Voices from the river

Voices from the River: Public access

By Dave Ammons

I’m pretty sure that woven into most rivers in North America are intervals of private and public water, and the river I fish is no different. I am privileged to have access to nearly a mile of private water, a beautiful mix of long runs, boulder-strewn pocke

ts, and stretches of riffles leading one to the other. There is one place where the private property is interrupted by a short gravel pull-off from the two-lane county road that snakes through the canyon alongside the river. We aptly refer to this spot as Public Access. It’s well hidden by thick brush and forest but a few people occasionally stumble upon it, or perhaps they have checked out maps to find this diamond in the rough.

Sometimes folks get it wrong as did the two gents who were trespassing nearby early one morning. I encountered them on my daily run up the road as they were ducking through the barbed-wire fence just upstream of Public Access. They feigned surprise when I stopped to tell them they were on private property. It’s not mine exactly but part of a family corporation that grants me access and I believe affords me the right to let others know when they are trespassing. They told me they had looked at maps and confirmed this stretch of river was not private. I told them they were dead wrong, you know, referring to the fact they had just navigated barbed-wire. Well, that and the sign posted on the tree trunk right next to them that read “Private Property. No Trespassing.” They hemmed and hawed, mumbled something about being catch-and-release guys and wouldn’t stay long. I suppose I could have pushed the issue with some false bravado then pointed them to Public Access but I was more interested in finishing my run. By the time I returned with the Smith & Wesson they would likely have pushed on anyway, so I relented and said, “Have a good one.”

I like the name “Public Access.” It’s plain, comfortable, familiar. I’ve given names to most of my favorite spots along the river. Honey Hole, The Bend, Papa Dad’s. They’re favorites because I can catch fish there and indeed Public Access is also very productive water. I surmise the fishermen who know of it are mostly conservation types and return their catch to the river. I certainly appreciate those on the river who would rather sow than reap.

It is so reliable it seems to always be the place to start walking the river, just to feel the tug and get some endorphins coursing through the system for the foray upstream. As it’s a short walk up the road from our place we also can get on the water quickly. The conversation with the boys usually goes like this:

“Where do you want to start fishing this afternoon?”

“How about ‘public access’?”

“Sounds good. We usually do pretty well there.”

Pushing through the brush and willows at the river’s edge to the open bank, the key is to stay low and not spook what is invariably a nice brown trout holding close in the skinny water about 10 feet out. We alternate who gets the first crack each time we hit that spot. With knees bent in a low-profile crouch a simple back cast with a #14 bead head Prince Nymph gets that guy’s attention pretty much every time. Then it’s a matter of spreading out and slowly working toward the deeper runs in the middle of the river.

From time to time we’re disappointed to see a vehicle parked in the pull-out so we push upstream to the private water. It’s sure a bonus to have alternatives others don’t. I’ve heard it said that when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression. Fortunately, Public Access doesn’t feel that way thanks to my fellow fishing conservationists. Like those guys I puffed out my chest at—I think they are probably genuinely good guys, don’t drop litter, and are truthful about catch and release.

So, while this spot feels a bit more pressure than the private stretches the fishing is just as damn good. I like believing in the goodness of folks. I’ll continue to leave the Smith & Wesson at home.

Dave Ammons is a TU volunteer and a member of the Zane Grey Chapter in Arizona.

By Chris Hunt.