This week brought news of the Louisiana waterway access laws revisited, as B.A.S.S. officially endorsed House Bill 391 – legislation that would attempt to conquer the sea of gray areas in determining public vs. private property. We’ve heard rumor of this before and BassFans may recall that B.A.S.S. removed many waters within Louisiana from its consideration of tournament venues.
In any case, what we see now is legislation in the works to open up some areas which, possibly, should be accessible to the public. While I’ve spent limited time in the Louisiana bayou, I have fished there enough to see firsthand how some of this works. Property owners block access to many canals and waterways, some of which are necessary for navigation to much larger areas. At times, the signs, fences and roadblocks are quite intimidating, to say the least, unless you’re up for a gunfight with a raging Cajun.
Immediately, the bass fishing public jumped on the HB 391 bandwagon, feeling their rights’ have been violated by locals attempting to take ownership of what’s generally considered public property. “What happened to Louisiana’s motto as the Sportsman’s Paradise?” they’d ask. But have we really looked into both sides of this issue?
First off, Louisiana is known as the Sportsman’s Paradise because it’s residents long ago learned to value the outdoors, the bountiful fish and game of their bayou and the lifestyle that supports both conservation and utilization of those resources. It has nothing to do with welcoming us into their canals, so let’s put that to rest.
More importantly, we must realize that, in certain parts of the country, folks aren’t all that worried about what others think of them, or can supposedly offer. Rural Louisiana may be ground zero for such a lifestyle. Here, families have owned property, once deemed worthless by the rest of America, for generations, and don’t intend to allow others to use it, regardless of what the current laws say. Why would they?
Looking deeper into the issue, many bassers hot on the topic may not realize that fishing isn’t the big sell in the bayou, anyway. Gas and oil, as well as chemical refineries and farming drive much of the economy. The largest consideration for fishing is commercial (you haven’t lived until you’ve had Louisiana shrimp), and waterfowl hunting may put as many – or more – sportsmen in boats as inshore fishing, where access is a consideration.
So, imagine this: you and your boy are headed out on opening day of duck season to a blind that your daddy, and his daddy, both hunted from. As the morning mist settles in and the ducks begin to fly, there, right in your decoys, sits some guy in a yellow Triton.
Now, to be fair, we must consider both sides of the coin. Personally, I’ve always felt that access to most waterways – especially those influenced by tidal flow or connected to larger bodies – should be the God-given right of every American brave enough to float them. Then again, I’ve never owned any.
In any case, the ambiguous scenario lies in the ownership of the water itself, not the bottom or shoreline over which it flows. I mean, no one owns water, right? So, as long as a fisherman never makes contact with the shoreline or bottom, that fisherman has never entered private property and should not be denied access. These “property owners” are wrong.
In addition, whether the old-timers want to admit it or not, allowing access to these remarkable fisheries brings in tourist and tournament dollars that go directly back into the local economy, whether they’re spent at the Holiday Inn or Aunt Millie’s Country Kitchen.
The major fishing organizations are all sure to support the new legislation, as increased access to America’s waterways for sportsmen is a hot topic right now. Threats, they claim, are always right around the corner; backing for such a cause should increase rapidly.
But I’m not sure how Louisiana residents will feel and, last I checked, they were the ones voting for Louisiana politicians who help decide Louisiana’s laws. For their sake, I’ll leave you with one more factor to consider:
I’ve fished throughout much of America for lots of different fish. Sure, I haven’t chased grayling in Alaska or roosterfish on the beaches, but I’ve done my share of sampling the “everyman” categories of hard fighters and good eaters.
A few times in my life, I’ve stumbled on fishing that is so superior to other missions targeting similar fish, that the angling location can truly live up to a label like “Walleye Capital of the World” or “The Best Bass Lake in America.”
Louisiana IS the Sportsman’s Paradise, folks. I’ve hooked redfish there that would melt your reels, over and over, and heard stories of bass that bit every cast, all day long. And we won’t even talk about yellowfin tuna, or the fact that Louisiana is a top-3 duck harvest state every year despite its small size.
Part of Louisiana’s secret surely lies in it’s incredible (though threatened) Delta habitat. Another key is its isolation from much of America, in terms of distance and major metropolitan areas.
But maybe, just maybe, another component remains in the fact that much of Louisiana remains in the hands of its residents, in terms of access as well as management.
It’s hard to argue with their record.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)