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WILTZ: ‘Who in his mind has not probed the black water?’

One of the most sporting, good-time adventures we might partake in can be done in the tailraces at the Big Bend and Fort Randall dams. I’m talking about the inadvertent snagging of paddlefish. Do it while fishing a quarter-ounce jig with six-pound test line and those big guys will come out of the water like a tarpon! Need we concern ourselves with the legalities?

Take a look at Page 22 of the 2014 South Dakota Fishing Handbook. Under FOUL-HOOKED FISH it states, “Foul-hooked fish are those inadvertently snagged in body areas other than the mouth with conventional lures by anglers using normal fishing methods. Intentional snagging of fish is prohibited, except for paddlefish (in season). Foul-hooked fish may be kept as part of the legal limit. Foul-hooked paddlefish may only be kept by anglers with permits during the established paddlefish season.”

I suppose what I’m suggesting could be interpreted as a gray area, but it amounts to my catching walleyes and white bass with the realization that I might snag a paddlefish. I’m doing nothing illegal.

I don’t know when the regulation changed, but the intentional snagging of rough fish was once permitted in South Dakota. During my college days at Brookings, I can remember snagging carp beneath the Big Sioux River dam at Flandreau. In fact, a local farmer once gave us a case of beer in exchange for the carp we snagged. He fed the carp to his pigs.

Early in June some friends showed me photos of paddlefish they snagged while fishing walleyes beneath the dam at Pickstown. At the time I wondered if taking the fish into the boat for a photo session was legal. When you’re posing with a fish, the fish is in your possession. This could also be a gray area.

I checked with South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks in Pierre and received a reply from LouAnn Miller. LouAnn replied that taking the spoonbill into the boat to remove the hook and photograph the fish was permissible. She also mentioned handling the fish as carefully as possible. So go ahead and feel free to take a picture of your river monster. Now what if, just for the sake of speculation, I were to consider the intentional snagging of Randall paddlefish under the guise of fishing for big drum, trout, and catfish — all of which are down there? Of course I’d want to make sure I was doing nothing illegal. I’d venture a guess that all of us ponder the dark side from time to time.

I especially like the way John Steinbeck phrased it in his literary masterpiece “East of Eden.” “We are capable of many things in all directions, of great virtues and great sins. And who in his mind has not probed the black water?” One could say that my “black water” flows from the hydro-plant at Pickstown.

The jigging for walleyes I’ve already mentioned is totally legal — even if a paddlefish is snagged. But what if I wanted to be more effective? Here’s how I would do it. I’m fortunate enough to own a rod and reel I use primarily for musky fishing in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Canada. The reel is loaded with 40 pound-test braided line. The line might be a bit light, but I lean toward light line in all my fishing.

The following is fiction

To the end of my musky outfit leader I’d snap on a Bull Dawg. A Bull Dawg is one of today’s classic musky lures. It features a long soft plastic body with twister tails attached to a large treble hook that is molded into a poured lead jacket. Now I tie my boat up to the “A” Wall beneath the Randall powerhouse and start slinging my Bull Dawg. With that big treble hook, I’m soon into paddlefish. I’m guessing that my adventure would unfold in the following manner.

The guys with the binoculars who hide in the powerhouse are soon onto me, and they call Game, Fish & Parks after snapping some photos of me in action for evidence. It isn’t long before I hear the electronic megaphone. “You in the green jon boat with the Mercury engine, Report immediately to the boat ramp!” When I pull up to the boat ramp, Game, Fish, & Parks is already waiting for me.

They write a citation on me for the illegal snagging of fish. When I argue my case, I’m told that I’m not using “conventional lures,” and I’m not using “normal fishing methods.” I decide right then and there to fight the citation. Isn’t the Bull Dawg a “conventional lure?” It’s found in lure catalogs. Isn’t casting and retrieving a “normal fishing method?” While I’m not going to engage in such folly, it would be interesting to see how this case would turn out in court.

Some of my other “dark side” schemes go back to times past I once dreamed of circumventing the difficulty in drawing certain West River deer tags by tagging a buck with an over-the-counter Black Hills tag. It wasn’t a foolproof scheme.

Back in the 70s, I was stopped for a game check just east of Howes Corner. The line was slow, I was in no hurry, so I walked up to the front of the line to see what was going on. They were looking for West River deer tagged with a Black Hills license. They could identify Black Hills deer by examining the inside of the deer’s mouth! Tell me how that’s done.

One guy was nabbed for having a deer that was tagged by his wife. When SDGF&P called his home number, his wife answered. She didn’t know that she had been deer hunting!

Next week’s column should be the first installment of our Africa adventure.

See you then.