When The Jig is Up

Video provides crucial evidence that costs an angler a state record

By Rob Breeding

When I was a kid growing up in Southern California, Poles were often the butt of our juvenile humor. I still have no idea why we picked these central European Slavs as the target of our derision as there weren’t any distinct Polish communities among us.

Our childish humor was forged by ignorance. We couldn’t tell the difference between a Pole, a Brit or a German. But that never quieted our childish giggles when sharing the latest “Polack” joke with our pals on the playground. Back then we could even get away with telling those jokes in the classroom, though today, such “humor” would likely be treated as an inappropriate ethnic slur.

We were young and stupid. We meant no harm, but were instead tapping into the fairly common human tendency to make fun of the other. When I moved to Montana, I learned of a new other: North Dakotans.

Montanans pick on North Dakotans the way my childhood friends made fun of Poles. I’d argue jokes about North Dakotans, as well as derivatives including Canadians and Wyomingites, are actually good natured. North Dakotans’ otherness is an artificial creation of modern political boundaries. North Dakotans have more in common with Montanans living east of the Crazy Mountains than those same Montanans have with their fellow citizens west of the Rockies.

So in the nature of the well-intended jest I offer the following: “Did you hear about the North Dakotan who caught a state record walleye?”

If you’ve been following the news you know this is no joke. In April, North Dakotan Tom Volk caught what he thought was a new state record walleye, a 16-pound, 9-ounce fish, out of the Heart River, which joins the Missouri near Bismarck. The fish was 12 ounces heavier than the previous state record walleye, a mark set a year ago. The walleye record before that stood for 60 years.

But Volk’s record was eventually snagged in an entirely post-modern net: someone caught the catch on video.

A cellphone video, jerky, blurry and not completely persuasive, seems to show a friend reaching into the net and removing a jig hook from the fish’s back, near the dorsal fin, after the walleye is landed. North Dakota Game and Fish, which initially declared the fish a new state record, investigated and ultimately declared it foul hooked, and therefore ineligible for the record.

The state issued Volk a warning for keeping a foul-hooked fish, which must be released according to North Dakota regs, but did not issue a citation because they couldn’t be certain Volk knew the fish was foul hooked.

I’ve snagged my share of trout while nymphing, where the technique requires you set the hook whenever your line or strike indicator moves suspiciously. Sometimes the trout bumps your line inadvertently so you swing and hook it in the tail. It isn’t deliberate, but happens.

By the time the investigation began, Volk had lawyered up and wouldn’t submit to an interview. He also told investigators he would not allow them to examine the fish unless they had a search warrant. The friend who netted the fish, a sheriff’s deputy actually, was first represented by Volk’s attorney, then another, and finally submitted to an interview. He told the warden that he had removed a small jig from the fish’s back and had never seen it hooked anywhere else.

His testimony also contradicted Volk’s about the fish being wrapped in the line before it was netted.

Blurry or not, the video provided crucial evidence that cost Volk a state record.

For my sake, I’m glad smart phones weren’t around back in my young and stupid period. I don’t have any illegitimate state records in my closet, but there are more skeletons than I care to think about. Fortunately, none were recorded for posterity.

Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com.

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