Justice on the Jackson River, Not Yet

For my everyday readers, you’ll know that I’ve followed Dargan Coggeshall’s fight for justice on the Jackson River in Virginia. I read with sadness recently that he has lost his court battle, leaving anglers in deep doubt about their rights in the Commonwealth. From the release:

“On October 9, 2012, in the Circuit Court of Alleghany County, attorneys for Dargan Coggeshall and Charles Crawford informed the Court that their clients did not have sufficient resources to proceed further in the defense of the trespass case against them.  Accordingly, they consented to the Court enjoining the two of them from wading or walking on the contested portion of the streambed of the Jackson River.  The Court stated that although the information the plaintiffs had presented was insufficient to prove their claim of fee simple title to the riverbed, they had shown prima facie title. Prima facie title can be established by possession of the property and a current deed purporting to convey the property to the plaintiffs.”

Now, I hate injustice, and its hard to see a silver lining here. Its damn hard. I know injustice and I know Coggeshall is hurting, and all of us who support the Virginia Rivers Defense Fund are hurting. We’re in fear that any of Virginia’s great rivers, the Rappahanock, Cowpasture, Shenandoah, could be the next site for an outrageous act of cowardice from the Virginia Attorney General’s Office and VDGIF if a landownder decides to sue an angler, paddler, kayaker, hunter or bird-watcher who steps foot in water where some lackey tax-collector has erred and given the landowner false information that leads them to believe they own the Commonwealth’s rivers.

But I know something about justice. It doesn’t come often and easy, but it does come.  Justice does come. Now, because the civil litigation has ended, other organizations can step-up on this issue and fight alongside the VRDF. Strangers can step out of the dark and become allies in the full light. Will you stand? Will you stand for justice? I don’t care what your other politics are, will you stand, if you stood with Dargan before, will you keep standing? Trout Unlimited, will you stand? VA National Rifle Association, will you stand? Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, will you stand? Virginia Sportsmen’s Foundation, will you stand? VA Boy Scouts of America, will you stand? VA Sierra Club, will you stand? VA hunters and anglers, bait chuckers and dry fly purists, will you stand?

To those mentioned in this article, and other owners at The River’s Edge, its never too late to do the right thing. There is no shame in fighting the good fight, whensover you choose. Will you stand?


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.