Land Privatization

Where does private land stop and public fishing waters begin?

Land Privitization

Key Facts:

  • Although the Montana Stream Access law gives anglers the right to use rivers and streams for water-related recreation, it does not allow them to enter posted lands bordering those streams or to cross private lands to gain access to streams. Many other stream access laws are similar to Montana's.
  • Many stream privatization laws are based off of high-water marks. According to the Montana Stream Access law, the ordinary high-water mark means the line that water impresses on land by covering it for sufficient periods to cause physical characteristics that distinguish the area below the line from the area above it.

From beaches to riverbanks, there is a new wave of access problems facing our nation’s anglers.

Concerning both fishing and hunting, this issue is perhaps most vital in the great trout state of Montana ( Sportsmen are combating a continuing campaign by a bloc of legislators that would privatize many thousands of acres through re-defining the high-water marks and changing public versus private boundaries.

But the battle doesn’t stop at defining high-water marks. Montanans constantly have to fight against the farming community, as legislation has been introduced that would define any body of water with irrigation equipment on it as a “ditch,” and therefore off-limits to anglers. Luckily the fishing community helped kill this bill, as rivers like the Big Hole, Bitterroot and Yellowstone could be interpreted as ditches.

But this issue does not end in the Big Sky State. Other battleground states include Utah (, Virginia (, and Pennsylvania (

More and more attempts to increase private land may threaten access to waters that are public domain. Kayak-anglers may not be able to cruise through a specific area at high tide and wade anglers might be cut off from getting to their public fishing spot. This attempted landowner grab will re-occur as a small number tries endlessly to take over public property and limit citizens’ access.