Property rights & wrongs
In 1961 when my hunting career began, I could hunt from my house in any direction. Crossing property lines was not an issue. I respected the rules that applied when hunting land that I did not own.
We ate what we killed. We were celebrated for stocking the freezer with venison. Even gray squirrels kept their distance when I was toting the single barrel 16 gauge. The outdoor world was working just fine.
Today, if you are beginning your outdoor career you have a tough hill to climb. The majority of your neighbors don't want you walking on their property much less hunting. If you have the poor sense to carry a gun beyond your home base, they will call the cops!
Fishing access, given our country's vast water resources that are publicly owned, is not facing any critical shortage yet. That could change if our nation gets really thirsty or irrigation for food takes priority over bass season.
In Northwestern Pennsylvania, recent clashes between landowners and steelhead anglers are creating some smoke that could lead to a future fire.
Lake Erie steelhead fishing, because of its uniqueness, is a prime example of what I am talking about. You can catch a bluegill or bass just about anywhere. On the other hand, you can catch a 10 pound steelhead in only a handful of tributary waters of the Great Lakes and a few west coast rivers. That fact has a tendency to crowd the playing field with participants, strain resources and make fishing access very valuable.
Let's cut to the chase. On Elk Creek near Erie Pennsylvania, Joe Angler has miles of public water to fish. He is happy with his lot in life; however, there also exists 10 times more stream miles in private hands. Not all, but the majority of private landowners have adopted one of two options for fishing access: you must pay to fish or you leave the fish alone, no fishing.
The off-shoot of "pay to fish" is a small number of professional guides who lease prime water and charge an arm and a boot to spend the day fishing their lease. The "keep out" option is a public relations nightmare by creating dangerous confrontations between landowners and camouflage clad anglers who can't read.
God bless the private landowners who look past our shortcomings and permit us to fish on their land.
Less we forget, the fish belongs to the public. Born, reared, fed and stocked by volunteers and public officials spending public money. This put and take fishery is okay most of the time, except when the "fish-catching" is sold for big bucks to Joe Angler's rich cousin casting on a private lease! Many a beer has been guzzled at the Avonia tavern while anglers try to think of a way to keep those public fish in public water, or come up with legal means to force private landowners to give up their property rights. After a night of serious thought and drinking, none of Joe's ideas make any sense when he sobers up the next day.
Believer me, I have no solution. I am worried about politicians thinking their way through this "catch-22". When is more government ever a good strategy?
Get ready! Another bunch of public fish are gathering for the annual run up Lake Erie's public and private streams. I plan to fish the public water and forget about the ones that get past me and end up on the private property! I suggest you do the same.