Access

Reclaiming Access to Utah’s Public Waters

A Proposal to the Utah State Legislators

            Did you know that since the passing of House Bill 141 in 2010, every citizen in the state of Utah has been restricted access to 2,700 miles of public rivers and streams that flow through the state of Utah? I belong to a group of fishermen that are concerned about the passing of House Bill 141. This House Bill restricts us from recreating on rivers and streams that flow through private land. To put it in perspective, 2,700 miles is equivalent to a river running from the Utah State Capitol steps to the Northern most tip of Alaska. A quote that also put it in perspective for me is, “Wild places are fast disappearing. If we’re not vigilant now in preserving it, we’re going to look up one day and realize all the wild places are gone” (Durrant). To the community of fishermen, and myself included this is a very significant issue. We as a community of fishermen do not want to sit idly by until all public access to rivers and streams are restricted. With the passing of House Bill 141 our “wild places are fast disappearing” as Durrant writes. I understand this issue is not going to be solved overnight or even years. Furthermore, this issue is even more complex because of the two groups involved. Private landowners and fishermen both have rights that need to be protected throughout the process.

From my research of local online fishing forums, social media groups, and face to face conversations with local fishermen. The passing of House Bill 141 in 2010 is unacceptable and needs to be changed. In addition, my research shows that Idaho’s State Statute Title 36 passed in 1976 is the most widely accepted by Utah fishermen as a resolution we could live by, and one we feel is equal to both sides of the issue. Originally, Article 17, Water Rights, Section 1 of the Utah State Constitution written in 1896 protected the rights of Utah water users up until 2010 when House Bill 141 was passed. With the passing of House Bill, 141 Utah’s Water rights were tipped drastically in the private landowner’s favor.  Continues court battles between private land owners and public are not the answer. Utah State Legislators must protect the State Constitution, and provide a resolution that is far too all those involved. I’m afraid, if no resolution is made the faith, and trust outdoorsman have in you will be lost.

Currently, House Bill 141 only allows fishermen to fish while they are floating on the river or stream. They cannot touch the river bed unless it is incidental to safety, i.e. crossing fences or going around dangers along the river or stream So how are we going to change this? First of all, we need to have House Bill 141 either amended or taken out completely. This, of course, would take some work, and help from all those involved. Unfortunately, I believe that private land owners would be hesitant in wanting House Bill 141 changed as it is currently to their benefit. As a landowner myself, I can see why they would be hesitant. In my opinion, the private land owners don’t want to restrict access but feel they must restrict access to protect their land. Admittedly, there are fishermen or outdoor enthusiast that are disrespectful, and give all others a black eye in the eyes of private land owners. Kris Olsen president of the Utah Stream Access Coalition once said, “We’re just trying to seek a lasting balance, such as Idaho has, that balances the private property rights of the landowner, and the rights of the public to access their public resource if they access it in a responsible manner” (Durrant).

Prior to 2010, Utah’s water access laws were similar to Idaho’s compromise made in 1976. To Summarize, Idaho’s State Statute Title 36 allows fisherman to fish along rivers and streams that flow through private land as long as they stay within the high-water mark of the river or stream. Furthermore, access has to be by public right of way or with permission of a private land owner. As you can see this is pretty different from Utah’s House Bill 141 which only allows fishing on private property if you are floating on the river or stream.

Private land owners, and outdoorsman both hold equal rights to this valuable resource. For example, in 1896 when Utah was seeking for statehood, there was a constitution written. In this constitution, our water rights were addressed in Article 17 “Water Rights” Section 1, which reads “All existing rights to the use of any of the waters in this State, for any useful or beneficial purpose, are hereby recognized and confirmed.” Granted, this article could be interpreted in many different ways and manipulated into what someone wants it to say. To me, it’s pretty self-explanatory. First I’d like to analyze “any of the waters” in this article. I interpret this to mean just as it says “any” water in the State of Utah, even if this water passes over private land, it is still the State of Utah’s water. We as citizens of Utah have a right to that water “for any useful or beneficial purpose.” So, what is a “useful or beneficial purpose?” Again, this can be interpreted in many different ways. First, what is the use of these waters? This can be anything from water to drink, to growing or harvesting food, and even transportation of goods. Furthermore, these waters are used to water livestock as most private land owners do with the water that flows through their land. There are too many uses to describe here, but I think you get the idea.

