A Tale of Two Wardens
Up All Night
Meet Jill Schartner-Conservation Warden
Hi, my name is Jill Schartner, I am proud to say that I am a conservation warden for the State of Wisconsin. I think I am speaking for all of the wardens here in Wisconsin when I say, my job is the best job in the world.
Setting up surveillance (serve-ale-ance) in areas of illegal activity like in the following story is one way we're able to do our job, protecting natural resources.
It's late spring. I'm on duty having been dropped off around 8:00 p.m., near a local creek with my thermos, flashlight, and radio. As I shine my flashlight into the creek, I can see as many as 50 walleyes swimming among the rocks in the shallow water. As I lean toward the waters edge and reach into the creek, I am able to touch several of these large fish. They pay no attention to me. They're busy releasing their eggs among the rocks in the shallow water.
Now I need to find a place where I can watch the creek without being seen. There is very little brushy area to conceal my location because of the road which runs along the creek. I decide to try to conceal myself in a small clump of dogwood 20 feet from the waters edge. Here I have a clear view of the creek and a dock which extends into the mouth of the creek of the nearby lake.
Every passing vehicle lights up my location like that of a spotlight on a deer. I find myself lying flat on the ground with every passing vehicle so I am not detected. From this location I can hear the walleye's splashing in the culverts which run under the roadway.
It has been snowing for the past 2 hours and I am covered with a fine layer of snow. I no longer find it necessary to lie down when vehicles pass. The loud call of the loons returning to the lake and the cold damp air has been enough to keep me awake and alert for the past 6 hours. At 2:00 a.m. I get a radio call stating, "C173 are you ready for a replacement?" My back is stiff and my thermos is empty but because of the fresh snow I decide to give it another hour. I know if I move now, my tracks will be seen, which could make someone suspicious that a warden is near.
I hear the noise of a loud muffler in the distance. As I sit and listen, it appears that this vehicle is getting closer. I can see the vehicle now, it's coming down the road toward the creek. As the vehicle nears, its headlights are turned off even before it comes to a stop. I can see now that the vehicle is a truck, for it has pulled off the roadway within 5 feet of the dogwood which conceals my location.
As I watch the passenger door open, I immediately hear three voices- two men and a young boy. The two men are talking about flashlights. The adult passenger is shining his flashlight toward the clump of dogwood where I am sitting. I don't know how he missed me, but I hear the driver telling him not to waste his time looking for me because he hasn t noticed any fresh tracks in the snow.
The driver, passenger, and young boy walk toward the mouth of the creek. Both the driver and passenger continue to shine their flashlights along the shore, looking for any fresh tracks that would indicate my presence. They walk onto the dock and begin shining their flashlights into the water.
They all laugh and point into the water. The driver yells excitedly, "Yeah, they're in, go get the net." The passenger walks past my location and retrieves a landing net from the bed of the truck. He then walks back onto the dock. As the driver shines his light into the water, he says "There's a big one." With one quick scoop of the landing net into the shallows of the creek, the passenger lands what appears to be about a 12-pound walleye. The young boy says, "Can I hold it? Can I get one like that?"
I hear a vehicle approaching and it is obvious the two men do too. Together, both men yell, "a car is coming." The passenger runs and grabs a fishing pole from the truck. I follow him very quietly as he runs back to where the driver is holding the fish, still in the net. The driver says, "Hurry up, hurry up, get a hook in it, get a hook in the fish." The young boy sees me approaching but says nothing, he is more interested in what the men are doing.
I m now standing directly behind the men. They are so intent on making the fish look like it is legally caught before the approaching vehicle arrives, that they have no idea I'm here. They are kneeling on the ground, still struggling to get the fish out of the net and a hook into its mouth.
The young boy is staring at me, I know it is only going to be a matter of seconds before he tells the men I'm here, so I decide it is time to make my presence known. I say, "Conservation warden guys, no need to put the hook in the fish, I think I have seen enough." You can imagine how surprised they were to see me standing behind them.
I tell the driver to place the net on the ground and move away from the fish. Something in his eyes tells me the game is about to begin. In one quick movement, the driver bends down, grabs the net and takes one step toward the water edge. He attempts to shake the walleye from the net, trying to get rid of the evidence. I move toward the driver and place my hands on his shoulders, he trips on some rocks and falls head first into the icy cold water, with me on top of him.
Safety is my first concern as I'm falling into the icy cold water. My fear is not the 35 degree water temperature, nor of the man I'm now laying on top of, it's of the man I can't see, the one standing behind me with the young boy. As I spring from the water, the first words out of my mouth are orders for the man and young boy to step away from the waters edge and move behind the truck. This gives me some time to deal with the driver who is still lying face down in the water. As I pull the driver from the water he tells me that he is very cold, but OK. The landing net is no longer in his hands.
When my backup arrives I put on my waders and retrieve the landing net from the water. To my surprise, the 12-pound walleye is still inside the net.
This is a true story. Both men paid fines of more than $500.00 each and lost their hunting and fishing privileges for a 3-year period. As for the young boy, he and I were able to sit down and discuss the legal method of catching fish.
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