True StoRies of the harm caused by posted water in louisiana's bayous
Restricting the access of navigable water doesn't affect a few fishing trips, it erodes our cultural heritage, shuts down businesses and puts Louisiana in a poor light.
What you'll find below are the true stories of people who have suffered at the hands of posted waterways.
Learn Rodney Wagley's story below:
In the summer of 1983, as my Dad pulled his boat out of the Atchafalaya Basin’s Bayou Pigeon landing, up came this 20-something-year-old youngster. My Dad greeted the youngster and introduced me to this 'Young Gun". My father explained that this was the guy you had to look out for because he was the real deal. Dad explained that this young man had asked to fish a club tournament some years earlier. Seeing this little fellow's youth, the group replied, " Sure! We will take his money too!" At weigh-in that afternoon, Rodney Wagley had won the event by more than 10 lbs and had arrived as a serious contender in South Louisiana bass fishing circles. As far as the local sticks were concerned, he was the REEL DEAL, pun intended!
Nine years later, Louisiana was decimated by Hurricane Andrew. This storm did plenty by way of property damage to the greater Baton Rouge area. But it also wiped out the largest overflow swamp in our country. The Atchafalaya Basin was destroyed. All gamefish, bait fish, and even heartier fish that can survive in water with low oxygen levels were killed. It was a total wipeout of the fishery, America’s largest overflow swamp. Efforts to restock the fishery began with help from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Dow Chemical, and private organizations, including one led by another local bass fishing legend, Will Courtney. Rodney Wagley and many other south Louisiana bass anglers were eager to help with restocking efforts. The anglers helped spread gamefish fingerlings provided largely by taxpayer funds. The organizers of the effort knew that the fishermen would know the best areas to repopulate the fish and the environment necessary for the fingerlings to survive to spawn. Rodney brought his allotment of fish to his favorite place, Bayou Black.
Fast forward to 2021. Wagley rounds the corner out of the free-flowing water of the intercoastal waterway into a marsh lake that he has fished for decades to enjoy an afternoon of fishing. Wagley tosses out the old reliable 1/4-ounce spinnerbait that we all know. Silver teardrop colorado blade with a 3.5 gold willow leaf dressed in chartreuse, white, and blue skirt. Promptly after his arrival, a 4 lb. largemouth is on and headed to the boat. Rodney lands the fish, admires it briefly, and shows it to his 70-something partner of the day, only to be interrupted by his buddy and the statement we all love to hear, "THERE HE IS!" Wagley releases the first largemouth to make another quick cast in his honey hole. His spinnerbait splashes down, and another quality largemouth buttons up. As his rod bends, he wonders if this could be the great grand bass of fish he deposited here 30 years prior. His reminiscent thoughts are disrupted by the sound of an approaching boat in the distance. What happens next is one of the many examples of events that have marred our fishing community for the last 40 years.
Sportsman's Paradise license plates were on every car in Louisiana in the 1990s. It's so well known that in my travels around the southeast United States competing in the Bassmaster Opens when someone sees that I am from Louisiana full, all they ask is," What is it like living in Sportsman’s Paradise?" My replies vary, but typically, the response is something to the effect of "It's great, and I'm proud to call it home!" But am I?
Our state, full of majestic old swamps, twisting bayous, and oilfield canals full of lush vegetation and ample aquatic life, has a problem. Oilfield canals should have been backfilled, yet they were not. This neglect has contributed to the demise of the estuary, coastal erosion, and in many cases, changed the hydrology such that natural bayous have lost water flow and have since silted in. It is concerning that our judicial system, according to recent research, has misinterpreted our state laws concerning water access and who can and cannot traverse a navigable waterway. Our state is home to 3 million acres of tidally influenced water. Of these 3 million acres, 80% of it is considered privately owned. That's 2.4 million acres. This creates havoc for visitors from other states who want to come to Louisiana to enjoy what we offer. Recreational fishing in Louisiana is a three billion dollar per year industry. Still, more and more people are shying away from coming here to participate in our incredible fishery due to the fear of being prosecuted for trespassing. That's right, trespassing on open water. Sound ridiculous? Well, that's what you are met with in many coastal Louisiana parishes. Crude, entitled landowners, or vigilante landmen threaten any angler that unknowingly crosses these invisible property lines over open water to experience what others in all other states have. Stories of prosecution threats and, in some cases, physical harm are the norm. The stories number in the hundreds that have been reported to the Louisiana Sportsmen's Coalition, and some accounts can be found at joinlasc.com.
