When I was a kid, it would have never occurred to me to measure the length of a fish. Now, it’s a routine practice. Part of it is curiosity in wanting to know how big the fish is.
Most of it, however, has to do with the modern-day slot limits imposed on many lakes. Most people have adopted the practice and are willing to release fish that fall inside a lake’s protected slot.
Sometimes, that isn’t enough. I read a sad case in the pages of a local hunting and fishing newspaper called Outdoor News. A columnist for the paper, Gary Clancy, a widely-known outdoorsman who has written books on hunting and has written newspaper and magazine articles for decades, recounted a recent experience on Upper Red Lake.
He and some friends had a successful day on the water, catching more than 100 walleyes. But, due to a slot limit requiring the release of fish between 17 and 26 inches, they only kept six. So, they came back to the boat landing short of their limit of three fish apiece.
When they got back, a game warden was waiting for them. He measured their two biggest fish and told them they measured 17 1/4 inches, which was in violation of the law. Clancy thought the warden would take those two fish away, give them a warning and leave.
He was wrong. The warden gave them a ticket for the two fish, which carried a fine of $190. Clancy was upset and described his anger in the column. He said he made an honest mistake due to the fact that he and his friends didn’t have the best measuring tool with them at the time.
If Clancy’s version of the story is true — and I have no reason to believe otherwise — I think it’s a shame. I feel this is an overzealous move by the game warden. For the most part, I think the DNR does a good job in managing our state’s natural resources. But, I think a fine of $190 for two fish measuring just 1/4 inch over the 17-inch line is excessive and unnecessary. Percentage wise, it’s the equivalent of getting a ticket for driving 56 mph in a 55 mph zone.
In light of this comparison, I don’t know how the DNR can justify such an act. As a taxpayer, I don’t feel it’s a good use of enforcement resources. I would rather the enforcement officers spend their time looking for the gross violations, like five, 10, 20 or more fish over the limit. Those are the ones that really hurt the resource. And, unfortunately, these types of offenses happen all too often.
I say let’s leave people like Clancy alone. I read his column regularly and even have e-mailed him for advice. He always answers and I have profited from his wisdom on several occasions. I don’t think he’s the type of person the DNR should be punishing. Someone from the DNR once told me that wardens have some leeway in deciding whether or not to issue a citation.
I think wardens like the one who gave Clancy a ticket should do a better job of exercising it.