The “Do’s” and “Don’ts” and things you should know about getting checked by a game warden.
With over 20 years in conservation law enforcement, I have had the opportunity to come in contact with thousands of fisherman. The majority of those individuals were ethical anglers who were enjoying the great outdoors and abiding conservation rules and regulations. However, there was a small minority of individuals that were blatantly violating the law by either committing conservation violations, possessing drugs or alcohol, possessing stolen property or were fugitives of justice and running from any form of the law. It is because of those few encounters (no comma)that all Wildlife Officers keep on edge for their safety during every stop. After all, going home in one piece after encountering countless numbers of unknown individuals in a day is the goal of any Wildlife Officer.
A natural resource stop or inspection can be stressful for both the angler and the Wildlife Officer. Here are several “Do’s” and “Don’ts” that can make your next encounter with a Wildlife Officer pain free and sometimes even pleasurable!
DON’T ignore the officer. The old idea of pretending not to look at or even notice the officer is unnatural and can even create suspicion in the officer’s eyes. It is a natural human reaction to pay brief attention by looking at any uniformed law enforcement officer whether it’s a city cop, Highway Patrolman or Wildlife Officer on the water. You do not have to stop what you’re doing to stare at the officer. A simple glance in the officer’s direction is much better than the unnatural reaction of looking away and intentionally not making eye contact with the officer. That is easily picked up by the officer and raises his/her suspicion. One hot summer day, I was patrolling a well known fishing hole and noticed a group of fisherman catching bass at a spillway. As I approached, it was obvious to me that every fisherman (except one) took notice of me approaching in uniform. This particular individual raised my suspicion by turning away from me and not even looking once in my direction! My suspicions were validated as I inspected him and discovered that he was in possession of over the limit of bass!
DO be polite and cordial to the Officer as he/she approaches you. The officer is usually coming into an unknown situation. In the officer’s eyes, they could be approaching a person committing a violation or even a person with an outstanding warrant for their arrest. A simple “hello” goes a long way in reducing a stressful situation for the officer. You may want to move fishing rods or gear out of the way or help the officer as he/she pulls alongside your vessel. An attentive fisherman willing and ready to assist the officer can add to a pleasant stop and can easily show that you are one of the “good guys”. A few years ago, during the crappie season I pulled up to a group of boats that were catching fish. I picked out the closest boat to me and began idling up to it to conduct an inspection. Immediately, the fisherman in the boat waved a friendly “hello” and began to clear his rods away from one side of the boat to assist me at pulling alongside. As I approached, I noticed 2 fishermen in another boat quickly packing up their gear in an attempt to leave the area. I immediately decided to back away from the “friendly fisherman” to check the 2 anglers in a hurry to leave. An inspection of their catch revealed they had 67 crappie over the limit!
DO cooperate with the Wildlife Officer. They may ask for licenses, documentation and safety equipment. By complying with the Officer’s instructions and providing these items as quickly as possible, you will expedite the inspection and quickly return to fishing. Most officers desire to conduct an inspection with as little delay as possible. Arguing with the officer or making statements such as, “I pay your salary” does nothing but cause a delay and increases the likelihood of law enforcement action being taken against you. I remember a time when I stopped a boat for a minor boating violation. I simply intended on issuing the man a warning and educate him about what he was doing wrong. Immediately the man began to yell and shout obscenities at me. I attempted to diffuse the situation by calmly explaining the violation and the fact that I was issuing him a warning instead of a citation. The man refused to listen and continued to yell at me, “I will see you in court!” After repeated attempts to calmly educate the man while he was shouting obscenities at me, I finally gave him his wish – a mandatory court appearance to see the judge.
DON’T lie to the officer! This almost goes without saying, but you’d be surprised how many people do it. Most Wildlife Officers have heard “every excuse in the book” when encountering a violation and it’s refreshing to hear the truth! A simple honest answer goes a long way! This could help the officer make a decision in your favor whether or not to take law enforcement action if encountering a violation. One beautiful spring day, I watched a fisherman from a concealed location catch a bass and put it in his livewell. I approached the man and asked if he caught anything or had any fish in his possession. The man stated, “No, I do not.” An inspection of his livewell revealed one undersized bass. Normally, I would have just issued a warning because the bass was short by a very small margin. Since the man lied to me and showed intent on breaking the law, I chose to issue a citation instead.
DO ask for advice on fishing locations, techniques and seasonal patterns. Most officers are on the water every day and are more than willing to provide you with the hottest lure color, technique or location! Many Wildlife Officers will give you their card or contact information to assist you with this type of information for future fishing trips. A simple phone call to the officer while planning your fishing trip can help you quickly establish a pattern and catch more fish when you’re on the water! A few years ago while I was patrolling a popular chain of lakes, I was pleasantly surprised when I checked a Bassmaster Elite Series Pro who was spending a relaxing day on the water. I was humbled and honored when he asked me for advice on a productive area. I suggested a nearby canal which I had recently fished and done very well. Later that day I ran into the Pro back at the ramp. He was very excited to tell me that he caught an 11 lb bass in the very canal that I had recommended!
Most anglers are passionate about their sport. Not only is fishing a hobby, it’s a way of life for many and can consume every waking thought during their day. It is during those times when stopped and checked by a Wildlife Officer that can put any angler out of a state of relaxation and enjoyment into a brief moment of stress. By practicing the “Do’s” and “Don’ts” outlined above, an angler can make the most of any encounter with an officer and actually benefit from the contact!