Dues to Pay
BREAKING INTO SALTWATER FISHING OFTEN COMES WITH UNFORESEEN COSTS
An Alabama banker found out this past summer that you can’t count on fishermen, even friends who fish, to tell you everything they know.
Tommy, a bass angler for years, was eager to try saltwater fishing after he relocated to the Gulf Coast this past summer, and two co-workers invited him to do just that.
They caught good weather and good fish. Especially Tommy, who’d never felt anything fight as hard as each of the fish he hooked offshore.
Idling into the marina in the late afternoon, they noticed a man walking toward them.
“Game warden,” said the boat’s owner, turning to Tommy. “Real stickler. Hope you brought your license.” Tommy had his license. The guy in the green shirt and khaki pants opened by asking if they’d caught any fish.
“Some snappers, a few kings,” the skipper offered. “Our rookie got a nice cobia too.”
Tommy knew they’d caught and iced more fish, but he’d been assured by his hosts that their catch was within state bag limits.
The warden asked to see the men’s licenses, which were in order, and then to have a look at their haul.
The captain opened a large ice chest, which held some but not all of the fish the trio had boxed.
“Nice work,” the warden acknowledged, “and I’m glad you remembered to clip those dorsals so we can identify each of your fish.”
“Yep, these are our fish,” the third angler assured. “Clip, clip. Second spine on mine, and third on his.”
“How about your fish? Where are they?” the warden asked, turning to Tommy, who suddenly felt uneasy.
“I thought some of those were mine,” he said, a little confused. “There are a few more in this other box.”
The warden opened the second container, which held Tommy’s big cobia and half a dozen more fish that Tommy distinctly remembered being placed there after the first box filled. They’d all contributed to that box.
“I’m pretty sure those are his fish,” the chatty co-worker offered, pointing at Tommy.
“The big one is mine for sure,” Tommy said, now feeling betrayed, “but I’m not claiming the rest.”
“You clipped your fish, right?” the warden asked Tommy. “Catch, clip, consume. Like they told you when you bought your license.”
The other two fishermen repeated the warden’s chant.
Tommy felt downright ill. He hadn’t clipped any fins, and he didn’t recall anyone telling him to do so.
“So, if all these unclipped fish are yours, we got ourselves a problem,” the warden said. “You’re looking at three … four … about a dozen citations, and I’ll have to confiscate your tackle.”
“This is … wrong!” Tommy exclaimed. (He didn’t actually say “wrong,” but that was the gist of his statement.)
The warden pried two new rigs, bought just days prior to his first saltwater experience, from Tommy’s hands.
“Either of you want these?” the warden asked, then burst out laughing.
Then everyone was laughing, except Tommy.
“He’s not a game warden,” the boat owner confessed. “He lives next door. We’re just messing with you.”
“That cobia meat’s like shoe leather,” the neighbor said, “but my cats like it. Mind if …”
“That’s enough,” the skipper interrupted. “Welcome aboard, Tommy.”