Fishing Access to Private Land?

Question: Is fishing permitted on any private property with a creek, stream or river? I’ve been told that if the person fishing remains in the water (doesn’t go on the bank) that fishing is permitted even if the creek is in the middle of miles of private property. If this is correct, how would this law affect California private fishing resorts that state, guests only with no exceptions? Thanks for your help. (Peter G.)

Answer: According to Capt. Mark Lucero, in most cases anglers would not be permitted to fish streams that flow through privately owned land. However, an individual can legally access those waters if those waters are listed as “navigable” (defined and specified in the Harbors & Navigation Code [Sections 100-107]) and as long as the individual enters the water by a legal access, and then continues to navigate without having to come ashore or drag their vessel across land.

In other words, an individual can navigate a waterway via a flotation device, but once they step off the flotation device within private property, they may be subject to trespass covered under Penal Code 602. On waters listed within the Harbors & Navigation Code sections above as being “public navigation waters,” using a floating “boat” of some kind is permitted. There is no provision in that Code for any other access by foot or coming ashore, and there is no California Code which states that fishing is permitted on any private property with a creek, stream or river.

The California Constitution (Article 1 Declaration of Rights Section 25) does state that people shall have the right to fish upon and from the public lands of the state and in the waters thereof. Exceptions to this rule are lands set aside for fish hatcheries and state-listed preserves established by the Fish and Game Commission.

Can You shoot Across a Public Road with a Bow and Arrow?
Question:The law says that you cannot shoot across a public road with a firearm or hunt within 150 yards of another home or building without permission, but what about archery? What about target shooting with archery? If there is no law in your community, or unincorporated area of a county that prohibits or limits use of archery, and you want to shoot archery for target practice, does the same distance law apply? (James S.)

Answer: The same rules for firearms apply to archery equipment in this case – you may not shoot across a road or within 150 yards of a neighbor’s home, barns or outbuildings – even if just target shooting (ref. F&G Code Section 3004). In addition to shooting across a roadway, according to Lt. Don Kelly, this section also makes it unlawful for any person to intentionally release any arrow or crossbow bolt over or across any public roadway open to the public in an unsafe manner. Beyond this, different counties and communities may have more restrictive ordinances that they enforce so you should check with your local law enforcement office for this information.

Question on Taking Sheep Crab
Question: My husband and I were fishing for halibut the other day and pulled up a giant sheep crab because the line tangled around his leg. The crab was huge and could have fed a family of four. How big do they have to be to keep? Are they measured like lobster with that special metal ruler? Thank you for any information. (Cindy B.)

Answer: Since sheep crabs are not specifically mentioned in the ocean sport fishing regulations, they fall under the general invertebrate regulations – there is no minimum size limit (Fish & Game Code, Section 29.05.)

However, under Section 29.80, crabs may not be taken on hook and line – the only legal methods of take in southern California (I’m assuming you were fishing in southern California, as that’s where sheep crab are most common) are with a hoop net or by hand. So, you and your husband could not have legally kept a sheep crab that became entangled in fishing line.

Can You Use Food Stamps to Buy a Fishing License?
Question:Can I use food stamps to buy a fishing license? (a telephone caller)

Answer: No.

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Carrie Wilson is a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game. While she cannot personally answer everyone’s questions, she will select a few to answer each week. Please contact her at

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