It is human nature to push the envelope when it comes to obeying the law - driving, eating, drinking, yes even fishing. It's called getting your money's worth.
Motorists regularly drive "five over," fast-food fans want to be "super-sized" and overfed, drinkers easily fall into the just-one-more trap, and fishermen - well, they can get just plain creative in stretching the rules.
Such thoughts come to mind now during the widely popular annual walleye spawning runs on the Maumee and Sandusky rivers, which over the years have attracted fishermen from all 50 states.
And they recall all manner of duels with The Law, attempts to outwit the game warden.
Hiding fish, switching clothing when returning to the stream to poach more fish the same day, covering a landing net with knots of brightly colored yarn to disguise to the spying warden just where that brightly colored jig is hooked into the fish - you name it and scofflaws have tried it.
Special rules govern angling on the most heavily fished parts of the streams from March 1 to May 1, and enforcing those rules keeps wildlife lawmen on their toes and working overtime.
The daily creel limit is four, unlike the six walleye allowed the rest of the year.
It is illegal to keep snagged or foul-hooked fish - only those hooked inside the mouth are legal to possess.
You cannot fish from sunset to sunrise (to prevent dark-side cheating).
The rules are meant to protect the fishery, and mostly they have done a good job of keeping the annual catch within conservative bounds.
The foregoing recap is necessary to set the stage for one of the more amusing, imaginative attempts to "get away with it." The violations occurred during the 2003 spring walleye run on the Maumee River, and it was witnessed not by just one, not two, not three, but four state wildlife officers, who had three fishermen bagged before they got to shore.
Paul Kurfis, now law enforcement supervisor for Ohio Wildlife District 2, summarizes the story:
"I was sitting on the north side of the river watching the fishing action when two boats pulled up and anchored close to one another in the river in front of me. There were three fishermen in each boat."
Kurfis shifted his watch back and forth between the boats and presently the man in the bow of one boat started reeling in a fish. Zooming in with his spotting scope, Kurfis clearly saw that the fish was foul-hooked and should have been released.
But: "He put the fish on his stringer and proceeded to catch eight more, seven of which were snagged."
While documenting the cheating, Kurfis overheard radio talk from other lawmen about illegal angling activity on a boat. Inquiring, he found out that his colleagues were watching some creative shenanigans on the adjacent craft.
"I focused in on the boat to see one of the men reeling in a walleye. As he got the fish to the boat, it was plain to see the fish was snagged. He made no effort to hide the snagged fish, netted it, and placed it in the bottom of the boat to remove the hook.
"As he was reeling in the fish one of the other fishermen in the boat reeled in his line and placed his pole in the bottom of the boat, and as he did he released the bail on his reel. When the man who caught the fish removed the hook from the side of the fish, he took the lure attached to his partner's line and hooked it into the mouth of the fish.
"He then picked up the fish and made exaggerated motions of releasing the fish and tossed it back into the river. In a few seconds the other fisherman lifted his pole from the bottom of the boat and although his line was already feeding out of his reel he made a motion like he was casting out his lure.
"After a few more seconds he began reeling in his line and as his line became tight, he made a motion like he was setting the hook on a fish. His line tightened, his pole bent, and he was now reeling in the fish that his partner had just snagged. He got the fish to the boat and out it on a stringer.
"The fisherman went through the same farce another time and this time when he 'released' the fish you could see the lure sticking out of the mouth of the fish as he tossed it into the river.
"Well, enough was enough and we called both boats into the ramp. On shore the man who orchestrated the whole show at first played ignorant when questioned by wildlife officers. Finally one of his partners looked at the man and said, 'Oh give it up, they got us.' The man that caught nine walleye was fined a total of $294 for his overbag and snagging of walleye."
Duane Bailey, state wildlife officer assigned to Paulding County, was among lawmen working that case too. "I remember these guys It was April 12, 2003.
"When they quit fishing they returned to Orleans [Park] boat ramp where I did make initial contact. I remember making a comment to them that they had a good 'act' but not to get their hopes up of earning an Oscar."
Marty Baer, state wildlife officer in Wood County, adds: "Just when I thought I'd seen it all on the river, the subject in the back of the boat brought in a snagged fish." His account seconds the Kurfis narrative.
"I remember stating, 'in about two minutes this guy's gonna catch a fish.' Sure enough, he picked up the rod, reeled a few times, and set the hook."
During the interrogation - uh, "interview" - at the ramp, Baer said that the guy reeling in the fish, which his buddy had hooked onto his line, claimed he was doing nothing wrong - the innocence plea.
"He said he had never fished the run before and his partner told him 'just listen to me and we'll get some fish.' Obviously he did and they were both charged with violations."
Wildlife officer Kevin Newsome, assigned to Lucas County, was the fourth lawman in on the case.
"Once they [the errant anglers] were on land they tried to lie about the situation but after being told what four wildlife officers had seen them do, they began to realize that they were busted.
"This [year's] walleye run will be my sixth and I have seen some interesting stuff, but that one will stick in my mind long after my career is finished."
So you may think you can fool all of the lawmen some of the time, and some of the lawmen all of the time, but you won't fool all lawmen all of the time. You can tell that to the judge.
A memorial service for the late Harold F. Mayfield, world-renowned Toledo naturalist and ornithologist who died Jan. 27 at age 95, is set for 3 p.m Saturday in the lodge at Oak Openings Preserve Metropark.
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