Second, what are the benefits of the state’s water? As a fisherman, I, of course, think of fishing. Fishing in the state of Utah dates back centuries as Native American Tribes used this resource for food. Furthermore, when the Mormon Pioneers settled here in 1847, they as well used this resource for food. It was a great benefit to the Mormon settlers, and local Native American Tribes. Currently, fishermen use these waters for those same purposes. A lot of fishermen take home their catch to eat with their families. Another benefit is how using these waters bring families together. I’m sure you have, at some time in your life, gone boating or swimming in a lake, river or stream with friends or family. Again, there are too many benefits to list here.

State Legislators must find a compromise but are not alone. For example, there are organizations in the state of Utah that are at your beckon call ready, and willing to do whatever it takes to resolve this issue. For example, the Utah Chapter of Trout Unlimited is a boots on the ground organization that organizes many service projects to help the Utah Department of Wildlife Resources. They help to restore habitat and native trout species. Currently, this organization is helping restore the native Bonneville Cutthroat Trout to Mill Creek in the Salt Lake Valley. The reason for the work is “During the time period of early development in the Salt Lake Valley, all of the small and large streams that drain the Wasatch Mountains on the east side of Salt Lake City became the sole source of much-needed water and food for the new communities.  Many of these streams were quickly dewatered to produce agricultural crops and the native trout, the Bonneville cutthroat trout, experienced heavy overfishing because they provided a provisional food source in times of need.” As you can see, Trout Unlimited is your partner in bringing back what once was, and still is a valuable resource if we work together. As well as a resource for bridging the misperception gap between private landowners and fishermen.

Furthermore, this issue has been through numerous court battles since House Bill 141 was passed in 2010. As recent as this year, this Bill was found unconstitutional by, “Judge Derek Pullan of Utah’s 4th District Court ruled in favor the public’s right to lawfully access and recreate on ALL of Utah’s public rivers and streams.” As stated on the Utah Stream Access Coalition blog. Unfortunately, this ruling was overturned by the Utah Supreme Court in February 2016. Clearly, you can see this has some merit to be looked into even closer. I challenge you to start the process now! To have this House Bill removed or changed to where equal rights are given to ALL those involved in this issue. You have the power, and the resources to resolve this issue, and bring equality to all citizens of this great State not just the privileged. I’m asking you to stand up now, and do what is right! Of course, protect the rights of all those involved, and up hold the Constitution of the State of Utah.  My hope is to take my children, and their children fishing, and not be restricted to where we can or cannot fish. In brief, please take the time to look into this issue, and take it into your heart, and see why this is an important issue to the outdoorsman in Utah.

In conclusion, I understand this may not seem like a pressing issue to some, but is one that affects everyone, and needs to be changed. I would like to express to you my appreciation for taking the time to read this. I understand I’m not as educated on this topic as probably you are, but I’m very passionate about it. Like I wrote above “Wild places are fast disappearing. If we’re not vigilant now in preserving it, we’re going to look up one day and realize all the wild places are gone” (Durrant). I feel that if we don’t work now to get this issue resolved, it will only result in the issue growing larger and harder to come to some type of compromise. I want to protect the rights of everyone involved, as well as I’m sure you do also.

 Work Cited

Burrnet Paul, “Restoring living history, the Bonneville cutthroat trout, in Mill Creek, UT”, Trout Unlimited            Blog, 06 March, 2015. Web. 30 July. 2016

Idaho State Legislators, Idaho Statute Title 36 Fish and Game, Chapter 16. 1976. Web. 26 July. 2016

Durrant Spencer, “Energy development greed threatens Utah fishing”, Standard Examiner Newspaper,        20 May, 2015 Web. 26 July. 2016

Utah State Legislators, House Bill 141 “Public Waters Access Act” 2010. Web, 27 July. 2016

Utah State Constitution, Article 17, Water Rights, Section 1. 1896. Web. 29 July. 2016

Utah Stream Access Coalition Board of Directors, Access Restored, Utah Stream Access Coalition Blob, 5               November 2015. Web. 30 July. 2016

September

In 2012 the Utah Divison of Wildlife Resources stocked 7,250 Artic Grayling in Smith-Morehouse Reservoir.  Since then the reservoir has been stocked with thousands more grayling.  Our family started going to Smith-Morehouse on day trips to roast hot dogs and smores a couple years ago, of course, we mixed in fishing for as long as the kids would pay attention. Unfortunately, we never really did that well until this year. We would usually use Power Bait under a bobber but after reading about using meal worms under a bobber we gave that a try this year. Wow, they really worked. Between all three kids, I was running from pole to pole either taking a fish off or putting a new worm on.