Back to Rodney’s story, the boat he hears in the distance approaches him and begins to take photographs of Rodney and his elderly partner. While the confrontation was mild in this encounter, the landman informs Rodney that he is trespassing on Continental Land and Fur property and will receive a trespassing ticket from local authorities. Rodney asks the landman, "What gives you the right to restrict me from catching the fish owned by the public from water clearly owned by the public?" The landman responded, "This is our property and our fish. We own them, and you shouldn’t be here!"
The next day Rodney received a phone call from the sheriff's office informing him that he needed to meet with a deputy. Rodney obliged and met up with the deputy for his accounts of the prior day's events. Rodney informed the deputy that where he entered the tidally influenced lake, no visible markings indicating the property was posted were in his line of sight. Nevertheless, in 2003, trespassing laws in Louisiana were changed to stop requiring landowners to post property. Anglers cannot determine if they are over water bottoms which could be claimed as private and subject to trespassing statutes. Despite understanding Rodney’s predicament, the deputy informed Rodney he had no choice but to issue the trespassing summons.
As word spread of Rodney's altercation, another outdoorsman was infuriated by the news that, again, an angler was facing a trespassing charge for simply enjoying what our state is known for around the globe. This outdoorsman, who also makes a living as a commercial fisherman, was not your typical fisherman. He is also a seasoned attorney, former state representative of the 59th district of Louisiana, and current state senator from the 18th district, Senator Eddie Lambert. Eddie reached out to Rodney, who gave his accounts of what happened and where. Eddie decided that he would represent Rodney and offer his expertise to finally do something about this tremendous black eye that our state is wearing. See, Louisiana is unique in this particular quandary. We are the only state that restricts water access.
Most times, people who receive these trespassing tickets pay the fine and move on. Not Rodney. Not Eddie. They were prepared to fight and take this all the way to the Louisiana Supreme Court if necessary. So in June of 2022, as we waited for all of the offenders in the Houma courthouse to get their proceedings out of the way, Rodney and Eddie had the opportunity to defend why trying to enforce this ticket should be dropped immediately. Part of that argument included State law on the books in Civil Code Article 450, which defines public things. Article 450 states, “Public things are owned by the state or its political subdivisions in their capacity as public persons. Public things that belong to the state are such as running waters, the waters and bottom of natural navigable water bodies, the territorial sea, and the seas shore.” Rodney remained in tidally influenced water to reach the spot where he was cited for trespassing. Eddies defense also included an account from a hydrologist that also confirmed the tide did factually influence this marsh lake. Unfortunately, the judge, who admittedly had reservations about the ruling, passed down a guilty verdict. This was based more on the precedent set forth by judges before him than his interpretation of the law. Rodney took his punishment and paid his fine as Eddie went to work.
Eddie filed a motion to appeal with Louisiana's 1st Circuit Court of Appeals. He delivered his objection to the court, and the court correctly reversed the lower court’s conviction, stating lack of proof of criminal trespass as the reasoning. But what does that mean?
Well, the water-bottom claimant has the right to appeal. But will they? Now that a lower court has been overruled, will they stop issuing trespassing tickets to you if you are caught in a posted area? Don't bet on it. This reversal will not stop them from writing you a ticket. It will not stop district attorneys from prosecuting trespassers on the water. But it should open people's eyes to the fact that the laws we have that are made to protect the public need to be enforced. And maybe this will force the hand of legislators to introduce and pass bills to protect us, the public, from the taking of public things these landowners are involved in.
