Wyoming Supreme Court Upholds 55-Year-Old Fishing Rights

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The rights to fish a neighbor’s property along the banks of the Little Laramie River remain in effect 55 years after they were granted, Wyoming’s Supreme Court has ruled.

The court on Thursday settled a dispute between two landowners over whether the fishing rights first granted in 1965 were still in effect, even though the original landowners involved in the transaction had either sold or transferred their property to others.

The case stems from an agreement made in 1965 between two property owners in Albany County. One of the properties had a property line that stopped about 10 feet short of the Little Laramie River, while the neighboring property actually included the river and the 10 feet of land along the opposite riverbank.

The owners of the land that crossed the river granted to their neighbors, in a warranty deed, the right to fish along the riverbank.

Over the years, the property changed hands. Frederick and Stephanie Lindzey owned the property that crossed the river, while Scott Smithson and Elena Morozova took over the neighboring property.

The Lindzeys entered into negotiations to buy the Smithson property, but the parties could not agree on a price.

Shortly after the failed negotiations, the Lindzeys fenced off the 10 feet of land they owned along the Smithsons’ side of the river and put up “No Trespassing” and “No Fishing” signs.

The Smithsons sued, saying when they bought the property, they also bought the rights to fish on the 10 feet of riverbank.

A state district court dismissed the Smithsons’ complaint, saying the rights to fish the riverbank were only in effect as long as the property was owned by the person who granted the rights in 1965.

But the Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Justice Kate Fox, overturned the lower court’s decision, saying the legal document that gave the previous owners of the Smithson property the right to fish along the riverbanks contained no language that said those rights would expire just because the land changed hands.

In addition, the right to fish the riverbank has now become something of value added to the Smithson property that transfers to anyone who owns the land, the court said.

“The right to access to fish in the Little Laramie River runs with the land and transferred automatically to the Smithsons …” the opinion said.

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