Access in Louisiana: public or private?

Kevin Gaubert is president of the Louisiana B.A.S.S. Nation, so he gets regular reports from anglers about the hottest fishing spots and the latest lures to catch the biggest bass in the Bayou State.

Gaubert is also a property owner in south Louisiana. He lives in Luling, which is a tiny town tucked beside the Mississippi River only a few miles west of Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. It may sound cliché, but he’s a proud American, and he values his right to live on his own property and do with it pretty much what he pleases.

These days, Gaubert is hearing as much about property rights as he is about bass fishing, and that’s cause for alarm, he said.

The calls started flooding in shortly after B.A.S.S. announced in August it would not allow Bassmaster Elite Series anglers to fish in Louisiana waters during a tournament scheduled to be held in April 2018 on the Sabine River – the state’s western border with Texas. That tournament is scheduled to be headquartered in Orange, Tex., but that city is only a few miles inside the Louisiana/Texas border. Without a doubt, many Elites likely would have fished in fertile Louisiana water as they have done in previous tournaments on the Sabine.

Officials with B.A.S.S, the world’s largest bass fishing organization, said it was a tough decision to keep anglers off Louisiana water, but one that was necessary. B.A.S.S. cited difficulty with Louisiana’s unique laws that allow landowners to claim as private any tidal or moving water that runs through their property. Under current Louisiana law, that means the overwhelming amount of water on the state’s coastline, and neighboring rivers and bayous, is technically offlimits to anyone except the landowner and invited guests.

And Gaubert said a rapidly increasing number of property owners indeed are laying claim to chunks of brackish marsh and intersecting waterways all along the coast. Some have gated canals that lead from public spaces onto private land, and others have asked for help from local law enforcement agents to keep trespassers from their land and the water cutting through it. Many tickets have been written and there are some who say anglers have been threatened with lawsuits, jail or worse if they dare return.

Those practices are treasonous to many of the hundreds of thousands of Louisiana anglers who take fishing as serious as LSU football. They say that because state law doesn’t require landowners to post their land, it’s nearly impossible to know when water is public or private. They say the ever-shifting coastline rearranges property lines on a daily basis and that shorelines they once fished have slowly deteriorated into open water (which long has been considered fair game to all anglers).

There has been passionate discourse from both sides, but Louisiana’s law on the matter remains vague to many and unchanged for all. And so the battle of wills continues, with landowners fighting for the right to manage and preserve their property as they see fit. Many say anglers encroach on their land, they disturb lucrative duck and deer leases and that Mother Nature makes nothing easier by continuing to take her own share of their land through erosion, subsidence and sea rise.

Meanwhile, many anglers insist their taxes also pay for fish and game management and that should make wildlife an asset for everyone to enjoy equally. Some also believe that property owners are as much as factor in land loss as saltwater intrusion and erosion.