Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Incident at Milesnick's could reignite debate

I heard this morning that an angler on the MZ- Ranch - better known as Milesnick's - was recently electrocuted when his fly rod touched a power line. It is a horrible, unfortunate incident about which details are sketchy, but Tom Milesnick confirmed to me via e-mail that there is a lawsuit pending from the angler or his family, and that he could not comment further.

He also confirmed that access to fishing and hunting on all of their properties has been suspended pending the outcome of the lawsuit. If the outcome favors the unfortunate angler, they may never allow access again.
Thompson Spring Creek, just above its mouth.

The Milesnicks allow access to two spring creeks on their property north of Belgrade, Montana for a fee, and have a sign-in system that allows anglers free access to their property on the East Gallatin River.

They have a longstanding record of cooperation and allowing access to anglers. They are model landowners from sportsmen's perspective, which is why burning the bridge to them would set a scary precedent for the other pay fisheries including Armstrong's, Depuy, and Nelson's spring creeks in Paradise Valley and other creeks and lakes on private property statewide. Moreover, it sets us up for another stream-access battle.

The Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks brochure on stream access does say: “the Legislature has limited the situations in which a landowner may be liable for injuries to people using a stream flowing through his property...The law states that landowners and others covered by the restriction on liability are liable only for acts or omissions that constitute ‘willful or wanton misconduct’.” So to rule against that (which would be the cast if the angler wins), would be a ruling that directly contradicts the stream access law. Once that seal is broken, the rest of our beloved law could be up for grabs.

Let me be clear, however, that many details about the incident and litigation are not known at this time.

In my opinion, anglers need to take responsibility for themselves, and if and when an accident occurs, they shouldn't seek reparations from those who allowed them to be there (not that it's anything new or unique to Montana or fishing). It's a tragedy and I feel for the angler and his family, but responsibility should not be spread where it does not belong, especially when so much is potentially at stake.

UPDATE: As of 2014, the land is no longer open to access the creeks via a rod fee. Apparently, so the goes the story I've heard, the property is under the management of different family members who are not interested in this aspect of the business. The creeks should still be open to fishing, as they still fall under Montana's stream-access law. Access, however, must be gained legally which can be difficult here (thus, the advantage of paying the rod fee - you could hike across their property to the creeks).

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Darlington, the threequell: Darlinton

If you're just tuning in now, refer to Part 1 and Part 2 ...Now that we're all up to speed....
Part 3:
As part of an assignment for the Fly Fish Journal regarding the encounter and it's relevance in the recent stream-access/ditch debate in Montana, I paid a visit to the Rice Ranch to apologize, to discuss the issue with two (hopefully) rational parties, and to inform them what I'd learned since the argument I was given was not exactly accurate. Unfortunately (maybe), the gate was closed and padlocked, and no one appeared to be around.

I therefore mailed a letter since all I really knew about them was the address, and waited to hear back. My deadline came and went without a response, so we moved forward without their response. But in late August, I did get a very nice e-mail from a member of the Rice family, which showed that the Rices are just another gregarious Montana ranch family trying to coexist with a broadly worded stream access law and a popular sport.

Her response:

Many thanks for your recent letter and interest in the legalities of fishing in and around Cobblestone.  I am very appreciative, not only of your inquiry but also your follow up.  As you can imagine, it is hard live next door to a public fishing access…a constant balance between the public and the private.

I don’t know who you talked to on the Rice Ranch but your suggestion about posting further information is a good one.

Unfortunately, the verbage for that body of water has gotten hopelessly confused and mislabeled…even Darlinton, the actual spelling of my family name is incorrect on the documentation and signage.

My husband and I will be in residence at the ranch soon after Memorial Day.  Next time you are out there to fish, please stop by to say hello so we can continue the conversation.

Best wishes,
(name kept private)
I have not followed up with her yet, and frankly don't know that I will. From my perspective, the issue has been resolved. That said, it would probably be a lovely experience meeting such a warm-sounding person, and I'd probably be better off for it.
All in all, this has been a positive experience. I have learned about the intricacies of the Montana stream access law, met knew people, sparked an interesting discussion and got published nationally in one of the best fly-fishing publications going (you can read the piece in the current FFJ - 3.1). But at least for a while, I might stick to less questionable fisheries. Maybe.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Loose-lipped LTL drivers

Whoa. I just got an education in some local water from our Reddaway driver, who has lived in the Gallatin Valley for his whole life. Note to self - don't mention names when talking fishing with delivery drivers. Three or four lakes in the Tobacco Roots, some tributaries to the Gallatin to hit in the fall, a hard-to-get-to lake in the Crazy Mountains with what his hands were claiming were 25-inchers, but his mouth called 16- to 18-inchers... I listened with wide ears, like a dog who thought he heard someone say "treat".
I have no plans to go immediately exploit any of these fisheries, but I will add them to my list of rainy-day spots. Heck they might all be busts, as I'm not sure exactly how "fishy" this guy was. But he was excited about them, and they'd be adventures regardless.
The lesson: Keep your ears to the ground - you never know when you'll hear something worth hearing.