For some reason, we only took pictures of the kids with rainbows and not grayling. The girls thought they were pretty , and G thought they were sharks.

unnamedunnamed2unnamed3unnamed4

unnamed5

At the end of September, I was able to sneak away for the day and drive down to Boulder Mountain. I have been looking at a couple lakes there, and after reading a report about one of those places my destinations were set. The first lake I went to was challenging to get to with the recent snow the roads were pretty muddy. I floated around this lake most of the morning and caught 4 or 5 brook trout. I was surprised by one grayling that fought harder than it’s size for only being 14-15″ long. Once in the net, I could see why the poor guy had a foot of line coming from his jaw from a hard fought battle sometime ago. I could see the fly in his mouth half absorbed by his skin. I trimmed the line and was set to get a picture when he escaped my net. Below are a couple pictures of the brook trout from lake #1.

bmtn1

bmtn2

After another rough road, I made it to Lake #2. After reading a report of huge grayling caught at this lake I was excited to  get fishing. I decided to not float this lake and just walked around it fishing as I go. I ended up never seeing any grayling but did make up for it by catching some pretty brook trout. In hindsight, I wish I would have gone out in my float tube.  I guess that just gives me a reason to go back.

bmtn3bmtn4

I tried to make it to one other lake on the other side of the mountain and after a crazy rough road, I got there in time to get rained out. I’ve seen some very big brook trout come from this lake and I was pretty disappointed I didn’t get to fish it like I wanted to.  I never really caught anything big on this trip, but it was well worth it. I’ve already got my eye on a couple lakes I’d  like to visit on my next trip to the mountain but it will most likely have to wait until next spring.

JULY

I’ve been trying to get my trip to Boulder Mountain on here for a while, but just never seemed to find the time.

Originally the plan was to driver down to Boulder Mountain and spend a couple nights and fish a bunch of different lakes. Like always it seems my plans change. I ended up only having one full day to spend on the mountain. I awoke at 3:00 am, and drove down to my first lake. I’ve had my eye on this little lake for a while. I learned from locals it use to hold big Brook Trout in the past. Once my float tube was pumped up I hiked the half mile to the lake only to find trophy salamanders living there. Disappointed, I headed to the next lake up the mountain. Immediately, at this lake I could see the Brook Trout swimming in the crystal clear water.

BM (6)

I started at the dam, and worked my way around catching a couple here, and there.

BM (2)BM (3)BM (4)BM (5)

As I worked my way around I ran in to a couple other fishermen walking back to their truck. They asked how I was doing, and pointed out a stream inlet farther around the lake. They claimed fish up to 3 lbs were just stacked up in the inlet. Trying not to show my excitement I thanked them, and we parted ways. Eagerly, I made my way over to the inlet. Lucky for me those two fishermen weren’t the lying type. Unfortunately, they failed to tell me how to catch these 3 lbs fish. I tried every jig color I had, and every size too. Nothing worked. I did however catch a couple of the smaller ones.

BM (7)BM (8)BM (10)BM (11)BM (12)BM (9)

I was pretty happy with how many fish I had caught up to this point, but wanted something bigger. I made the decision to move to another set of lakes, and hiked back to the car for lunch.

It didn’t take long, and I was bouncing up the road to the other lakes. I stopped at the first lake, and fished it for a about 45 min. I ended up catching one Brook Tout, and one chubby Cutthroat. Not the trophies I drove so far for though.BM (15)BM (16)

It was getting late, and I had a long drive back so I headed home. It was worth getting up so early, but next time I think I will plan a day or two so I don’t feel so rushed.

