Nevertheless, anglers still want to know: Who owns the river? The answer is unclear. Landowners pay taxes on the river bottom and lay claim to the same property rights as the landowners of the Crown Grant decision. They’re tired of trespassers who leave trash strewn about and disregard private property.
So can you fish the Jackson or not? The landowners say no; the VDGIF says yes. But three anglers took the VDGIF at its word and ended up in court. The Virginia Attorney General’s office has not weighed in on the matter on either party’s behalf, choosing instead to let the issue resolve itself in court.
Concerned sportsmen have established a website (www.virginiariversdefensefund.org) to inform fellow anglers of developments on the Jackson and to solicit donations toward the defendants’ legal fees.
So Where Can I Fish and Paddle?
Landowners cannot put up barriers against river traffic in rivers the U.S. Army Corps has deemed “navigable”—not even if they own the land on both sides of the river. In most states, the bottoms of navigable rivers cannot be privately controlled because they are held in trust for the public; the Crown Grant section of the Jackson River in Virginia is a rare exception to the rule.
Non-navigable rivers can indeed have privately owned river bottoms. Farmers, for example, can and do have fences that cross the river to keep out cattle. These barriers also keep out paddlers and anglers. Public access points and put-ins generally allow one to float or wade downriver freely, but if in doubt, always seek a landowner’s permission for access.