First Fishing Access Public Meeting Draws Crowd

Full video of the meeting and public speakers.

GON Staff | October 5, 2023

A crowd spilled outside the building and vehicles filled the available parking during the first public meeting of the Georgia House of Representatives Study Committee to discuss fishing access to rivers and streams. The meeting was held yesterday, Oct. 4, 2023, at Towerhouse Farm Brewery in Meriwether County, mere miles from the upper Flint River, where the issue of fishing access and what constitutes a navigable waterway has come to a head.

The 12 members of the House of Representatives serving on the committee are some of the most influential legislators in the state, a clear indication of the importance and complicated nature of the issue. The issue… public fishing access to streams and rivers, which is determined by whether a waterway is considered navigable.

Currently, Georgia law states: “the term ‘navigable steam’ means a stream 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.” The law also says “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.” For streams that are not navigable, the landowner’s rights extend to the centerline of the stream bed with exclusive fishing rights, or if they own property on both sides of the waterway, the entire stream bed.”

The public meeting featured comments by stakeholders, which included Georgia DNR, the Flint Riverkeeper and Georgia Wildlife Federation, and also comments from anglers and landowners who fall on both sides of the issue. The issue came to the forefront earlier this year at Yellow Jacket Shoals on the upper Flint River after a court settlement ruled in favor of landowners and ended public fishing access, and then a subsequent ‘Hail Mary’ by the Georgia Legislature with a last-minute passage of Senate Bill 115 that many feel—included Georgia DNR—reaffirmed the public’s right to fish the stretch. In light of confusion by anglers after the court order that banned public fishing and the subsequent passage of SB 115, GON asked DNR specifically whether the public can legally fish Yellow Jacket Shoals.

The response from DNR said, “All navigable streams continue to be open to the public for fishing and passage pursuant to the public trust doctrine, the common law of the State of Georgia, and consistent with Georgia statutory law. This remains so even where private title to stream beds originates from a crown or State grant. For this reason, the Department of Natural Resources will not consider fishing without permission in navigable streams as a chargeable criminal offense. Accordingly, the Department will not bring criminal charges for fishing without permission in violation of O.C.G.A. Section 27-4-2 (the statute for fishing without permission) against persons fishing in navigable streams, even when the stream beds are privately owned pursuant to a crown or state grant.  This does not impact the enforcement of O.C.G.A. Section 27-4-2 on non-navigable streams and further does not permit fishing upon nor passage through private property which abuts navigable streams.” Cutting through the legalize of the statement, GON asked specifically whether DNR was citing anglers for fishing without permission at Yellow Jacket Shoals, and the answer was no.

Ben Brewton, whose family owns the Upson County side of the Flint River at Yellow Jacket Shoals, spoke during the meeting. Mr. Brewton’s comments begin at 1:39:35 on the YouTube video.

Upcoming meetings to be conducted by the Fishing Access to Freshwater Resources House Study Committee include:
• Oct. 12: Soque River, Habersham EMC Community Room, Clarkesville; 8:30 a.m.
• Oct. 18: Toccoa River, Details TBD
• Oct. 25: Ogeechee River, Georgia Southern University, Statesboro; 12 noon.

The State Representatives on the House Study Committee looking into fishing access on rivers and streams include some of the most influential members of the House.


It was a full house as the first public meeting on fishing access to rivers and streams began at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 4. Public comments ranged from anglers wanting fishing access preserved—or at least clarified—to landowners who feel their property rights are being taken unfairly.


Ben Brewton, whose family owns the Upson County side of the property bordering the Flint River at Yellow Jacket Shoals, spoke during the Oct. 4, 2023 meeting on fishing access. Mr. Brewton’s comments begin at 1:39:30 on the YouTube video.

Members of the House Study Committee on Fishing Access to Freshwater Resources
Rep. James Burchett (House District 176 – Waycross), Study Committee Chairman
Rep. Trey Rhodes (House District 124 – Greensboro)
Rep. Mack Jackson (House District 128 – Sandersville)
Rep. David Jenkins (House District 136 – Grantville)
Rep. Victor Anderson (House District 10 – Cornelia)
Rep. Will Wade (House District 9 – Dawsonville)
Rep. Al Williams (House District 168 – Midway)
Rep. Rob Leverett (House District 123 – Elberton)
Rep. Lynn Smith (House District 70 – Newnan)
Rep. Vance Smith (House District 138 – Pine Mountain)
Rep. Stan Gunter (House District 8 – Blairsville)
Rep. David Knight (House District 134 – Griffin)

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