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Scott Rall: Look 'em in the eyes

BY SCOTT RALL

The Globe outdoors columnist

As a volunteer firearms safety instructor, I am lucky enough to get a few hours with the local conservation officer every year.

There are he’s and she’s in their ranks, but the Nobles County station has never had a female officer that I know of. Each year when the C.O. finishes the talk about rules and regulations important to sportsmen, I always have the kids form a long line and walk up to the C.O. and introduce themselves with a firm handshake.

For far too many outdoor folks, a visit from the local C.O. usually ends up badly. This is so sad. There are no amounts of one or two over the walleye limits that can ever make a big difference in a fisherman’s life. If the fish are not biting, using one more line will most likely not net you enough fish to feed the neighbors.

Every time I get checked by a C.O. I always thank that person. Some think it’s an interruption of their fishing or hunting day but I, for one, don’t, and I have never gotten a ticket for a fish or wildlife violation in the 50-plus years that I have spent in the outdoors.

I don’t by any means intend to start now. I know that when they are checking me they are also checking everyone else. These enforcement interactions help dissuade violators from taking the chance of getting caught.

I recently had an interaction with a C.O. while fishing on Upper Red Lake on my annual trip with my son and son-in-law. Too bad my son’s new job did not allow him to attend this year. He promises he will have the necessary PTO to attend in the years to come.

The conditions of this trip were not optimal.  It was supposed to rain all day with a wind about 5 mph. instead, it did not rain at all, but the wind blew 20-plus mph all day long. Upper Red is a big lake and this kind of wind can make for a very choppy day on the water.

We started the day on our favorite spot with no luck. We headed south a few miles and tried a few other spots I had marked on the GPS. Still no luck.  We headed back to spot one, and after another 2 hours it was about noon and we headed into the sheltered river to take a break.

After a few hours of fishing and relaxing, we headed out to the big lake again.

Over the past three years we have had pretty bad fishing during the day and great fishing from 6 p.m. till dark, and this trip was no different. We managed to start catching a few very nice walleyes when a C.O. in his own personal unmarked boat came up alongside. He used a professional demeanor and asked to see our licenses. We went through the life jacket routine and then he checked our live well.

He then asked what we had for other fish back at the lodging spot we were using. We told him there were three walleyes frozen in the freezer that were all over 17 inches in length. He asked if we had off-loaded any fish when we went into the river three hours earlier. We said no.

This is where it gets a little humorous. He indicated that story sounded unlikely. We had been on the spot for X number of hours that morning. We went in for an extended period and then came back out to exactly the same spot.  This was prime behavior for over-limit poachers. He then, with a smile on his face, said, this guy caught some and this guy over here caught none and you could not catch anything over 10 inches long, and he was absolutely right.  I had been bobber fishing most of the day and had only caught small perch. The other Scott in the group caught a few and my brother was almost skunked.

We had no idea we were being watched this closely. He went on his way with no further discussion. We ended up meeting him on the landing and found out his name was Philip Mohs. He was from the St. Croix area and was up fishing with his family at Red.

He joked, after a few minutes of small talk, about how he wondered why we stayed in the same place for so long without catching anything. He figured we were just not very accomplished anglers.

We all had a good laugh about that. I had the opportunity to ask him a few work questions. I asked how many out of 10 checks resulted in a ticket, and he told me way too many. He even had a guy a few days back that got a ticket in the morning, and after he watched the same guy in the afternoon he checked him again and had to write another ticket for exactly the same violation the guy got written up for earlier that same day. He said some folks might just never learn.

Sportsmanship is doing the right thing even when no one is looking. For the others, there is law enforcement.

They have an important job and some folks prove to the rest of us how important they are. Breaking game and fish rules is poaching, pure and simple. Thanks to Philip Mohs and others like him who protect our resources for the benefit of all.