Fish Story

I’ve written ethics-related stories regarding baseball, football, golf and tennis. But this story fished me in!

When Lincoln, North Dakota resident Tom Volk dropped his line in the Heart River on Easter Sunday, God must’ve been smiling down on the 41-year-old fisherman as he reeled in a 16-pound, 9-ounce walleye, crushing a state record set last year.

“Volk caught the fish from shore,” Fishin’ Canada reported (Apr. 23), “fishing elbow-to-elbow with many other anglers in a popular spot in Mandan. The Heart River is a tributary of the Missouri and walleyes swim up the Heart during the spring spawning run. Volk’s fish is a big female with a belly full of eggs, as photos indicate. …

“ ‘I cast my jig out and felt that nice thump you get when a nice fish takes it. I set the hook and knew right away it was a big fish,’ Volk said. …‘Then it came to the surface and you could see it was a big walleye.’

“Volk wasn’t out of the woods yet. The walleye had wrapped itself in his fishing line and was coming in sideways. Combined with the river’s strong current, he couldn’t gain much ground. That’s when Gibbs [his fishing buddy] went to work, sprinting downriver about 40 yards with a net to scoop the fish out of the water when it neared shore.”

Just one catch

“Mr. Volk,” The New York Times writes (May 25), “does not have the state record. Instead, he has a written warning from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

“The dispute about Mr. Volk’s walleye … is an only-in-2019 chapter to a generations-old argument about what qualifies as a fishing record.”

What?

“Records are central to fishing culture,” The Times explains, “and some avid anglers spend decades chasing them. There are state records, lake records and world records, administered by different groups with slightly different rules. There are sometimes subcategories for the strength of fishing line, for the type of tackle, for the angler’s age, for the angler’s gender.

“But in North Dakota, where the Missouri River and its tributaries attract freshwater fishermen from across the country, there is perhaps no record more coveted than that of the state’s largest walleye.

“On NodakAngler.com, the online hub of North Dakota fishing, people questioned if the walleye had been ‘snagged’ or ‘foul hooked,’ meaning hooked somewhere other than the mouth. Intentionally snagging a fish is seen as unsporting. Keeping a foul-hooked fish is also a misdemeanor in North Dakota. …

“In 2009, a fisherman was required to take a polygraph exam to have his world-record claim certified. (He passed.) …

“Mr. Volk insists that he hooked his walleye legally on a jig, but concedes he cannot prove it. He said that the fish fought him for several minutes in a manner that indicated the hook was in its mouth, though he said he never looked at the hook’s location after it was reeled in; he said he was too focused on celebrating and getting his trophy to an official weighing station.”

Time for a special counsel investigation.

“…the Game and Fish Department opened a criminal investigation [No Joke!]. Mr. Volk hired a lawyer and worried about the impact a criminal record would have on his career.”

Ultimately, fish and game wardens issued an 11-page Mueller-style report on Volk’s walleye complete with witness interviews and examinations of online message boards.

Robert Timian, North Dakota’s chief game warden, believes Volk “foul-hooked” his walleye and thus, does not receive credit for the state record. Timian also believes that Volk may not have known it at the time. No criminal citation was issued.

With his fishing buddy present as a witness, I find it hard to believe that Timian wouldn’t consider his testimony trustworthy.

“[Volk] has a collection of social media posts accusing him of being a fraudster,” The Times adds.

“ ‘They’re attacking me on every level, all because I’ve caught a walleye,’ Mr. Volk said. ‘It’s some of the worst bullying I’ve ever seen in my life.’ ”

What is Volk going to be accused of next, colluding with the Russians in catching the fish?

And what’s this “snagging” issue? It’s not like Volk dropped a lit stick of dynamite in the river and pulled out a dead fish. If the walleye’s tail was caught by the jig, so what?  The fish clearly got close enough to be hooked and Volk fought the fish in full view of others for several minutes? Why didn’t other witnesses at the time cry foul? And how is anyone supposed to control a fish that wraps itself up in the line?

I want, no, I demand a full North Dakota Senate investigation of the investigators into this matter. It all sounds fishy to me.

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