Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

July 6, 2014

MARTINO: We must respect all lands

Martino discusses flowing waters and issues of trespass

Kokomo Tribune

---- — When the sun reaches its highest seasonal apex, many Hoosiers gravitate to rivers and streams for a variety of recreational opportunities — and with good reason.

Indiana’s moving waters also are an important part of the geography and history of our state. Whether wade fishing, canoeing, kayaking or floating in a tube, our flowing waterways provide some of summer’s greatest enjoyment. However, in some cases it can translate into trespass problems.

In no way do I want to diminish the value of our beautiful lakes and reservoirs, but to me the real quality outdoor experience most often comes from our moving waterways, particularly rivers and streams.

My own personal experiences led me to the fact that a person who becomes part of the natural surroundings encounters a deeper enjoyment than one who has his backside firmly parked in a boat seat on a busy lake lined with cottages. Unfortunately, enjoying our rivers and streams also can bring up problems with riparian landowners. I have written on this several years back, but recent issues merit revisiting.

Over the past several weeks I have been involved in conversations regarding the legality of using our local moving waterways, which seems to happen every year during our summer months. For example, just the other day a friend asked: “Can a guy tell me I was trespassing on his property and ask me to leave even though I was standing in the middle of the Wildcat Creek and not on his land?” Ironically the question came within a few hours that I too was planning on an afternoon of wade fishing. The short answer to this question is yes.

In Indiana, those who own land adjacent to non-navigable rivers and streams actually own the land under the water, yet the water itself is public. So if you float through without touching the bank or bottom you are not violating any laws. Step out of your boat and by the letter of the law you are trespassing. Remember, the key word is “non-navigable.”

Now, there is another important criterion for measuring legal availability of stream and river beds and it centers on “navigability.” If the waterway is considered navigable, then the state not only owns the water but the ground beneath it all the way to the so called “high-water” line, which means it is indeed public. So, your next question is obviously “what streams are considered navigable?”

In the late 1980s, Steve Lucas, director of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Commission’s division of hearings, took on the daunting task of determining which streams and rivers were considered navigable. Incidentally, navigability is largely dependent on whether these moving waterways were considered navigable and used as a corridor for transportation during the time Indiana gained statehood back in 1816.

To accomplish this, Lucas enlisted the help of conservation officers in all of Indiana’s 92 counties and most of the DNR’s other divisions. The results of several years of research were made available in 1990 which addressed many aspects of ownership as related to stream and river beds. Even to date, this document still changes from time to time.

To access this information go to the DNR’s website at www.in.gov/nrc/. When the web page opens, look to the right and click on the listing of lakes and rivers deemed navigable. It is a useful tool regarding information on the public availability of flowing waterways in our state.

One thing unusual was the fact that several small streams (some not much wider than a drainage ditch) were listed as navigable but our local Wildcat Creek is not. This is something I personally do not agree with because history proves our area’s early residents and inhabitants utilized the Wildcat as an important means of transportation. Why it is not classified as navigable, I don’t understand.

Even though years of diligent work went in to providing this compilation of important information, some ambiguities still exist. The answer though remains fairly simple for those who utilize our many rivers and streams. We must be willing, if not eager, to recognize and respect all lands, especially those that fall under private ownership, whether we agree with it or not.


Henry Cavazos narrowly took first place at the Kokomo Bass Anglers’ club tournament held on Lake Shafer. Cavazos won the event with five largemouth totaling 8.65 pounds. Jim Lorts snagged second place with five fish dropping the electronic scales at 8.6 pounds. The tourney’s “big bass” topped out at just over 2 pounds and was carried in by Ty Kendall.

Phil Reel won last Monday’s Kokomo Reservoir open team bass tourney, hosted by Cardwell Construction and Kokomo Marine, with five bass weighing 8.17 pounds. Doug Pence and Dick Mugg finished second with four bass topping out at 7.54 pounds. Brian Hamilton and Reed Kaiser took home the weekly event’s “big bass” trophy with a largemouth bass tipping the scales at 2.69 pounds.

Dave Catt and Mike Clark took the top spot at last Tuesday’s Delphi-Delco team bass tourney with two largemouth weighing 3 pounds, 15 ounces. Second place and “big fish” honors went to Bob Rose and Wayne Nolder with a single fish weighing 3 pounds, 2 ounces.

John Martino is the Tribune’s outdoors columnist. He may be reached by email at jmartinooutdoors@att.net.