Tennessean PhotoSpring brings blooming flowers, warmer weather and more Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officers patrolling state waters for fishing violators.
They have already been busy.
Four Nashville fishermen were cited this month for being in possession of 360 white bass over the state limit. The limit is 15 white bass per day per licensed fisherman. The quartet were in possession of 420.
“This is probably the most serious rod reel poaching case that I’ve seen worked in Tennessee,” said TWRA spokesman Doug Markham, who has had his job for 25 years.
Phay Souksavong, 78; Khamnovan Keomanychanh, 60; Kongham Phenevongsa, 68; and So Akhom, 70, were fishing on March 20 below the dam on Cheatham Lake when TWRA officer Brad Bagwell confronted them after they loaded their boat and began to drive away.
Akhom said he “didn’t know about the limit” and that it was his “first time to go with my friends.” The other three fishermen could not be reached for comment. Akhom said the fish caught were for personal consumption.
All four are scheduled to appear in General Sessions Court in Cheatham County on April 24 for a preliminary hearing. Markham said the fine could amount to thousands of dollars.
“They could be fined hundreds of dollars for each fish over the limit,” Markham said. “It could be thousands of dollars if the judge decides to add everything up. It’s a serious case, and I suspect the officer will request some pretty severe punishment.”
Bagwell also confiscated the 10 rods and reels that the fishermen had in their possession. Bagwell, by law, also could have confiscated the boat, a move the officer did not do because the four anglers were cooperative, Markham said.
“When I saw how many fish there were, I had the four suspects help separate them into piles of 10 fish each,” Bagwell said.
The officer also probably will ask the judge to revoke the fishing licenses for each man, Markham said. He said white bass are particularly vulnerable for being caught at this time of the year.
“This is when white bass are schooled heavily, feeding heavily, getting ready to spawn so it’s a good time to find them concentrated in areas that you become very familiar with,” Markham said. “These four men did that. They apparently spent a long time that day out there and loaded their boat.”
Bagwell said he spotted the men just as they had loaded the boat and were leaving the lake. He called it a “hunch.” He said that’s how TWRA discovers violations in many cases, along with tips from the public.
“Public input is critical to helping us enforce game and fish laws,” said Tim Cleveland, the manager of TWRA’s regional office. “We look at this as a team effort with our sportsmen, and we realize how much they can observe in the woods or on the water versus the one or two wildlife officers TWRA has assigned per county. We value the input we get, and we have used it successfully for a long time.”
The officers are on constant lookout for hunters and fishermen abusing the state limits. In 2012, the TWRA issued 1,744 fishing citations. Only 24 were for keeping fish over the state limits.
“We had a very bad deer poaching case up in Fort Campbell a few years ago that was one of the more serious ones that I’ve ever seen,” Markham said. “But this is probably the most serious rod reel poaching case that I’ve seen worked in Tennessee.
“The agency manages fish and game populations with harvest limits. As long as these limits are followed, Tennessee will have an abundant population of game and fish,” Markham said. “This particular poaching case has created a stir like I have not seen in a quarter century of working at TWRA. I hope the biggest message that comes from this case is that everyone who wants to participate in the outdoors is responsible for following our laws and understanding that these laws are in place for a good reason.”