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Two Days of Pay for Play

by anonymous bosch | Updated: 08.08.2011 |


Are Pay-for-Play fishing clubs the way to conservation or just a way to get a good rod fee? An invited guest’s observations at “The Club.”

This Land Was Saved From You and Me

Pay for Play fishing clubs have stirred up quite a conversation in the last few years. Promising exclusivity, anyone with the means can join for the price of membership fee, annual dues, per outing guide fees and accommodation fees for the right to fish “private water,” with the promise of catching big fish. These are the country clubs of the river. While that in itself is not extraordinary, there has been controversy surrounding the purchase, development of land within close proximity to the river, privatization of water, questionable wildlife and water management that may affect the fishery for all.


Over the past few years some clubs have gone so far as to block river access on their sections of water, despite clear federal laws mandating the ability to use rivers, under the Clean Waters Act of 1973(CWA), navigable waters definition. Additionally many clubs raise their own fish in uncontrolled environments with no guarantee of the health of the fish or the potential of delivering disease from stock tanks straight to wild fish in a river. Beyond that, accusations of pellet feeding to hold big fish in private sections of otherwise public waters are being leveled at some of these properties.


This account was provided to BAA unsolicited from a reliable source. The names of landmarks, rivers, organizations and people have been omitted in fairness to all.


From Anonymous Bosch:

I was invited as a guest of “the Property” to consider the facilities and enjoy the resources of their private club. I was intrigued by the opportunity to experience what so few get to enjoy. Although fishing for pets is not the fishing experience I typically enjoy, I could not pass up an invited opportunity to see how the other 1/20th lived. With the exception of the "exuberance" of my guide, I was treated well. Only at times did I have that dirty feeling you get when you pay for services of pleasure. However, the entire time I was there, I was acutely aware that I was experiencing what others willingly paid for and enjoyed as a “truly elite fly fishing experience.”


Armed with a semi-opened mind I was going to spend a couple of days on the property determined to try and identify the attraction of what seemed like a canned hunt for lions.  Would I stand on the bank waiting while a guide upstream opened a box and released a renegade brown in my direction? Would I fish in a pen or pond, I mean how do you guarantee fish in a river? My brain aquiver I headed towards the “barrel” for what sounded like the most boring fishing experience I could possibly have.


Day 1 – Operations, My @#$% Guide and Pet Rainbows

My host called me to confirm my arrival. He is one of the executive staff for the property and my host was who originally sent me my invitation. He must be important, he took care of a lot of shit for the club – new members, existing members, ongoing property development, etc. I got the feeling he knew just about everything that went on at the club.


When I arrived the temperature was 20 degrees above average. I was curious how this would impact the fishing.


There was no ignoring the numerous no trespassing signs and remote security cameras surrounding the property and the edge of the river. I felt safe for sure. Ever since I got mugged on that river that one day, I have been a big supporter of security on the river. Yup, I was safe as a kitten in a blanket.


After a brief introduction to my guide, I was shown to my room. As an invited guest, I was ushered to simple lodging at the main base camp on the river.


My room.

My room at the property, was only about $80.00 per night and was nice. But as I sat on the end of the bed I thought about paying that on top of the one time membership fee of between $50,000.00 and $100,000.00 plus annual fees, guide fees at $400.00 per day, plus beat fees for some of the more special beats -- I concluded this was indeed an exclusive experience reserved for some pretty fat cats -- still not sure how I got here, but here I was none the less.


The river to which I was adjacent, had initially been posted and an attempt was made to completely privatize the section that ran through the property. The property had attempted to not only close the river to foot traffic but also to boat traffic - on a navigable river. But the locals sued under the navigable water act and the public won. So as long as you stay below the high water mark anyone can still jump in at a point on the river that is not on the property and any licensed fisher can fish right in front of the property.


Scratching my head, thinking about wandering freely upstream to enjoy the primary water, I wondered what I would see today and tomorrow to justify the fees.    


My mind drifted out of logic land and began envisioning an army of fishermen and women chucking huge spoons and spinners -- or maybe spey rods shooting across from the far side to the property. Perhaps a flotilla of canoes with signs that read ‘Free Our Waters” or “Mutant Rainbows Eat Wild Fish.” I found myself rooting for bait fishers.