Steelheaders Can Turn-In-A-Poacher
by Tom Berg
I felt a rush of adrenaline when the big steelhead glided into view. The water just below me was only about 3 or 4 feet deep, and since it was crystal-clear the fish was easy to see. It was a big female, and since she had a bright red stripe running down her side I knew that she had left the safety of open water some time ago. Spawning was on her mind. Although the clear water made it easy to spot the fish, it also created a big problem. I could see her, and she could see me. Nothing makes a steelhead more nervous in shallow water than seeing a fisherman less than 10 feet away.
Slowly and carefully, I set my tackle pack down and unhooked the spinner from my rod guide. I tossed the bait out into the current and watched the fish to see her reaction. My movement had not spooked her, but she ignored the bright orange spinner. I reeled the lure in and made another cast. It was ignored, too. This went on for some time, until she became annoyed and swam away. I was irritated, too, but I waited to see if she would return. Sure enough, in a minute or two she cruised slowly back into position. While she was gone, I had cut off the spinner and tied on a baitholder hook. I took a small piece of salmon spawn out of my bait bag and buried the hook into it. Maybe she wanted something tastier!
My hopes were soon dashed, however. The spawn floated right past her nose 2 or 3 times, and then she disappeared again. It was obvious that this steelhead was not going to be cooperative, so I moved on in search of friendlier fish. Unfortunately, not all fishermen give up when a steelhead or salmon refuses to bite in the confines of a small stream. Some of these unethical people (poachers) run their lure up to the fish and try to snag them. If someone sees them land the snagged fish, they often claim it was accidentally foul-hooked. In the worst cases, hard-core poachers use heavy line and weighted snag hooks. Steelhead have little chance of escape in the shallow water.
Most fishermen have heard stories about poachers, and some of us have seen them in action. It’s especially maddening for the serious steelheaders who practice catch and release to see someone killing these great fish illegally. Luckily, there is something that we can do to help put a stop to poaching. Indiana has an excellent program in place called “TIP: Turn In a Poacher”. When fishermen (or anyone else) sees a poacher at work they can call the TIP hotline at 1-800-TIP-IDNR (1-800-847-4367) and talk to a Law Enforcement officer. Dispatchers are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week so that anglers can turn in a poacher.
In general, “poaching” means the illegal taking, killing or processing of fish, game or non-game wildlife. For fishermen, poaching could include fishing without a license, taking more than the limit, taking undersized fish, taking fish by illegal methods, etc. Check the current Indiana Fishing Guide for specifics.
To report a violation, call the TIP hotline as soon as possible. A law enforcement officer will take your call and the report will be investigated. You may also report violations online if you prefer. After all, this is the computer age. Visit the DNR website at www.in.gov/dnr/lawenfor/2745.htm and click “File a complaint online”. Fill out the form and click the SUBMIT button. It’s as easy as that, and all responses are confidential.
If you decide to call-in your report, rest assured that you may remain anonymous if you wish. It is not necessary to give your name, and no one who provides information is required to testify in court. Also, under the TIP program rewards are offered for information leading to the arrest of fish, wildlife or environmental law violators.
Steelhead fishermen tend to see a lot of violators in the fall and winter, because that’s when salmon and trout enter the harbors and streams. But steelhead are not the only fish that can be poached. Salmon, bass, walleye and many other gamefish are taken illegally every year. Conservation officers are usually able to respond quickly and often catch poachers in the act, but even if the poachers get away that day they will eventually be caught. Our valuable natural resources are worth the effort of reporting them.
Sportsmen and sportswomen can also help by becoming an honorary member of the Turn in a Poacher Advisory Board. Go to www.tip.wildindiana.com and sign up for an annual membership for $25. All memberships include a special TIP hat, certificate and membership card. TIP hats (camo or fluorescent orange) may also be purchased separately, or you may make a separate donation in a different amount if you like. All proceeds from memberships, merchandise sales and contributions go directly to assisting Indiana DNR Law Enforcement with catching poachers.
Also see Turn In a Poacher