Laws on Walking and Hunting on Rivers & Creeks in California

by Jeremiah Blanchard
Rivers and streams are popular recreation areas in California.

Rivers and streams are popular recreation areas in California.

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California is a state with vast extremes in climate, wildlife and landscape. Being such a diverse region, opportunities for outdoor recreation exist at every turn. Numerous rivers and creeks run along countryside and through mountain passes. These rivers are popular for hikers and fishermen and are valuable sources for hunters to locate game. A few laws need to be noted prior to walking or hunting near rivers and creeks in California.

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Navigable Rivers and Streams

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that rivers are navigable and "held in trust" for the public. This applies to all 50 states. Navigable rivers or streams for title purposes are "owned by the state" and are open to the public, and cannot be owned or sold by any entity. A navigable river or stream is any river that can be used as a route for the public, whether navigated by any water vessel including boats, canoes, kayaks or rafts. Even if the river has obstructions that require water travelers to get out and walk around, the river is still legally navigable for public use.

High Water Line

The area of the river where the public is allowed to walk or engage in recreation is below the high water line. The high water line is defined as the visible line marked by water flow or debris deposited by the river at its highest point in the annual cycle, not including rare floods. On many rivers in California, this line can be hundreds of feet from the river. Beyond the high water line is respected property, which a person must gain permission to access if the property is owned. Public lands adjacent to the river are accessible by all the public unless posted otherwise.

River Hunting Areas

Hunting licenses are required for any hunting in California. Regulations for hunting on California rivers varies between the rivers being used for hunting. Some rivers are not zoned for hunting due to specific area features. This is largely dependent on what type of features and zones that are adjacent to the river. Such land features that prohibit hunting on rivers are nearby residential or commercial zones, roads and wildlife refuge areas.

River Hunting Regulations

Hunting is generally allowed on the banks of all navigable rivers between sunrise and sunset, from below the high water line where specific hunting zones and public lands are present. Hunters can shoot from the banks of the rivers, or from a boat on specific rivers that are zoned for hunting. Hunters cannot shoot in the direction of wildlife refuge areas if they are present. Hunters also cannot shoot between the river and any road or escarpment.

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