One of the most flagrant freshwater game fish poaching cases ever filed by Texas game wardens recently came to a close in a Jasper County court as three licensed Sam Rayburn fishing guides were ordered to pay $2,700 each in fines and court costs for their involvement in illegal fishing activity on the 114,000-acre reservoir east of Lufkin.
On May 7, state game wardens nabbed the guides and 12 clients with more than 200 crappie over the limit, including 40 fish shorter than the 10-inch minimum allowed by law. The guides were in the company of their out-of-state clients at a fishing camp in the vicinity of Tiger Creek when multiple citations were issued, according to Capt. Game Warden Heath Bragg. Bragg said game wardens discovered several large coolers at the camp containing 808 crappie — 208 fish over the legal two-day limit for 12 fishermen.
Bragg said the guide clients were not ticketed. Nor were the fishing guides cited for every illegal fish.
“We don’t file a charge for every single case,” Bragg said. “Yes, each fish over the limit is a separate violation but we have to draw the line somewhere on the number of cases we file. In this one we filed one case for every five fish. That’s the way we’ve always operated. It allows us to still do our job while still being fair.”
The fishing guides - Regina Myers of Brookeland, Williams Rogers of Jasper and Ron Wallace Brookeland - were each charged on 14 cases of over the daily limit on crappie and four cases of undersized crappie. The guides appeared before Jasper County Precinct 5 Justice of the Peace Brett Holloway on May 17. Myers and Rogers pleaded no contest to the charges and Wallace entered a guilty plea, according to court records.
Crappie fishermen on Sam Rayburn are required to follow the statewide limit, which is 25 fish per day with a 10-inch minimum size limit. Keeping fish over the limit and undersize fish are Class C misdemeanor violations, which carry a maximum penalty of $500 per charge.
Holloway levied an $81 fine and $69 in court cost fees on each charge to all three guides.
“There is a maximum or minimum fine, and deciding on the amount was left up to me,” Holloway said. “I decided to go with the minimum amount instead of the maximum. It was their first offense. A lot of different things figure into it. You’re not trying to ruin somebody. These were Class C misdemeanor charges. I’m not saying I take that lightly, but $2,700 is a pretty good fine. It’s the highest fine I’ve assessed since I’ve been a judge. I’m sure if it were to happen again it would be different story.”
Bragg called the case one of the most blatant examples of natural resource abuse he’s witnessed in nearly 20 years as a game warden.
“It’s one of the most flagrant cases we’ve ever seen in East Texas, for sure,” he said. “I’ve seen some cases where we’ve seized lots of catfish and bass, but I’ve never seen one where the limits were exceeded by such a large number.”
Bragg said the case was built around surveillance efforts carried out by Jasper County game wardens Justin Eddins, Morgan Inman and Roy Chad Eddins.
“We had wardens on the water watching them and one laying in the woods watching them take out at the public ramp,” Bragg said. “I’m very proud of what our wardens did and the amount of work they put in on this case. They worked really hard to make it.”
Bragg said the three guides also must pay civil restitution fees to the state on the 208 crappie over the limit. The dollar amount per fish will be decided by the TPWD. The restitution fees will be divided between the three guides, equalling roughly 70 fish per guide, according to the warden.
Bragg added that there is currently no law on the books that allows for guide license revocation based on Class C misdemeanor cases. “But this case could set a precedent to entertain looking into that in the future,” he said.
Not surprisingly, word of the crappie poaching case spread like wildfire via social media and various Internet fishing forums. A Texas Fishing Forum post about the incident drew more than 6,700 views and nearly 100 replies.
Depending on who you talk to, the punishment handed down may have been too lenient for the crime. It certainly didn’t sit well with some Sam Rayburn locals and fishing guides.
Roy Sanford, a veteran Sam Rayburn guide since 1982, says he was appalled when he learned about the case and is equally disappointed by the outcome.
“They got off really light as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “Stuff like this reflects bad on other guides who are out there doing the right thing.”
Fishing guide Randy Dearman agreed.
“It’s a complete lack of disrespect for the fishery and the other fishermen,” Dearman said. “We’ve got laws for a reason and we as fishermen need to obey them. It’s a simple as that.”
Bragg noted that game wardens seized 245 of the crappie. The fish were donated to the needy.
TPWD reopens alligator gar fishing in Trinity River
On May 24, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department reopened fishing for alligator gar in portions of the Trinity River between the Highway 287 bridge near Cayuga and State Highway 7 near Crockett.
TPWD temporarily prohibited taking or attempting to take alligator gar on May 6 to protect spawning alligator gar, which is a species of conservation concern in the river.
Water conditions that trigger spawning activity in alligator gar, such as water temperature above 68 degrees and presence of flood levels at the moderate stage as reported by U.S. Geological Survey gauges, were earlier identified by department staff. Some stretches have receded from those flood levels and others are forecast to recede in coming days. Staff believes that the decrease in flood levels indicates that most of the alligator gar spawning has likely occurred, eliminating the need for a fishing closure.
The temporary prohibition did not affect alligator gar fishing in parts of the state other than those areas of the Trinity River detailed above.