Yellow Jacket Shoals Still Closed To Public Fishing

Daryl Kirby | May 5, 2023

Shoal bass anglers gearing up to fish Yellow Jacket Shoals need to put the brakes on those thoughts. After hearing that new legislation designed to protect fishing access to navigable streams has passed its final step, some may have thought that section of the Flint River was back open to public access. Although Senate Bill 115 was signed by Governor Brian Kemp this week, the new laws won’t take effect until July 1, 2023. And a Court Order prohibiting public fishing in the privately owned portion of Yellow Jacket Shoals of the Flint River remains in place. Anglers who fish there without landowner permission are trespassing. On March 23, the state settled a lawsuit brought by landowners. As part of the Court Order, the landowners did not contest or oppose the public’s ability to float through that section of the Flint River, but the public cannot fish.

In response to the situation at Yellow Jacket Shoals, SB115 was passed in the very final moments of the 2023 Georgia legislative session. Proponents say the new law could save public fishing access to Yellow Jacket Shoals, but landowners, who formed a partnership called Four Chimneys, are confident the fishing prohibition will remain in place. Brooke Gram, an attorney for Four Chimneys, said, “It is Four Chimney’s position that the Governor signing SB115 does not implicate the Court Order in the Four Chimney’s case or the DNR’s obligations under that Order. We consider the matter closed and have not been informed otherwise by the DNR or the Attorney General’s office. Should the DNR take a position that SB115 impacts its obligations under the Court Order, the DNR would be in contempt of the Court’s Order in the Four Chimneys’ case. More broadly, SB115 did not receive the review and drafting process typical of legislation. SB115’s as-passed language has little practical effect on a property owners’ existing rights on their property. It is my opinion that the State will not prevail if it intends to treat SB115 as somehow altering established Georgia Supreme Court precedent or existing rights of property owners.”

The state has not yet decided how SB115 might affect the Court Order. “We are in the process of conducting a thorough review of all signed legislation related to the department,” said Col. Thomas Barnard, Director of the DNR Law Enforcement Division. “Those reviews are not yet complete, including SB115’s impact on the state’s settlement with Four Chimneys LLLP, but will be completed prior to the SB115 going into effect July 1, 2023.”

Along with signing the legislation into law, Gov. Kemp issued this statement: “Senate Bill 115 seeks to ensure sportsmen have use of Georgia’s navigable rivers. My office has received many calls both in support of and some in opposition to this piece of legislation. After careful analysis, I have signed Senate Bill 115 for the following reasons. One, the state has invested millions of dollars collected through license fees to establish fisheries and boat ramps and to manage recreational fishing populations in our rivers. Two, this legislation does not affect non-navigable rivers or streams or change the definition of navigability. The definition of navigability is codified in a different subsection of this statute: O.C.G.A. § 44-8-5(a). Three, this legislation does not impact the use of water by adjacent landowners in navigable rivers. Four, this statute does not create a private right of action. Any implied private right of action is abrogated by statute. See O.C.G.A. § 9-2-8. This bill allows for the public to hunt, fish, and transit the navigable waters of this state – an embodiment of the principle of sic vos non vobis and a privilege that has been assured Georgians for generations. To the extent some believe it stands for more, House Resolution 519 establishes the House Study Committee on Fishing Access to Freshwater Resources. This study committee will meet between legislative sessions this summer and is the appropriate venue to receive suggested amendments to the language in Senate Bill 115.”

Current law in Georgia, GA Code § 44-8-5,  defines a navigable stream as one which is “capable of transporting boats loaded with freight in the regular course of trade either for the whole or a part of the year. The mere rafting of timber or the transporting of wood in small boats shall not make a stream navigable.” It also states that “the rights of the owner of lands which are adjacent to navigable streams extend to the low-water mark in the bed of the stream.”

GON will be following the progress of the upcoming House Study Committee on Fishing Access to Freshwater Resources, and what the state decides regarding public fishing access to Yellow Jacket Shoals in light of SB115 and the current Court Order that prohibits public fishing.

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  1. B. Cartwright on May 11, 2023 at 5:59 pm

    People need to ask themselves and GA lawmakers the obvious question: What if every landowner on the Flint decides to be like the jackholes at Yellowjacket and Flat Shoals?

  2. Larry on May 5, 2023 at 1:51 pm

    The State should use Immanent Domain to seize the land from the riverbank to 100 feet onto dry land. Where there is floodplain, they should take it too. They’ll sure do this if they want to build a highway or anything else. Protect the people’s right to use the Rive that God made and maintains.

    • Mitchell Webb on May 6, 2023 at 9:08 am

      I agree totally I’ve see people who build a dwelling on poles that get knocked down by flooding this debree is pollution and basically trash by now we all know the high level marks and there shouldn’t be anything other than campers and tents and if you leave it below that mark and the flood takes it the GA EPA should charge for cleaning it up

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