Ranch Management – Private Water Fishing Leases?
Steven Bardin and Justin Bryan
When it comes to the discussion of water not only is it essential for many wildlife species, if large enough it can also provide family and friends with recreational opportunities such as fishing, swimming, and waterfowl hunting. In addition, large bodies of water further enhance the beauty and visual appeal of a property, at times positively impacting the overall value of a property. Interestingly, with a little planning, these bodies of water can provide landowners with an opportunity to see significant annual financial returns on their “liquid” investments from fishing leases.
Fishing leases have in the last 5 – 10 years become more common throughout the southern U.S. Longer periods of warm weather provide excellent conditions for fishing and a long growing season for fish. As with any lease, the fishing lease model(s) varies with a ranch owners personal preferences but in general, we see private water fishing leases take two forms, the annual lease and the day lease.
In the case of an annual fishing lease, which is similar to an annual hunting lease, a select group or single angler leases a lake(s) exclusively per year or for a period of years. For the landowner, this model provides greater security as he/she over time, will get to know the anglers and learn their use and care of the property and fisheries; however this “yearly lease model” is typically the less profitable of the two models. The fee for such a lease is generally established based on the quality (actively managed or not) of the fishery and any amenities that may or may not come with it, such as housing, camping site, use of on-site-boat, dock, etc.
The second model is termed a “pay by the day” which often requires more administrative work but is generally much more profitable and can be developed to be very profitable. In this situation, the fisherman/men pays a fee for the right to fish the lake(s) for one or two days at a time. In this case, a landowner may “check in” new fisherman to the lake every 3 or 4 days. In this case, the per day fees are generally representative of the quality of the fishery…a managed fishery creates better fish (quality and quantity) and thus demands a higher per day fee as does additional amenities such as those mentioned above and included all equipment provided, personal guides, cook, etc.
In a situation where the lake owners intentions are to maximize potential income a fisheries biologist/consultant is generally actively involved in the management of the lakes throughout the year. These activities include stocking, shocking, setting harvest limits and standards, creating and enhancing aquatic habitat, building boat docks/ramps, etc. In cases where a landowner desires to maximize the fishery income he/she will often use an outside broker that specializes in acquiring and managing fisherman/women for private water fishing opportunities. These brokers can have a plethora of lakes they are associated with and managing 100’s of clients for those properties.
In a fishing lease, size does matter in regards to the acreage of the lake(s) and size of the fish, therefore large and/or multiple lake(s) managed for quality fish will demand a higher fee than say a typical farm pond that is leased annually for “fun” fishing opportunities. As mentioned prior, to demand higher fees, quality accommodations are just as important as the fishery itself. In general, private lake owners turning the highest profits are providing properly equipped boats, high quality fishing gear, guides, overnight lodging and meals. In essence, when we talk about the premier fishing lease operations nationally and considering pricing a landowner must take into consideration the whole experience that can be offered to fishermen and women.
The benefits of a fishing lease for lake owners in many cases goes beyond the immediate cash payback, as anglers are required to cull select size fish to help improve the fishery overtime. They also require anglers to record select data of their catches such as weight, length, lure type, time of catch, etc. which are all valuable pieces of information anglers can gather that will help a fisheries biologist properly manage and enhance the fishery. If managed correctly a fishing lease allows a landowner to turn a profit, improve the fishery, and potentially increase the overall value of the property.
For more information regarding fishing leases and fish management on your property feel free to contact us at Hall and Hall.