Dues to Pay


Saltwater Sportsman - - Backcast - IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY STEVE HAEFELE BY DOUG PIKE

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.”

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