By Drew Gregory
Over the last few years fishing of Wild Waters, I am often asked the following about rivers: "How do you access them, and how do you know they are safe?
Honestly, the answers are simpler than you may think.
Where to access rivers?
All states have different laws concerning the riverbed, but pretty much all of them agree that if the water is navigable, then you are allowed to float and fish on it.
You can pretty much access all rivers at public bridges because there is public right of way along either side. This does not apply to interstate bridges, however. Another option would be public landings/launches, which are normally listed on the state’s game & fish website.
Accessing public water can also be researched via websites such as AmericanWhitewater.org, which is normally used for whitewater paddlers that are looking for sections with some sweet rapids to hit. Well, the information can be used in the opposite way for anglers who are looking to avoid larger rapids, or at least know what they’re about to get into if they decide to fish that section. Numerous other fishing and paddling forums in your area can also be helpful with the right words typed into the “search” box. Finally, using the proper Google search with the name of your river or creek and the word “fishing” or “kayak” can turn up successful results.
How do you know if the river is at a safe level to fish?
Whether you are fishing a river that has a water-releasing dam upstream or a free-flowing watershed, you’ll always want to reference the USGS Water Data website – to learn what the current level is and other important information such as temperature or cubic feet per second (CFS). If you paid attention in 2nd grade, you should have learned how to read a graph, so you’ll easily be able to read these graphs/tables. I try to find the graph for the river that will show the “median” streamflow for that river. If the current river level is below, at, or slightly above the median then I know that it is most likely clear enough and safe enough to fish. I would feel good about driving to a river that I’ve never been to, even if it is hours away, once I have this data. If you see that the river is well over the median level, you’ll likely also notice that it is too high and/or muddy to fish safely and effectively.
If you are fishing on a river that has a dam release upstream (usually creating large lakes and reservoirs) then you may want to find out who owns/controls that dam. Many times they have a phone number or website you can visit that will give you the information on that day's release schedule. The last thing you want to happen is to end up on a river where the water rises quickly and swiftly to a level that is beyond your paddling skill level. Bottom line, I have yet to have a bad time fishing a section of river. Even if it wasn’t the best fishery, it’s always a cool adventure exploring wild waters.