Monday, March 19, 2018

You Have a Right to Know


         I am looking forward to our outdoorsman’s swap meet this coming Saturday, and hope to meet and talk with many of the readers of this column. If you want to get more information about it, call my office number at the end of this column.

         It is disappointing to write a column about what is going on today with the Missouri Department of Conservation and know that there are newspapers who refuse to print it because they do not allow any criticism of that agency.  What I wrote a couple of weeks ago is true and beyond dispute, about what amounts to questionable activity on the part of department agents, but in some newspapers today, it cannot be printed, usually because only one person disapproves of it.

        On April 13 I will spend most of a day with the Director of the Conservation Department, and it is likely that what I write about that day will not be published by some of the 45 or 50 newspapers who receive my column weekly.  But what we talk about and agree to will be in our summer Lightnin’ Ridge outdoor magazine and on this blogspot.
         The public has a right to know what an agent can and cannot do when it comes to entering a home and taking your possessions. And fishermen need to know what they need to do to escape citations and fines for technical violations.  For example, a lady from Long Lane, MO called me last spring to tell me that she and her husband were coming back from a crappie fishing trip to Pomme De Terre Lake, when a pair of game wardens pulled them over. One took her to the front of the pickup and began to interrogate her, as if she might be Bonnie Parker herself.

         The other one hauled her husband back to the boat and demanded that he open the live well so the crappie therein could be counted. There were seven. Obviously neither had caught their limit. But the agents smelled the possibility off a technicality citation, so they demanded that both fishermen tell them exactly how many that had each caught. The wife, who was mad as a hornet, said she didn’t know how many were in the live well and didn’t care, because she hadn’t caught any. The game warden started giving them both the third degree because two crappie fishermen have to always keep their fish separate until they get them home.

         So that is something to remember, Missouri’s conservation agents, maybe the same in Arkansas and Kansas and Oklahoma, in an attempt to find away to fine fishermen who have done nothing wrong, travel in pairs and will often do just what they did to that lady and her husband. They will give you a ticket in a minute if you cannot identify the fish you personally have caught. If you have only six or eight crappie in your live well, you can be forced to pay a fine IF YOU CAN’T IDENTIFY WHAT YOU HAVE CAUGHT. It is the same with white bass, black bass, walleye, etc.

         Since few fishermen keep their fish separated, and since all fish are often kept in one live well, the answer is a pair of small scissors or clippers you can use to clip the top or the bottom of the tail fin to mark you fish, sort of like the old time hill people did to separate mark the ears on free-ranging hogs. Then you crappies are easy to tell, because they are marked. Fishing partner Joe can clip the bottom of the tail fin on his crappie, and Bob can leave his unmarked.

         Then when the game wardens pull you over and digs into your cooler or live well, they can’t fine you because there is no question what each of you caught. Just be sure that no fish fall beneath the length limit. If any game wardens insist your fish is too short, lay that fish beside a ruler and take a picture before he takes it.  If he refuses to let you do that, he is violating your rights.
         Have a witness! In southern Missouri, I have seen crappie fishermen pay fines because the conservation agent insisted that a ten-inch crappie is only 9 ¾ of an inch. In courts, you cannot prove he is lying unless you have a photo. And they do lie on occasion. The MDC paid a million dollars out in a lawsuit only a few years ago because several of their agents were proven to have lied. A retired agent has also told me that he objected to being told by a supervisor to lie in order to convict someone. So do everything you can to be unquestionably legal, and to do that you have to know what the fishing regulations are, totally and completely.

         There is so much to know. Don’t be caught with a walleye after a certain time in many of the streams in the evening in the spring, even if you caught it at noon.  Know all length limits too!  For instance if you are fishing in the river above Stockton or Truman or Bull Shoals, the nine-inch crappie you catch is legal. But if you run down into the lake to load your boat, those shorter fishing are perhaps illegal. It isn’t so much where you catch them, but where you take them. And remember that length limits in different waters are not the same.

         One of the advertisers in my magazine told me that this past winter he went to fish for trout on Lake Taneycomo and was checked at a boat dock by two Missouri Conservation Agents who said they had come down from Stockton Lake area. “When they got ready to leave the dock,” he said, “one commented to the other… ‘Lets get out there and find us some victims’!

         The young man became very angry and he said he told them as much saying, “Those victims you are after are the people who support your agency and pay your salary.”

         More of us need to speak up against this type of attitude. Many of the state’s ‘game wardens’ operate this way, looking for any little technicality they can use to write a citation to fishermen who have no intention of breaking any law.

         Remember that and don’t allow yourself to be another of their “victims”. 

Contact me at P.O. Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. or email me at  The office phone number is 417 777 5227.

No comments: