How a new fly fishing company connects anglers and landowners on private land
Coloradans wrestle with the public water versus private land conundrum regularly. Stream access laws aim to protect property owners from — among other things — outdoor enthusiasts trespassing on private land to fish in the public water. It leaves swaths of river nearly untouched, but a new company is working to connect private landowners with anglers in a mutually beneficial relationship.
RareWaters fashions themselves as the “Airbnb of fly fishing.” The company, launched in 2020, connects landowners with river access to fly fishers eager to find a stretch of river less crowded than somewhere publicly accessible.
“Public watersheds (are) getting a little overcrowded, overpressured and overrun, which isn’t good for the fish, it’s not good for the habitat, and not good for the water,” said Denver-based RareWaters founder Brenden Stucky. “And it’s not good for the angling experience. So we’re trying to kind of flip the script and provide special experiences at an affordable rate.”
About 30 property owners account for 60 miles of river listed with RareWaters, and the company said they are on track to offer 100 properties by the end of the year. Their site lists two sites in Carbondale and one in Glenwood Springs, at the $150-$180 per angler rate.
Stucky said the rod fee for RareWaters, starting at $125 per person and rarely going much higher, is targeted to fly fishers who are often priced out of private clubs that charge thousands in membership fees or guided trips on private property, which can edge into the high hundreds plus tip — and many anglers do not need a guide.
“That kind of rubs me the wrong way, particularly given all the back and forth on the private versus public natural resource debate as it relates to stream access and fishing and all sorts of other stuff,” Stucky said of high pricing for private access. “For me we’re not about catching a lot of fish or big fish. It’s more about that deep connection with the outdoors.”
Stucky said his mission with the RareWaters concept is to provide a sustainable mode of passive income for landowners in the West, particularly those who are land-rich and cash-poor like his grandfather in Kansas.
Stucky and RareWaters CEO R.J. Hosking said that landowners partnered with the company generate a passive income stream in the $10,000-$80,000 range. They can choose when to list their property and whether to allow camping. Anglers are required to sign a “Leave No Trace” policy and practice ethical fishing (i.e.,catch and release fishing, barbless hooks).
“We kind of join those two together to create an incredible experience for both landowners to create passive income, help with conservation efforts, help with their riparian habitat, and so forth,” said Hosking, “as well as provide anglers with water that oftentimes is rarely fished. And sometimes it’s never been fished before.”
Right now, the RareWaters offers sites from six states for anglers to book on their site, all west of the Rockies, and they are looking to expand.
In much of the high country and the rest of the nation, a housing crisis looms over mentions of companies like “Airbnb.” And while Stucky and Hosking recognize the charged nature of that analogy, they insist that the complicated side effects of short-term rentals do not apply to RareWaters’ mission.
“That passive income (from RareWaters) is not something that really moves the needle, from a financial perspective,” Stucky said. “It helps them maintain and take care of the property. And it helps pay some bills.”
He and Hosking both said that monetizing fly fishing access is different from blending residential property and tourist lodging, mostly because permitting anglers to access private property will not inflate property value to a comparable degree as short-term rentals.
Data from a recent client survey showed that the anglers using RareWaters track with the larger demographic of fly fishers: middle-aged, white and male.
“The reality is most of our clients fit the mold of the angler demographic as it stands now, but we’re looking to really change that and to make it way more inclusive,” Hosking said. The more accessible entry-point offered by RareWaters is a way to achieve that inclusion, he said.
The company partners with nonprofits like Trout Unlimited Fishing the Good Fight, and more, organizations that focus on conservation, mental health care and access for underrepresented identities in the angler community.
The cornerstone of RareWaters is conservation and honoring the outdoors, Stucky said.
“If you’re on somebody’s ranch, and you catch a fish, well, that ranch is bumping up against the public watershed. And when that fish swims up to the public stretch, we want somebody to enjoy that special experience with that rainbow or that brown trout just like they did on the private stretch,” he said. “I grew up hunting and fishing with my dad and my grandfather. And I want to protect and preserve the right for future generations to do that.”
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