Private Waters

Guest Blogger: Mary S. Kuss, Life-long avid angler, licensed PA fishing guide, founder of the Delaware Valley Women’s Fly Fishing Association

Most of us have mixed feelings, if not outright hostility, to the concept of privatized fishing waters. Except, of course, for those of us who have access to them.

This aversion to private water may arise, in part, from our cultural history. The Europeans who arrived to colonize the Americas came from places where the aristocracy exercised iron-fisted control over the best natural resources, including fish and game animals. How wonderful it must have been for people who had never had legal access to fish and game to arrive in a place teeming with them, free for the taking. Americans quickly came to regard the use of this bounty as their right. In this new land there would be none of the oppression their ancestors had suffered in The Old Country. It should be noted, however, that they had no problem oppressing the original Native people who were here before them.

It didn’t take long for Americans to create a plutocracy as a substitute for the European aristocracy our ancestors fled. Those who were able to accumulate sufficient wealth, by whatever means, began to take control of natural resources and to exclude the common people. Resentment was inevitable, and still persists. I can recall very well my first encounter with private water. I was so naïve, it came as a complete shock.

The late Ernest Schwiebert had a tremendous impact on my fly fishing experience, right from the beginning. One of the first fly fishing books I owned was the first he published, Matching the Hatch. As soon as it was published I added Schwiebert’s Nymphs to my growing angling library. He would later issue a massive two-volume set on this topic, which I also acquired, but this was the earlier single-volume version. The dust jacket was a bright shade of turquoise, with the word “NYMPHS” down the spine in large white letters. The book was full of Schwiebert’s beautiful color drawings of the immature stages of various macroinvertebrate species. Visitors to my college dorm room would walk over to the shelf, take the book down, open it briefly, and say “Oh.” before putting it back.

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