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What to Look For in a Fly-Fishing Property

When searching for a western property with private fly-fishing, there are many considerations to keep in mind. Evaluating a truly premier fly-fishing ranch requires a comprehensive look not only at the attributes inside the boundaries of the property, but also an in depth assessment of the overall fishery resource and the circumstances surrounding it. Because this practice can be complex and multi-faceted, many sophisticated ranch buyers rely on us for our experience and expertise in orchestrating the process from property identification through due diligence to closing and ongoing work after the purchase. Here are just a few top-level considerations to keep in mind when assessing a fly-fishing property.

Stream Access Law

There are a myriad of ways that western states approach regulating public access to rivers and streams. Depending on the type of property and level of privacy you are looking for, this is an important factor to consider early in your quest and can restrict your search to certain states. For instance, all water and streambeds in the state of Montana are publicly accessible. This can be a benefit for landowners because they may literally have many miles of adjoining waterway access continuing directly off their property. But at the same time these owners will need to be comfortable with the idea of other fisherman possibly walking through their ranch and boat traffic floating by. One prime example of this is found at Sundance Bench Ranch on Southwest Montana’s Madison River, where 60 miles of river access is available right out the doorstep. Conversely, states like Colorado and Wyoming have a different interpretation of the law governing stream access where the underlying landowner owns the streambed and the public only has rights to the water itself. This means a public fisherman standing in a river on private property in Colorado or Wyoming without the landowner’s permission would be trespassing. This can translate into a greater level of privacy for fly-fishing property owners. A couple of great examples of this are found at The Cottonwood near Daniel, Wyoming with almost 40 miles of private streams, and Mountain Spirit on the Navajo which is located on the very exclusive Navajo River in southwest Colorado.

The Cottonwood | Fly-Fishing Property
The Cottonwood, near Daniel, Wyoming

Water Diversity

One thing that separates great fishing properties is having a diversity of water types. Ranches with multiple fishing resources are more well-rounded and present anglers with more options. For instance, K-T Ranch in northwestern Colorado controls miles of the freestone White River that provides big water with traditional runs, holes, and riffles. It also features Lone Tree Spring Creek that offers a lighter and more technical fly-fishing experience and also provides important habitat for fish moving out of the river during spawning season. Finally, K-T Ranch also has stillwater fisheries on spring fed beaver ponds and wetlands that present yet another resource and fishing style. Clearly the more options there are, the more desirable and valuable a fly-fishing ranch can be.

Daniel Carter fishing on the White River at K-T Ranch.
Ranch Broker Daniel Carter fishing on the White River at K-T Ranch.

Ecosystem Type & Fishery Health

Of course a central component when examining a fly-fishing property is investigating the health of the aquatic ecosystem. After all, this ecosystem is the most important factor that provides the habitat to fish. There are many different types of aquatic habitats throughout the western US ranging from coastal streams at sea-level to high mountain lakes at 14,000 feet. Studying the entomology (insect life) of the fishery is a crucial element to knowing what the food sources are to fish and plays a major role in knowing how sustainable and healthy the resource may be. Water purity also plays a part in identifying overall ecosystem health and can shed light on the long-term resiliency of fisheries. When conducting this type of due diligence, we often will rely on a network of qualified consultants to provide the more technical inputs that are needed. Owning water rights on the ranch can help mitigate ecological issues and give a new owner the ability to further develop or enhance fish habitat. Open Box Z Ranch on Troublesome Creek in Colorado has outstanding senior water rights that could potentially be utilized for stream restoration, enhancement and pond development.

Irrigation & Flow Impacts

In the west, the old saying goes “Whiskey is for drinking, and water is for fighting.” Our rivers are our lifeblood throughout the Rocky Mountain West as we rely on the water not only for recreation but for agricultural irrigation, municipality consumption, and other commercial uses. The level of irrigation and flow restrictions surrounding a ranch can make or break the quality of a fishery depending on just how much water can be pulled out of the river, or what amount of warm or contaminated irrigation water is returned into the river after irrigation is complete. It is important to take the time to understand the impacts of the water rights within the watershed and have a network of trusted contacts to call upon to gather the necessary information. North Park Colorado is home to the Double R Ranch, which has a healthy fishery that benefits from a well appropriated watershed and sound irrigation management practice.

Double R Ranch | Substantial Water Rights and River Frontage
Double R Ranch in Walden, Colorado

There are many factors to consider when looking for the right fly-fishing property, and these topics really just scratch the surface. For more information or if you are looking for assistance with buying or selling a premier fly-fishing ranch, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We’d love to hear from you.

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