Utah anglers celebrate ruling from judge expanding access to more waterways

Posted at 10:33 PM, Nov 05, 2015
and last updated 2015-11-06 00:33:50-05

SUMMIT COUNTY, Utah - Some local fisherman say a judge's decision Wednesday opened the flood doors for fishing opportunities in Utah going forward. Some woke up Thursday and said it felt like the "Super Bowl of fishing."

Fourth District Judge Derek Pullan reversed a bill, House Bill 141, that prevented fisherman from fishing in rivers and streams if they flowed through private property. The local fishing community, however, contended that the rivers themselves were paid for and maintained by public dollars.

As expected, they reacted favorably to the judge's decision.

"I think it's a big deal," said Bob Goodson, a local fisherman. "It's a game changer for a lot of fisherman."

"It was really exciting," adds Matt Drahos, who helps manage a fishing shop in Salt Lake City. "This is a ruling that actually empowers the people to go recreate."

The law restricting public access to waters that fell on private land first went into effect in 2010. As a result, more than 2,700 miles of fishing was lost to local fisherman.

"We lost 40 percent of fishing waters in one fell swoop," Drahos said. "Many out-of-towners just assume there are no places to fish in Utah."

The only provision in the law is if fisherman floated through private waters, but didn't set foot on the riverbed, but most fisherman say they don't fish by raft or kayak, so that provision wasn't helpful.

Still, there's confusion over what Judge Pullan's decision really means. One local fisherman wondered if they were allowed to get to the river by trespassing on private land. That, however, is not the case. Fisherman are required to use public access points to get to the river and to exit the river, but, once they are in the water, they are free to move up and down the river and fish, even if the water they are in is on private land.

"It's a good rule, and I hope that the public takes advantage of it," Drahos said of the change. "But I hope they take advantage of it wisely... Sometimes it's those one percent, who don't follow the rules, who can ruin it for everybody."