Maybe it’s happened to you, too. You hear about something that jumpstarts an old memory that’s laid dormant for years. That’s what happened to me when I read recently about the alleged cheating Lake Erie walleye tournament anglers who were caught at weigh-in loading up their walleyes with lead weights.
This memory of mine went all the way back to the winter of 1976 when I was a recruit DNR game warden in Wisconsin on a temporary assignment in Green Lake County.
At 7,920 acres and a depth of 236 feet, Green Lake has always been one of the last lakes in the Badger State to freeze over in the winter. That late freeze meant the popular ice fishing contest with it’s impressive list of prizes so many looked forward to didn’t happen until late winter.
Knowing the popularity of the contest and being a young, eager recruit, I hit the ice the night before the contest. I centered my attention on a group of shacks off a point and began checking for lines by looking into the windows. All except one, the biggest of them all, were clean and legal. This big shack had a tip-up set in one corner, but a suspicious line running into the ice in another corner is what caught my attention.
By carefully digging and chipping under the shack, I confirmed it was a baited line, so I removed the minnow and put everything back in place. Then I went to the other corner and managed to reach under the shack and felt heavy resistance.
As I pulled the line up I found it was tied to a stinger. And at the end of the stringer was a beast of a walleye.
I debated on what to do.
It was likely a fish this size would win the contest, but as a new game warden I wanted to be sure of my options.
Clearly the tip-up was an unattended line and a violation, but there wasn’t anything illegal about having a walleye on a stringer. I made my decisions and went to work.
I carefully eased the fish onto the ice and clipped off the lower end of the pectoral fin, and then slipped the fish back into the hole. After putting the clipped fin in my wallet, I carefully covered my activities with snow and chipped ice before leaving the lake.
The next day at mid-morning I went back to the shack and contacted the owner, telling him I’d found his unattended tip-up. I can still recall his startled look and how he waited for the other shoe to fall. I didn’t say anything about the tethered walleye and I wrote him a ticket for the unattended line. He apologized for the violation, saying he didn’t know what had gotten into him and, of course, had never done anything like that before. Then he said he wanted to show me something and proudly brought the huge walleye out from inside the shack. He said he caught it earlier that morning and hoped it would place well in the contest.
I admired the fish and asked him if I could take a picture of him with it. He readily agreed and with a big smile, held it up for the photograph. When I saw he was holding it with the wrong side exposed, the one without the fin I had clipped the night before, I asked him to turn it around, saying it was a better side. He complied and I snapped the picture.
My next stop was at the tournament headquarters where I showed the picture and the clipped fin to the organizers. They elected to not make an issue out of it, but when the man brought the fish in for registration, they quietly took him to the side and discreetly disqualified him.
Shortly after that my temporary assignment in Green Lake County ended. If there was any other fallout from the incident, I wasn’t aware of it. I’m guessing there wasn’t, at least in comparison to the recent Lake Erie incident.
So, what’s the moral of the story? There are always going to be some people who are willing to cheat – in a variety of ways – when it comes to hunting, trapping, and fishing. Fortunately the vast majority of our license buyers do it right for the right reasons.
Our natural resources deserve no less than that.
Dave Zeug is a regular contributor Outdoor News publications.