When you’re seeking permission to fish in private lakes and ponds, it’s never too early to start. The things you do now could gain you access to prime waters that would be off limits otherwise.
The First Step: Be a Friend
Knocking on a landowner’s door and asking permission to fish each time you visit is common courtesy. But what makes you different from others who come to his or her door each year asking the same favor? The answer to that question may determine whether or not you’re granted access for fishing.
In my experience, you must show the property owner you’re a friend and not just someone asking a favor. Too often, anglers show up with no previous introductions or at inopportune times. Worse yet, many don’t show up at all, choosing instead the impersonal phone call as a means for asking permission.
Put yourself in the landowner’s place. You’ve worked hard and spent lots of money to manage your private fishery. Now, a stranger shows up, or calls, and asks permission to catch some fish from your pond or lake. You’ve never met the person before, don’t know anything about them and here they are wanting to take advantage of your hard work. What would you do?
Now, imagine another scenario.
You’re the landowner, and you’re building a new fishing pier on the pond by your home. Your friend Tom drives up with a stranger in the seat beside him.
“John, I’d like you to meet Jerry,” Tom says. “We attend the same church, and Jerry told me he’s been looking for a place to fish with his two young boys. I told him there are lots of bream and catfish in your pond, and if the two of you got acquainted, maybe you’d let him fish here with his youngsters.”
Following the introductions, Tom and Jerry pitch in to help you with the dock. You chat for several hours as you work, getting better acquainted with Jerry. At quitting time, Jerry asks if you and your wife might let him treat you to dinner sometime.
In this situation, don’t you imagine you’d be more inclined to grant fishing permission to Jerry than you would if he just showed up on your doorstep?
Here’s another one.
You’re working under your tractor when you hear this voice. A stranger hunkers down next to you, tells you his name and where he lives, and mentions he enjoys catfishing. “How ‘bout you, sir? You ever fish for whiskerfish?” the man asks.
“Uh-huh,” you say, in a voice that shows your distraction. “Hand me that crescent wrench, would you?”
The man complies with your request, then compliments you on the beautiful lake you’ve built on your property. You really don’t have much time for all this chatter right now though. The tractor has to be fixed today.
Then, to your surprise, the man crawls under the farm machine and asks if he might lend a hand breaking loose that stubborn bolt you’ve been working on.
When the two of you finally crawl out three hours later, you offer a greasy handshake and invite the man to join you and your wife for lunch. He agrees and seems genuinely pleased to see your tractor working again.
“Looks like that fence around your barn needs some mending,” he says as you walk to the house. “I could come back Saturday and give you a hand if you like.”
Are you starting to get the picture yet?
The true sportsman becomes a real friend to the landowner and not just a beggar hoping for a handout. In some cases, your contribution might be nothing more than a willingness to spend time visiting or an invitation to join you for a meal. In other instances, it may be something more concrete, like helping build a new fence or even offering to pay for the privilege to fish.
You won’t gain fishing permission every time you ask, even if you are a friend. Some people still worry about liability. Some reserve fishing privileges for family and close friends. Some prefer not to allow fishing on their property at all.
The ethical angler realizes this may happen and takes it in stride, remaining polite and showing gratefulness for the landowner’s time. Leaving a good impression is important, no matter what happens, because word travels fast through the grapevine.
Rude or inconsiderate people may find themselves blacklisted, with no place to fish. The thoughtful, polite individual, on the other hand, may find himself receiving fishing invitations from people he hasn’t even met.
Step Two: Show Your Appreciation
If you are given an opportunity to fish on someone else’s property, it’s important to show you’re appreciative of that gesture.
The first way to do that is to show respect for the landowner’s property.
Always pick up used fishing line, bait containers, lure packaging and such, including items left by other visitors.
Fish only those waters where the landowner has said it’s OK.
Don’t stretch or break fences you cross, and latch gates securely when you pass through.
Leave everything as you found it, and follow any special guidelines the property owner gives you. For example, some landowners might request that you release bass or other fish of a certain size and keep only panfish to eat. You should assure the owner you’ll follow all the guidelines you are given, then keep that promise.
As important as everything else is what you do after you fish. Never leave without stopping back by and saying thanks. Offer to share any fish you kept, and ask the owner if you could come back to help around the place sometime in the near future. Let your good manners show.
When you get home, find ways to show the landowner you’re not just a fishing-season friend. Send a gift at Christmas and for birthdays. Write a letter now and then, or phone to say hello. Invite your host to eat at your home and meet your family. Ask them to a special event. Stay in touch year-round and showyou really are a friend.
Finally, send a thank-you note, and do so every time you visit. You’ll be surprised how much such a simple gesture means to people. And you’ll be pleased when you have a new friend who enjoys your visits as much as you.