"Do you know where you are?" the man asked.
"Darlington Ditch," I responded.
"No, this is not Darlington Ditch. This is Spring Creek."
"No, I'm not. I'm within the high-water mark on a natural waterway."
"Did you cross that fence with the signs?"
"Then you are trespassing."
"No, I'm not. I have stayed within the high-water mark at all points. I know I'm on private property, but I have a right to be here."
"On the river, that's how it works (pointing to the nearby Madison River). But not here."
"Is this a natural waterway?"
"Look sir, I will get outta here, but I am not trespassing."
"That's all I ask."
|Click to enlarge|
It might be easier to let it go, but then ignorant harassers win. I knew I had a right to be there, it was obvious that I was in fact on Darlington Ditch as it was named on a sign just upstream (which didn't ultimately matter - anglers have a right to be there no matter what it's called), but he wasn't about to let it go. The Rice Ranch will be getting a letter from me explaining: that that particular creek is Darlington Ditch; the Montana stream access law; the fishing regulations on Darlington; and that I will see them again soon. I will be back with cell phone in hand, and will get Gallatin County's finest involved if necessary.
The creek itself is intriguing. The vast majority of the water is about 6 inches deep, with a slot here and there that gets to about 2.5 feet deep. It's very mucky in places (I fell through some ice into waist-deep black-tar sludge), and very weedy in true spring-creek fashion. There are a few tailouts, but eventually it turns into a slow, placid, featureless lake. There is a nice blurb about Darlington Ditch in the current Montana Sporting Journal in the "Spring Creek Tour" article.
And more follow-up: http://joshuabergan.blogspot.com/2011/10/darlington-threequell-darlinton.html