I wish I had a dollar for every time someone stops me to talk about fishing and the conversation turns to illegal poaching activities they've witnessed. They tell about seeing someone tossing too many fish or undersized fish into their basket.
"Why doesn't someone do something about it?" they ask.
Last week, someone did.
The scene played out at the spillway on the Kaskaskia River below the dam at Lake Shelbyville, which holds the current state record for muskies. Legal length limit there is 48 inches.
Illinois Department of Natural Resources conservation police said a couple was at the spillway when they saw someone catch what appeared to be about a 3-foot muskie. Much to their astonishment, the angler ran with it to a nearby fish-cleaning station and began to fillet it. They dialed the DNR Poacher Hotline.
DNR takes calls like this one very seriously, conservation police Sgt. Scott Siddens said.
"Look at the sizeable amount of funds spent on muskie management. You can bet DNR is going to be asking questions about it," he said.
As it happens, a DNR officer was just a mile away from the spillway when he got the call. When the marked DNR conservation police car arrived, the culprit quickly tried to dump the fish down the hole reserved for waste at the cleaning station, Siddens said.
The angler turned out to be a 15-year-old boy, but he was ticketed as an adult. Unfortunately, the fine is just $75. An additional 12 points toward revocation of his fishing license can be assessed. If found guilty in this one incident, one more violation within three years can mean the loss of fishing privileges for 15 months.
Siddens said the importance of what the couple did cannot be overstated.
"It's teamwork. Effective law enforcement very much depends on citizens providing us information," he said. "Thank goodness most sportsmen are law-abiding. It's just a few knuckleheads. ? Most sportsmen are not that way."
Even if DNR cannot always get there in time, giving authorities a license number and car description or boat registration number gives DNR police the ammunition they need to do a follow-up investigation, Siddens said. They can track down suspects where they live or they can be on the lookout for the poacher during their next patrol of the area. Chances are, if they think they got away with illegal activity once, they'll try again.
Instead of wondering why someone doesn't do something about poaching, ask why you don't do something about poaching. It's as easy as dialing the toll-free Poacher Hotline at (877) 236-7529.
One last thought: Shouldn't the punishment be harsher for blatant violations of conservation laws? It's one thing when fellows out for a Sunday of crappie fishing lose count of their take and arrive at the dock with one fish too many in the livewell by accident. It's entirely another when scofflaws take far too many fish or take fish under legal length. Like DUIs, it would seem an immediate suspension of privileges for some period of time would drive home the seriousness of the matter. DNR and lawful fishermen have invested far too much work, time and money to make angling what it is in Illinois today to let a handful of "knuckleheads" spoil it for everyone.
Willie Schrader, director of the Lake Springfield Open Buddy Catfish Tournament Series, will be the guest speaker at the Sept. 12 meeting of the Lake Shelbyville Muskie Club. His presentation will include drift fishing, river fishing and lake fishing.-;Meeting begins at 7 p.m. at Eagle Creek Resort. Public is welcome.
w David Fritts of Hudson finished third on the boater side at Mississippi River Pool 13 in the Bassmasters Weekend Series over the weekend. He also finished ninth overall in the points and qualified to fish at Table Rock Lake Oct. 25-27 for a chance at $50,000. Jeff Morrison of Bloomington advanced on the non-boater side.
w Dusty Whitacre and Bryan Estes won the final regular-season Strike King Ever-Bloom event at Lake Bloomington on Saturday with five bass of 11.56 pounds. Larry Andris and Ron Long were second. Fred Myers and Ken Petersen were third. Myers and Petersen won the Terminator Heavy Weight of the Year award with 61.70 pounds. Jamie Maisenbacker and Guido Didonato won the Mossy Oak Big Bass of the Year award with a 6.19-pound bass.
w Randy Ferguson won the Bloomington-Normal tournament at Lake Jacksonville with five bass of 15.72 pounds. Fred Myers was second. Larry Russell was third and had big bass of 5.63 pounds.
w Eric Varner and Loren Peters won the Tuesday night Bloomington-Normal tournament at Evergreen Lake with two fish of 5.2 pounds. Larry Russell and Randy Ferguson were second. Ron Bristow and Jim Sherman had big bass of 3.35 pounds.