A Beginner’s Guide to Blue Lining

Here’s a riddle: What has rivers without water? Forests without trees? Roads without cars?

Answer: A map!

All maps are treasure maps when you’re in pursuit of wild and native sportfish. Many anglers take great satisfaction in leafing through a gazetteer, and tracing their finger over the “blue lines” (rivers and streams) until they reach an access point, and then driving hours over dirt roads to get there and explore. This is a popular tactic for lots of backcountry anglers that love to bushwhack down into canyons and gorges in search of their finned quarry.

With the advent of google maps, and high definition satellite imagery, blue lining is easier than ever, which means that a lot of local “honey holes” are not so secret anymore. While some folks will be glad to point you in the right direction, it’s sometimes hard to even get a hint from “blue-liners” who have spent days and days driving around scouting good fishing spots.

A dilapidated mill dam I found blue lining in Alabama. This wasn’t even on the map!

For the experienced blue liner, exploring new water is still a thrill, but keeping “their” spots from getting popular is not an insignificant source of stress. For the novice, it can seem exclusionary and unfair that somebody wouldn’t help you get familiar with a new area. Fishing forums and facebook groups all over the country have rules forbidding members from even naming the watershed they were fishing in on their posts. Some even go so far as to blur out the background of their photos. If you think this is a little ridiculous, you’re not alone. Why even post a picture online if you’re worried about people seeing where you were? With all these rules, roadblocks, and hurdles to jump, how is anyone even supposed to get started with blue lining?

Well, here are a few steps that should help any beginner get their feet wet, without stepping on any toes.

  1. Research the habitat of the species you are pursuing. Redeye bass like rocky streams and deep, clear plunge pools adjacent to flowing water. Brook trout love woody debris, and canopy cover. Know what you’re looking for before you even look at satellite imagery.
  2. Check your state laws on navigable waterways and access at bridge crossings. In some states, the owners of the property adjacent to the stream have limited claim to the stream itself, making it legal to float through the stream (on a kayak or raft), but not walk on the bank. This can complicate the blue lining experience.
  3. Buy a fishing license! Funds from fishing and hunting licenses are one of the only sources of funds for conservation projects in most states. They also determine how federal dollars are allocated to the states.
  4. Start looking for blue lines on public land: state parks, county parks, national forests, and some national parks allow fishing. Check the regulations before you go, but usually, these places are a safe bet for fishing access. If you can find “fishy water”, with decent public access, go check it out!
  5. If public land is limited in your area, or your target species can’t be found anywhere else, you can use your county GIS website to see who owns the land you’d like to fish on, and contact them for permission. Do not trespass!
  6. Once you’ve found a honey hole, be proud of your accomplishment, and keep it close to your chest. I save mine in a private folder on my google maps account. If you’re old-school, literally put a pin in it! Most importantly, if one of the things you like about your new honey hole is that you didn’t see anybody else there, then don’t post about it on social media. 

I hope these tips are helpful to you! The days are getting shorter again, be safe out there!

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