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Bill Lynch’s fishing column: Fly-fisher’s dream is dead

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Leland Fly-fishing Ranch, opened in 2009 by Josh Frazier, owner of Leland Fly Fishing Outfitters, a San Francisco-based fly-fishing tackle business, is gone. The roughly 13 acres on which it sits next to the Schellville Airport on Arnold Drive is for sale, apparently either as a commercial site or for a private residence.

When it opened in July of 2009, local fly-fishers saw it as a really good thing. Sonoma Valley business leaders saw it as a welcome addition and improvement to the local economy.

My column about its opening led as follows:

“Landing softly in the Valley of the Moon like a well-placed dry fly on a crystal-clear spring creek, Leland Fly Fishing Ranch on Arnold Drive, just south of the Schellville Airport, opened its doors for business last month, and has already been discovered by many local fly-fishers and others wishing to become fly-fishers.

“For those who fish with feathers it is better than Disneyland – a place in which anglers could spend hours, and then come back again and again. There is nothing like it in the fly-fishing world anywhere. It is the dream come true of Josh Frazier, owner of Leland Fly Fishing Outfitters, whose shop at 463 Bush St. (at Grant Street) in San Francisco, has been serving the Bay Area since 1985.”

That dream is now dead.

I first heard about Frazier’s plans in early 2004 from Valerie Brown, Sonoma Valley’s representative on the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. Valerie is also a fly-fisher and she seemed excited about the proposal.

I wrote this in June of 2004, after the plans were announced:

“Local fly-fishers will be delighted to hear that Leland Flyfishing Outfitters, a Bay Area fly-fishing outfitter since 1985, is planning to locate a fly-fishing ‘ranch’ here in Sonoma for the company’s fly-fishing schools. Plans include a small retail shop and a couple of casting ponds that will have trout. The 10-acre location is 24120 Arnold Drive, which is in Schellville across from the airport, south of the Fruit Basket.”

The details of the plans for the ranch, including the pond to be located next to the airport, were known by county officials years in advance of the construction. They were reviewed in detail in public meetings, including the Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission. The authorities in charge of permits knew what Frazier wanted to do, and that is relevant to what happened in 2011-12 after the ranch had been open and operating for nearly two years.

It was then that the county decided to kill the already completed and operating business. Nobody prior to that time had suggested that the fly-fishing casting ponds would be a problem next to the airport.

But in 2011 the county decided it was a problem. It declared that Frazier had not gotten the proper permits for most of his work, including the ponds. It took Frazier to court. He admitted that unintentional mistakes were made in the permit process, but that he had tried to do the right thing.

He settled and agreed to pay a $53,000 fine and court costs. But the settlement deprived the ranch of its main asset. It banned Josh from operating his fly-fishing school on the ponds.

This also had something to do with a two-year feud Josh had with his next-door neighbors at the Schellville Airport, who claimed that it was against FAA regulations to have such ponds near an airport because they attract birds.

This argument might have seemed more genuine if the airport itself didn’t have much larger ponds on its own property, and had they spoken up at the time Frazier’s plans were first announced in 2004, which they apparently didn’t.

No one, including our county supervisor, warned Josh that he couldn’t put in the ponds next to the airport.

From the beginning, the county knew that this project didn’t fit neatly into one of their boxes on the application. There was no category for casting ponds for a fly-fishing school. It was unique, one-of-a-kind. County officials apparently didn’t care.

From 2012 on, the Leland Ranch was only marginally operational. There were attempts at an appeal, but with the forced closure of the ponds, the main purpose for the fly-fishing ranch’s existence was effectively dead.

Josh sold his catalog business and eventually closed the retail shop. The place became a ghost ranch.

In July of 2016, I called Josh to ask if he had any plans to open again. He told me that he still wanted to reopen, and he hoped to get final approval from Sonoma County for a fly-fishing school, casting ponds included.

That was the last time we spoke. He apparently never got his permits.