The River Access Act defines “Class I navigable” waters as those that are or may have supported commercial activities such as timber swimming, fur and hide transport, navigation, commercial multi-person boat guiding, public transportation, or freight transportation. This definition differs from the one used by the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation – DNRC – for other legal purposes. The federal definition is also different. Thus, Montana has a very liberal access to streams that allows the public to fully enjoy most of Montana`s rivers and streams for recreational purposes. However, it is important to realize that this law does not give the public the right to cross private property to reach rivers. After all, all the orange colors and “trespassing free” signs don`t mean fishermen can`t cross land to reach a river to swim or fish. To access the displayed property, all that is usually required is a polite request to the landowner. In most parts of Montana (there are a few exceptions, mainly in the Ruby River area, where most “pay to fish” areas are located), many landowners allow access to private property for fishing and swimming purposes. Recreation enthusiasts can use rivers and streams up to the usual high water mark for fishing, swimming, swimming, boating with a paddle or propeller (unless prohibited) and other water-related recreational activities (the wording of the law, not ours). The Act does not apply to ponds or lakes (it is called the Creek Access Act). An ordinary flood mark is not difficult to distinguish: it marks the place where runoff from the spring has flowed long enough to cause different features such as topsoil erosion or lack of vegetation. Floodplains are considered above the usual high water mark and are therefore taboo. Staying close to the creek and keeping your feet wet is the best way to make sure you don`t accidentally get in.
Angling, canoeists, and others visiting Wisconsin`s rivers and streams should be aware of the changes to waterway access rules enacted in the Wisconsin Budget Bill of 2001 (2001 Wisconsin Act 16). There are many designated sites accessible to the public throughout the region, connecting fishermen to miles of exploitable waters. Unless there is a special restriction, a fisherman can also access a creek from a circular bridge, but make sure your vehicle is parked discreetly and your tailgate is not suspended in the middle of the road. The law only allows you to park in the street easement, which can vary but is usually 30 feet from the center of the road. Members of the public may only use any exposed shoreline of a watercourse without the permission of the resident (i.e., landowner) if it is necessary to leave the water body to avoid an obstacle. In addition, a member of the public may not enter the exposed riparian area except: The Montana Creek Access Act states that Montana anglers, swimmers, and other recreational enthusiasts can take full advantage of most natural waterways between high water for fishing and swimming. as well as swimming and other river or stream activities. In 1984, the Montana Supreme Court ruled that the bed of a river or stream that can be used for recreational purposes is open to the public, regardless of whether the river is navigable or owned by the riverbed.   On January 16, 2014, the Montana Supreme Court upheld the Montana River Access Act and the public`s right to access Montana rivers from public easements in a lawsuit filed by the Public Land/Water Access Association for access via county bridges over the Ruby River in Madison County.
in Montana.  Montana law reflects the great value we attach to water recreation: it is so important that everyone has the right to enjoy it. The success of the River Access Act, an unprecedented piece of legislation on fishing licences and nature conservation, depends on mutual trust, cooperation and goodwill between landowners and fishermen. Laws can be repealed – let`s all help keep the Flow Access Act in place. As a result of this decision, the Montana legislature created regulations in 1985 to better define the public`s right of access to Montana`s rivers and streams. In particular, the legislator had to determine what a river is. It has been established that a river is something between the usual high water mark of a river. The legislator defines the ordinary high water mark as follows: The Act creates two classifications of recreational waters: Class I and Class II. Class I are waters that are suitable for recreational purposes and that have been declared navigable or suitable for certain types of commercial activities, including commercial equipment with multi-person boats. Class II waters are all other rivers and streams that are suitable for recreational use and are not Class I waters.  The Basic Law creating the Montana River Access Act began with Section IX, Section 3 of the 1972 Montana Constitution, which dealt with state ownership of Montana waters.
1984 in Montana Coalition for Stream Access, Inc. v. Curran, the Montana Supreme Court, stated that “under the doctrine of public trust and the Montana Constitution of 1972, any surface water suitable for recreational use may be used by the public without regard to riverbed ownership or non-recreational navigability.”  This decision was extended that same year by Mont. Coalition for Stream Access, Inc. v. Hildreth.  In both cases, it was found that access to riverbeds does not mean that the public has the right to cross private lands to access waterways.  After Curran and Hildreth, the Montana legislature enacted the Stream Access Act in 1985.
 In an Attorney General`s notice, fishing was added to the list of permitted recreational uses.  The issue of access to streams at grade crossings was resolved in 2009 by HB 190. The law states that a landowner may erect fencing adjacent to bridge structures to control livestock, provided the fence includes approved access features such as gates, pillars, etc.  We can thank PLWA/PLAAI veterans Jerry Manley, Tom Bugni and Tony Schoonan, Butte public fishermen, whose hard work and enduring belief in public trust led to the passage of the River Access Act. The Federal Court of Justice declared that the states held ownership of navigable river beds and that all new states would join the Union on an equal footing, owning land among rivers, lakes, islands and accumulations of navigable land in navigable river beds up to the average water flow line. The Montana Constitution of 1972 also states that the public owns state waters. However, it was not until 1985 that this access policy was developed, when the Montana State Legislature passed Bill 265, the Watercourse Access Act. SAL allows the use of public rivers up to the usual flood line for recreational purposes. Airworthiness determines whether a water body is public or private. Navigable waterways are public waters. Since navigable waters are public, they can be used for fishing as long as public access is available or you have permission from the landowner to cross their property to reach the water.
While the Flow Access Act grants a lot of freedom to the outdoorsman, it doesn`t give you the right to be an idiot. As Thoreau said, “It is not desirable to cultivate respect for the law, but for the law” – meaning that laws are often imperfect and you should tend to do what is right, not just what is legal. When in doubt, it is best to play it safe and get in touch with landowners. Respect their property, including gates and fences, and be as polite and discreet as possible. As a result, anglers and swimmers often use bridge crossings to reach a river where: A previous law in effect from 1999 to August 31, 2001 allowed people using Wisconsin`s rivers and streams to access exposed shoreline at all times up to the normal high water mark for water-related recreational activities. The Act distinguishes between large rivers with public beds and small rivers with private river beds by classifying them as Class I or Class II. Recreational access is permitted for both, but significant restrictions apply to small streams. Public Fact Sheet: Navigation and Navigational Incidents [PDF] In 2009, the public gained another access problem when the Montana legislature ruled that public recreational access to streams on the county`s highway bridges was legal and could not be denied.
The right to use the exposed coast applies only to rivers and streams. On lakes and rivers, the requirement remains that users must be in the water without the owner`s consent and are not allowed to use the exposed shoreline. To learn more about the difference between a lake and a river or stream, see What`s the difference between a lake and a river? Montana is unique among other Western states and most states in general. In 1984, the Montana Supreme Court ruled that the public may use rivers or streams for recreational purposes for activities such as fishing and swimming, whether the river is navigable or owns the riverbed. Montana`s River Access Act is the envy of anglers around the world. The law, ratified in 1985, states that rivers and streams suitable for recreational use may be used by the public, regardless of adjacent land ownership.