Private property owners have rights to the riverbanks and beds of the rivers on their private property. Anglers cannot set foot on or make contact with the riverbanks or river beds without permission from the landowner. While the law on floating the river may be unclear, such as with recreational rafting or floating of a river without coming into contact with riverbeds or banks, the law on trespassing is clear and anglers should be fully aware of the consequences and penalties of trespassing while fishing.
Trespass, under Colorado’s criminal code, ranges from a petty offense to a felony depending on the circumstances of the trespass and the description of the property (agricultural land carries harsher penalties). The statutes defining trespass in the criminal code clearly identify the “stream banks and beds of any non-navigable fresh water streams flowing through” private property as private property. Many anglers falsely believe there are such laws as “high water marks” or “below the surface of the water” that would protect them from prosecution for trespassing. However, while these common law exceptions have been passed down for years, they have no basis in Colorado law.
For example, while ostensibly you could float entirely on the surface or in the water running in the river, any contact with the bank or bed of the river would qualify as an unlawful trespass unless you had the permission of the owner. Recreational floaters such as white water rafters and canoe enthusiasts have struggled with private property landowners over the true definition of floating and whether it constitutes a trespass, and this is still unfortunately very unclear in the eyes of Colorado law. However, the statutory definition for trespass regarding river beds and banks is well settled.
Similarly, trespass in Colorado under the wildlife statutes states that fishing or hunting on private property without permission is a misdemeanor offense. While this is a separate statute, the definition for private property described in the criminal code will still apply, and you could be charged with additional offenses such as Colorado Fishing Violations. Fishing while trespassing is a 20 point offense, meaning you are likely to lose your license to hunt and fish for a period of time as decided by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. It is worth noting, that even if you only receive a citation under Colorado’s criminal code for trespassing and not the similar wildlife code charges, you will still face losing your hunting and fishing privileges due to the lesser known rule that a conviction or guilty plea to any offense under the criminal code committed while hunting or fishing earns the individual an automatic hearing with CPW regardless of accumulated points.
If you receive a Fishing Violation for trespass, it is imperative that you speak to an attorney prior to pleading guilty, paying your ticket, or appearing in court. Colorado Fishing Violation Lawyer Nathaniel Gilbert helps fishermen, hunters, guides, and outfitters with Colorado Wildlife Violations determine their best defenses and make the right choices going forward with their ticket. For more on Colorado Fishing Violations, or to submit your ticket information to have Nate contact you, Click Here.