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Fishermen struggle with loss of stream access

Editor’s note: This article was written by Mallory Martin and Carl Kittel of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. Martin is the Mountain Region Fisheries Supervisor. Kittel is the Coldwater Production Coordinator.

While North Carolina boasts more streams capable of supporting brook, brown and rainbow trout than any other state in the southeastern United States, trout fishing opportunities have diminished over the last few years as more and more privately owned lands are closed to public access. About 40 percent of the 2,000 miles of publicly accessible trout streams in North Carolina are located on private lands. Therefore, public fishing opportunities on some 800 miles of North Carolina trout waters are dependent on the willingness of private landowners to allow public access to those waters.

Unfortunately, some landowners have posted their properties to prevent public access to some trout waters and the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission cannot prevent these legal actions by landowners. The frequency of this activity has increased in recent years due to population growth and changes in the agricultural land base, namely farmland being converted to residential development.

Regardless of whether a stream segment is managed for wild trout or stocked with hatchery trout, public access is terminated if a landowner posts “No Trespassing” signs.

The Wildlife Commission’s response to changes in public fishing access on private property has been threefold.

First, we have initiated an educational program to inform landowners that there is a virtual crisis in public access to stream fishing opportunities in North Carolina. We urge landowners to keep their properties open and provide access for family-oriented recreation. Likewise, we inform anglers of their responsibilities to treat private land and landowners with respect in regard to litter, parking, gates, behaviors, etc., so that public access continues to be allowed.

Second, we have examined the feasibility of purchasing access easements and short-term leases for fishing access to trout streams. However, these options are extremely costly, and to date we have not been able to fund wide-scale purchases of fishing easements on private land. Most of the property acquisition funds go toward outright purchase of land, such as game lands, where multiple fisheries and wildlife management objectives, including angler access, can be accomplished.

Third, we work with private landowners to provide signs that let anglers know where and how to access fishing opportunities on private lands. These signs are used on trout streams to indicate access points for anglers and to allow landowners to indicate that access is allowed for angling only, as opposed to other activities like hunting.

We continue to work toward solutions to increase public access to angling opportunities all across North Carolina. Please visit the Wildlife Commission’s web site at www.ncwildlife.org to find maps to North Carolina’s Designated Public Mountain Trout Waters. Maps are color-coded according to the signs posted on the streams and give anglers a guide to fishing regulations in effect on specific streams.

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