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A fisherman’s story: How NOR materials helped get river rights acknowledged

November 22, 2013
A fisherman’s story: How NOR materials helped get river rights acknowledged

Public domain image from thefuntimesguide.com

For over a decade, NOR has produced materials to help the public understand the law when using rivers for non-destructive recreation. This includes a wide array of activities, such as fishing, canoeing, kayaking, rafting, duck hunting, swimming, walking along the banks, picnicking along the banks, and so on. One river user who was able to use NOR materials to help get river rights recognized was Ed, a fisherman in Illinois. In three places along the Fox River, Ed used information from the NOR website to stop fishermen from being ticketed, get a “No Trespassing” sign taken down, and continue ice fishing near where he lives.

1. Being ticketed for fishing after dark

In the first situation, there was a group of fishermen who were getting ticketed for fishing after sunset on the river. Ed went to the police station and was bounced between there and city hall a few times before being sent to the Lands and Forests Division. There, a staff member told him that the park by the dam (where the fishermen were being ticketed) closed at dusk. Ed discussed what he had learned from the NOR website with a ranger who had been issuing tickets. He explained that the river had access points via public property, and that most of the park was actually within the river's high water mark and therefore should remain open to the public. He explained that the park sign saying “Closed at dusk, No camping” etc. should not apply within the river's original high water mark. Ed had pictures that showed where the original banks were, and he explained that the law protects public rights along the banks as they were in the river’s original natural state. He left the ranger with information he had printed from the NOR website. A few days later, the ranger called back and agreed with what Ed had explained. Moreover, the ranger asked Ed to return to the police station and give the same information to the commander and also share it with the people at city hall.

End result: No more tickets issued. A victory—simply by explaining the law, having a conversation, and having facts from NOR to back it up.

2. “No Trespassing” sign removed

In Ed’s next situation, someone had posted a “No Trespassing” at a popular fishing spot. He called the police commander and explained that the Fox River is navigable, and therefore that the banks within the high water mark are public property. The commander asked Ed to send him the information he had referenced. Ed sent him copies of information from the NOR website. Several days later, the commander called back and said the sign would be taken down. However, Ed decided to go catch a few fish after work a few weeks later, and the sign was still up. Not only that, but a landowner confronted him and threatened to call the police. Ed tried to explain, but the landowner called the police anyway. One of the first two policemen said Ed was trespassing, and Ed clarified that he was not. The landowner called for backup, and two more officers arrived. One of the officers believed Ed was correct, so they waited for the commander to arrive. The commander talked to Ed and the landowner, explaining that the sign should not have ever been put up, because fishing there was not trespassing.

End result: The next day the town took the sign down. Another victory won using the same procedures.

3. Ice fishing discussion

The third situation involved ice fishing on the river near where Ed lives. While ice fishing, an officer came to Ed and said he wasn't allowed to ice fish. Once again, Ed explained the laws concerning navigable rivers, and that since the river is public property he had the legal right to be there. Ed stood by his right to ice fish on the river, and the officer agreed and left.

End result: Ed was able to keep fishing.

Keys from Ed’s story: “It’s good to know what our rights are.”

Ed is a great example of someone who had conversations with local authorities, backed up his point with facts provided by NOR, and ultimately had success in removing public access hindrances. You and your friends can do the same. Start by reading the river law handout, a short summary of your rights to use rivers. Then read Public Rights on Rivers to have a complete understanding of your rights and how the law has supported your rights for centuries.

If you want to help spread the message, you can become an Activist or Premium Member and NOR staff will send the book, handout, and poster to an authority in your area. NOR is here to be your partner in advancing your rights to recreate on rivers by researching the law and publishing materials to help you and others understand and implement your legal rights successfully.

Help rivers to be “forever free” by becoming a NOR member or donating to NOR today.

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Special thanks to Ed for sharing his story.

Do you have a river story you’d like to share? Sent us an email or give us a call by clicking on the Contact tab. We look forward to hearing from you!

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