Really Old Dominion

I’m off to Virginia for a week of eating, hunting and fishing. Just want to say THANK YOU to all the readers of deadbait and to wish you all a happy, safe and fun holiday. I’m thankful for your comments, when you share your stories and point me in new directions. Lets keep this little thing going, shall we?

In the meantime, I want to make my readers aware of some disturbing news about the rights of anglers in the state of Virginia. If you haven’t heard, a couple of kayaking anglers are being sued by a landowner on the Jackson River for trespass. Now here’s the thing–Virginia Game and Wildlife makes it clear you can fish the streambed of any river in the state, but property owners are invoking an ancient law whereby the King of England grants exclusive rights to the property owner.

“After having their criminal trespassing case dismissed by a judge in general district court in 2010, the developer of the River’s Edge golf community near Covington, VA has filed a civil trespassing case against three Virginia anglers who lawfully entered the Jackson river with kayaks at the Smith Bridge public access point (see the VDGIF map) and remained within the river banks while fishing down the river. The developer is seeking an injuction to prevent the anglers from wade fishing a stretch of the Jackson that runs past their adjacent land.

Under a Virginia statute that is more than 200 years old, the beds of all rivers and streams “are the property of the Commonwealth and may be used as a common by all the people for the purposes of fishing, fowling, hunting, and taking and catching oysters and other shellfish.”

In this case, the adjacent River’s Edge property owners are claiming that they own the bed of the Jackson River by virtue of two different 18th century land grants that predated the passage of that statute: a 1743 crown grant executed by the governor of Virginia on behalf of the King of England and a 1785 grant from the Commonwealth of Virginia, yet neither of the developer’s old land grants explicitly reference the bed of the Jackson River when describing the property conveyed. The grants also do not mention fishing rights. This case is therefore very different from, and potentially more threatening to anglers, paddlers and hunters, the previous Jackson River VA Supreme Court case (Kraft v. Burr) where it was undisputed that the landowners owned the bed of the river.”

How an old english law still has standing in the US is beyond me, but you can learn more and even help stop this nonsense by going to the Virginia River Defense Fund and giving. Your current stream rights might be safe in your homewaters, be thankful for that, but if the VRDF loses the suit, it could set strange precedents that will affect every state, and every anglers rights. You can donate here if you like.


4 thoughts on “Really Old Dominion

  1. Thanks so much for posting this and your comments on the Orvis News blog post dedicated to our issue. We truly need all the help we can get. Trial date is set for early May and so we need to stay alive until then. Our courts are not about finding truth, but the best truth money can buy. The other side is well funded to argue their version of the truth.

    1. My pleasure Dargan–I wish the VRDF all the best. I shared your mission with my FB fans and some have said they will donate. My dad, an angler in Richmond, was so pissed off he said he was donating ASAP. Its been interesting to follow your blog (which I recommend my readers check out), because it shares so much of the nuances of the case. Also, my readers should check out the critical and inspiring response to the issue on the Orvis News blog.

      1. Does your dad belong to any angling/hunting/paddling clubs in RIC? I now spend a lot of time driving around the state, addressing membership meetings at various clubs. Most folks don’t know this is happening. These have been quite good at generating letters (to politicians) and donations.

  2. No he doesn’t at present, but I saw that you spoke with Shenandoah TU chapter. Have you tried the National Chapter and their “Trout” magazine yet? Hopefully one of the various writers you’ve worked with will submit there.

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