 

June

June was great right from the start. For starters my birthday was the first week of June. My awesome wife got me a new fishing pole. I ended up getting a Fenwick Elite Tech River Runner light. This rod is based off of a fly rod blank. For a long time, I’ve dreamt of getting a custom made rod made out of a fly rod blank. Unfortunately, a custom made rod was way WAY out of my budget. So, the River Runner was perfect. I ended up getting the light weight rod instead of the ultra-light because I felt the ultra-light was a little to whippy.

I was first able to try out the new rod on the Middle Provo. With my old Daiwa Exceler reel I was able to test it out. The first thing I noticed was I was able to cast smaller jigs farther. In the past, I’ve always used a medium light rod, and I could tell a noticeable difference in how far I could cast with the light rod. In addition to casting distance the rod was very sensitive. For example, I’ve read a lot where other fishermen say they can feel every rock on the bottom when drifting jigs. I now know what they mean. It seemed I could feel everything the jig was doing. So all in all I love the new rod. I forgot my camera, but only caught two smaller browns.

Of course every new rod needs a new reel, right? So for Father’s Day my amazing wife got me a new reel. I ended up getting another Daiwa Exceler since the previous one has never given me any trouble in the last 8 years I’ve had it. I ended up putting Fireline Crystal 4lb line on the reel. I’ve read some great reviews on this line, but my only worry was that it seemed pretty visible under water.

I wasn’t finally able to try out the new rod & reel combo on a local river I went to for the first time last year. After getting all strung up I walked down river for about a half mile. I tied the jig right to the Fireline to see how it would go. It seemed like every cast I would have a fish follow the jig in, but never take it. I decided, to try another color jig. My heart sank when I realized I left my jig box on top of my 4 Runner. So, back to the car I went to get my jig box. After getting back to the river. I tied a fluorocarbon leader on to the Fireline since I felt the fish where line shy with the Fireline tied straight to the jig. I put a black 1/16oz jig on, and got multiple hits on the first cast. Thankfully, tying on the fluorocarbon leader helped. It didn’t change everything though. For instance, I still had a lot of fish follow, but not take the jig. I did get this one to fall for the 1/16oz jig though.

SS (1)

Remembering what worked best the last time I was here I tied on a 1/32oz jig. From that point on I started to catch a lot more. Below are some of the bigger ones I caught.

SS (3)

SS (4)

SS (5)

SS (7)

As you can see for some reason the fish like the 1/32oz jigs better. I think it must be the slower drop of the 1/32oz jig. I had multiple fish break the fluorocarbon leader as they ran for cover. There was no stopping them. I was able to give the new reel a good workout, and it performed flawlessly. I’m not sure if I like the Fireline though, I don’t really want to tie a leader on every time I fish. I’ll keep trying it out, and go from there. In conclusion this river has ended up being my favorite river to fish, and one I hope to visit more often.

To end the month, I took the two younger kids, and bounced up to a lake in the Uintas. I’ve had my eye on this small lake for a while. Unfortunately, we ended up only fishing for about a half hour when it started to rain. Worried about the road getting too muddy we packed up, and left. I never seen any fish rise, and the lake does have a history of winter killing. It was still great to get out, and check another lake off of my list.

 

Beaver Dams

Every time I drive by a small stream, or river, and I see a beaver dam I want to stop , and fish. Unfortunately, it seems we are always in a hurry and never have time to stop. This Friday morning I was able to go cross off one of those places. I didn’t have much time  since I had to work later that afternoon.

I found the parking lot empty when I arrived. It’s usually packed since a lot of other fisherman use this parking lot to fish the reservoir. Since I had never been there before I didn’t know what to expect. The stream was crystal clear, and I started fishing some of the slower sections with out any luck. I walked farther up stream casting wherever I thought a fish might be hiding, and still no luck. Then I spotted something through the trees. Just what I was looking for.

LDC1

This has been one busy beaver! I made my way around to the right of this picture , and found this.

LDC3

I could see a couple trout sitting on the bottom. On my first cast I caught a small little brown trout.

LDC5

I ended up catching a round 6 out of this beaver dam. Here are a couple more from this dam. Nothing to big, but I was pretty excited to even catch anything on this stream. I was hoping to catch a cutthroat that are supposedly in this stream along with rainbow trouts. The last time this stream was stocked by the DWR was a decade ago.

LDC6

LDC4

Other side of the dam.

LDC2

After walking up the stream a little farther I came no the next beaver dam, this one was a lot smaller.

