Trout Talk

Is it time to ramp up?

Float trip on the upper Colorado River.

Yes, our rivers are crowded. Here’s one idea for helping create more space on the water.

I don’t know many anglers who would argue against public access. I sure won’t.

As more families and individuals discover the magic of fishing—often for reasons far more important than the act of pulling on fish —it stands to reason that more access to productive fishing water, for more people, can only be a good thing. 

But there’s a wrinkle in all this that’s not really getting the attention it should, and I think if we work on it, we can make a measurable difference in the fairly near future. Walk-in access and river miles are great, to be sure, but the lower-hanging fruit might actually be more places from which to set ourselves adrift.

We need more boat ramps on many rivers and lakes. And we need more docks, piers, platforms and spots for people to fish from shorelines as well.    

In case you missed it, there’s been a “boat renaissance” in recent years, particularly since the onset of the pandemic. Anyone who has actually tried to buy a raft, a kayak, a dory or even a paddleboard, in the past 24 months or so, realizes what I’m talking about.  

Problem is, some places, we’ve lost boat accesses to disrepair, privatization and other factors. And when that happens, everyone gets “bunched up” on the same stretch of water. That’s no good for those who grumble about rivers choked with drift boats or rafts, and more importantly, it isn’t good for the fish when that much pressure is concentrated in a certain area.

Guides and outfitters might be proud of the “private” takeout they’ve locked up, but the truth is, if they want the fishing to get better for everyone, including themselves, they’d negotiate to make that access available to everyone, and not just the paying clients. Or at least they’ll use that ramp as a means to avoid adding pressure on the public ones.

Another alternative, of course, is managing access with sign-ups and permits. Even if they don’t cost anything, but require people to sign up to say where they will be and when, a reservation system would help alleviate the shock of showing up at a boat ramp and seeing 50 trailers already there. Angling Trade recently conducted a survey that asked if fishing businesses would favor a permit / reservation system, and nearly 70 percent of respondents said they would. Twenty-six percent favored a hard cap on guides, period.

Any way you slice that, however, you’re talking about restricting access, and that’s a hard sell. I’m for more access, more dispersal, and more responsible, considerate fishing.

The more we work together, and the more we push for more places to access rivers—maybe every couple miles instead of every 10—the more we can spread out.

And this summer is going to show us why that’s more important than ever. The tackle and license sales that are already being tracked this year indicate that the crowding issue is going to get worse, not better, than it was in 2021.