Many “private” waters are actually public

If locating transition trout has got you down, put your bay boat to use by fishing the wells and pipes — and the cobia that hold on them — this September.

Although the shot fired at bass pro Gary Klein during the 2003 Bassmaster Classic was heard around the world via ESPN, I was more interested in an incident that happened to one of his fellow contenders — Harold Allen — while he was fishing not too far from Klein.

On days two and three of the Classic, Allen was confronted by a man in an airboat, who asked him — in unkind terms the second day — not to fish that particular area.

Following the instructions of BASS Tournament Director Trip Weldon, Allen left the area without raising a fuss, but will likely begrudge the incident for the rest of his life because leaving his chosen fishing hole possibly cost him a Classic crown.

The issue is symptomatic of a bigger problem that is coming to a head across Louisiana’s disappearing coast. Specifically, landowners are trying to maintain claims of ownership to land that no longer exists.

Some fishing guides in the Venice area are learning this all too well. One, who asked that we not use his name, has been fishing an area between Venice’s Tante Phine and Tiger passes, known colloquially as the High Line Pond, for the last three years.

This year, he’s gotten run out of the “pond” twice by a man in an airboat, who says he represents a landholder named Cattle Farms Inc. On the more recent occasion, the guide was told he was a disgrace to the guiding industry and that he’d be receiving a certified letter.

Sure enough, last month it arrived, complete with a fancy law-firm letterhead informing the guide that he was in fact trespassing and would be prosecuted if caught in the area again.

But according to Gary Keyser, who for 30 years headed the lands and resources section at the attorney general’s office, the High Line Pond meets all the criteria required for public access to a waterbody.

“Some things you have to look at are the width of the channel connecting it to the (Gulf), the salinity, the tidal influence and whether or not it is widely navigated,” he said. “Based on those criteria, ownership (of the High Line Pond) has probably changed.”

What Keyser means by that is once a landowner loses his land to the sea, the area where that land existed becomes state property.

In fact, Keyser said, if oil or gas were discovered under the High Line Pond and the landowner sought to extract it, the state Mineral Board would likely step in and express its ownership of it.

The problem for many anglers is that they don’t know ahead of time what their rights are. But state law is clear — if you’re fishing in the marsh or along the coast, and you didn’t cross any land to access the waterbody, odds are you’ve got as much legal right to fish there as the person who claims to own it. The only exception to this is with privately dug canals.

I always encourage anglers fishing navigable ponds, lakes or bayous to hold their ground — unless they feel physically threatened — and respectfully ask the “owner” or his representative to call the local sheriff’s office if he wants to pursue it further.

If the individual continues to harass you, call the sheriff’s office yourself and tell them you want to file charges under revised statute 56:648.1, which makes it illegal to “disturb any hunter, trapper or fisherman who is engaged in the lawful taking of a wild animal or who is engaged in the process of taking, with intent to dissuade or otherwise prevent the taking, or to prevent such person’s enjoyment of the outdoors.”

If state law changes and allows individuals to lay claim to navigable waters, I’m staking off a section of the Mississippi River.

Any ship that wants to pass has to pay a toll to the troll.

About Todd Masson 741 Articles
Todd Masson has covered outdoors in Louisiana for a quarter century, and is host of the Marsh Man Masson channel on YouTube.