LDC7

Along the left side of this picture was a deeper channel with a log running along it’s length. I couldn’t see any fish, but gave it a shot any ways. If I was able to cast perfectly,  and bounce my jig along the log a couple trout would come darting out after it. I ended up getting 3 from this beaver dam.

LDC8

I was running short on time so I made my way farther up stream. As I was stepping up on a fallen cottonwood tree the dead bark broke away. I tried to keep my balance, but ended up falling backwards into some smelly black mud. My hip waders filled up with black stinky water, and I was covered from top to bottom. I figured it was probably time to head home.

I can’t wait to get back to this small stream to see what it has to offer farther up stream. Lets hope I don’t fall in the next time.

 

December

Not much happening in December with the holidays, and all. I did make it out once to a place I’ve read about, and always wanted to fish, but I thought it was all on private land. After doing a little more research I found out that part of river was part of the DWR’s walk in access program. I got my access number, and was on my way. I’ve read, and seen pictures of big browns coming from this river, and was excited to try it.

A couple weeks before I finally made it we took a ride past the river as a family, and the river was pretty off color. from what I’ve read it’s usually crystal clear.

Not much changed in the couple weeks since we drove by, but this time it had a lot of moss mixed in. I’m sure the cattle up stream wading in, and out of the river doesn’t help it much either.

After fishing for a while I gave up, tired of cleaning off my jigs every cast from all the moss. I figure maybe some other time I’ll make it back, and see if I can find the browns I’ve read about. Hopefully the water will be clearer. I did however find these old cars in the river. I hook the one in the middle it got off after quite the battle.

 

DSCN0925

I decided to hurry back to my favorite place on the Middle Provo in hopes of not getting completely skunked. I ended up with two smaller browns, and only got a picture of one before it got to dark to fish.

B1

Now my focus turns to ice fishing. I’ve pored, and still need to paint some jig heads to use. I’ve got a couple of new jig molds since last year i’m excited to try out.

November

With work, and other things going on I haven’t been able to get out much this fall. It wasn’t until November that I was able to make it back out fishing.

The first day I made it out was during the snow storm earlier this month. I was only able to go for a couple hours in the morning so I picked the Provo River since it was close to home. I picked a place along the river I’ve never fished before. After walking down river I would stop, and fish any holes that looked good. In one place I had fish rising all around me. Unlucky me I only had jig’s , and no flies. While fishing this section of the river I had a seagull dive in to the water about 10′ away, and pick up a smaller Brown Trout, and fly off.  I’ve never seen a seagull do that before.

After walking farther down river, and trying different places I finally caught one after changing jigs a couple times.

5

Right after catching this one I had a Mink swim across the river in front of me. That was another first for me. I tried to get a picture of it crossing the river, but I was to slow.

I started walking back towards the car, and stopped at the place the seagull out fished me. After again trying different jig colors I came up with one from this hole.

4

The fish where still rising for bugs on the water when I left. I thought about going home, and getting my fly rod, but I was running out of time.

I didn’t catch anything else as I walked back to the car.

 

I was able to go again to the Provo River later in the month. I went to my usually spot on the river where I have done pretty good in the past. It was a Saturday, and there where already cars parked in the parking lot at 6:30 am. I hadn’t fished the Provo on a Saturday for a very long time, and now I remember why. It was packed. After talking with a guide that was not happy about spin fishermen I made my way to my favorite spot.

Come to find out my favorite spot is everyone else’s also. I fished at the bottom of the run about 50 yards from the other fishermen along this section. I caught one smaller brown here.

1

After catching this one it seemed everyone wanted to get closer to me. 50 yards turned in to about 25 yards. Even though fishing has usually been better at the top of this run this feller wanted to try my spot out more I guess. I moved on since it had been at that place for a while, and only had the one fish. I moved to another spot I like, and no one was around. I switched to a jig color I have been experimenting with. I call it the Boy Scout Jig since it has a brown head, olive green body, and a tan tail. After only a couple cast I caught a nicer brown.

2

In the same place I caught the bigger brown I caught my first Rainbow from the river. He had been through quite the battle since he was missing one pectoral fin, and part of his dorsal fin. He had some scrapes on him also.

3

I tried a couple other places, but wasn’t able to catch anymore.

It was fun to catch something new, and to get out.