors experience.

The number one reason why outdoorsmen such as hunters and anglers stop participating in outdoor activities is not having a good place to recreate. Without somewhere to fish, people will simply stop fishing. Without continued recruitment of young and new anglers our sport will suffer and become marginalized. Anglers need public lands and waters to promote fly fishing as a worthwhile, healthy outdoor activity and trout need habitat in which to thrive. It’s part of our fly fishing heritage. Everyone wins with continued access to our public lands.

Brody Henderson, Guide and Content Writer