Flashback to July 1999. Boats take off from Bayou Segnette State Park for the Super Bowl of bass fishing, the Bassmasters Classic. Louisiana Legend Rodney Wagley has qualified for this world championship through the Bass Nation Tournament Trail. As he and his observer for the day, Joe Macaluso, rocket down the bayou, Rodney's boat hits something, he could only describe as soft. The boat propeller loses bite, and the boat starts to lose control. Despite his best efforts to regain control, the boat hooks, and Rodney and Joe are headed for the trees. They brace for impact as the boat's steering wheel catches Rodney's hand and breaks it along with three fingers. Rodney's shot at winning the coveted Classic was gone before it started.
Rodney never gave up on his passions. They are the same passions that drive him to this day. He is one of the first to fight for what is ours. The public right to access is defined by Article 450 as belonging to the public. He is fighting the fight for all outdoorsmen. He is determined to preserve these opportunities for the generation that follow him, like me. See, Rodney was one of my heroes growing up. Because when he was the young gun, I aspired to be just like him. Recognized by my peers. But this problem is bigger than any one of us. It will take us all voicing our opinions, contacting our legislators, and asking them to stop the madness. It's the reason the Louisiana Sportsmen’s Coalition was formed in 2016 and the reason I joined the board of directors in 2018. It's not about the fish I can catch today, but the fish, my grandchildren, will not have the opportunity to fish for if we allow them to keep stealing it away from us. This belongs to US! It's time to stand together with the Louisiana Sportsmen’s Coalition, the Rodneys, and the Eddies and fight in unison. Bitching and complaining on social media about what was gated and who had a shotgun pulled on them will not preserve our access. Only actions such as those recent actions by Rodney and Eddie will preserve our right to access OUR WATER. Join this civic process and show the elected officials that you and I voted for that it is time for this madness to end. Our heritage and our culture is being stolen from the next generation. Support the LaSC and support the legislation filed on behalf of the Louisiana Sportsmen’s Coalition in the 2023 legislative session.
President of the Louisiana Sportsmans Coalition
Owner of Bob's Bayou Black Marina
Williams, Inc. plans to put a gate or floating structure to end all access out of Bob's Marina into the Shell Barge Canal/Intracoastal waterway.
We are in shock and highly upset by this decision as this will end a small family business that my grandfather grew and maintained himself everyday for 25+ years to allow others to easily do the things they and he loved to do.
This won't just affect us here at Bob's, soon there won't be any waterways to fish.
Several other canals back here are currently being gated off and will continue to be gated off.
Don't miss important developments regarding water access in Louisiana. Examples include:
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This one time I had two clients from Chicago who wanted to enjoy the great fishing they heard so much about. So we set out in windy conditions to fish a pipeline canal that offered a little shelter.
Later that morning a group of people were returning from a hunt, a man with his grandfather and two sons.
This man pulls up and proceeds to tell me that I was trespassing so, in return, I asked him his name. He became hostile at that point in time, proceeding to cut circles in front of our boat, cussing me, and so on.
I thought the guy was going to have a heart attack he was so hot. Then he threatened to call sheriff in which he did. I told the guy my name because I wanted to verify who owned the pipeline I was in and not have some guy just tell me to get out.
When the sheriff contacted me I told him how the guy did circles and cussed me and the sheriff was surprised because the guy told the sheriff he never even addressed me.
The whole time my clients from Chicago were shocked. I shared with them about our situation in Louisiana and I have not seen or heard from them since.
Captain travis Miller
Miller Time Fishing Charters
Texas Resident & Longtime Charter Customer
About 15 years ago my then 75 year old dad was watching a fishing show in Louisiana and said that he’d like to visit the state and go fishing, I told him to find us a place and we’ll check it out. I guess he got lucky and found us a guide in Golden Meadow that even recommended a place to stay.
We fell in love with it and made it an annual trip that over the years grew from just two of us to group of eighteen anglers fishing Louisiana over the last 15 years.
Some of the guys enjoyed it as much as we did and booked their own trips to take their families. We would buy so many pounds of shrimp that we would even hire the locals to pull the heads off and pack them up for us.
But today we no longer visit Louisiana, on account of not being able to access the waters that the guides had been taking us for years. We quit coming to your state last year and are spending our many thousands of dollars on trips in our home state.
I would love to have brought my grandsons to Louisiana to experience y'all's great fishing, but all those plans are not going to happen thanks to the greed in your state.
Y’all come to Texas, we welcome all visitors.
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