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Anonymous call leads to fishing bust on Rainy River in Minnesota

Three anglers have been charged in connection with alleged over-limit fishing violations encountered last month on the Rainy River in Lake of the Woods County, the Department of Natural Resources reported.

Three anglers have been charged in connection with alleged over-limit fishing violations encountered last month on the Rainy River in Lake of the Woods County, the Department of Natural Resources reported.

In a news release, the DNR said James Fleck, 50, Hillman, Minn.; Gerald Hatch, 67, Milaca, Minn.; and Daniel Hastings, 50, of Baudette, Minn., also face fines and restitution of as much as $3,000.

According to the DNR, the charges resulted after state conservation officer Robert Gorecki of Baudette received an anonymous call on the state's Turn In Poachers (TIP) hotline about a group of anglers with too many fish and "double tripping" during the May 12 fishing opener on the Rainy River in Lake of the Woods County. The caller also said one of the anglers didn't have a fishing license.

Double tripping refers to the practice of taking a limit of fish ashore and then returning to the water to keep additional fish.

According to Gorecki, Fleck was charged with 40 sunfish and 11 walleyes over the legal limit. The daily possession limit for walleyes and saugers on the Rainy River is six, of which only four can be walleyes; anglers must release all walleyes from 19ยฝ inches to 28 inches in length. The daily possession limit for sunfish is 20. Fleck faces fines and restitution totaling $1,780.

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Hatch was charged with 12 walleyes more than the legal limit and faces fines and restitution of $715.

Hastings was charged with six northern pike over the limit and faces fines and restitution of $370. The daily possession limit for northern pike on the Rainy River is three, of which only one can be longer than 36 inches. All northern pike from 24 to 36 inches must be immediately released. Hastings also charged with angling without a license, a $135 fine.

According to the DNR, the consent to check a refrigerator and freezer found three bags of northern pike and two bags of walleyes. Gorecki also found six more bags of walleyes and three bags of sunfish in a freezer chest.

Hastings admitted to not having a license but said most of the fish belonged to Fleck and Hatch, who were fishing. Hastings said he had just spoken to the two men, who said they had caught a couple of bags of fish that morning and had another six walleyes in the boat.

"I seized all of those fish and went to speak to Fleck and Hatch," Gorecki said. Gorecki said he also smelled marijuana, which Hastings gave up.

Fleck and Hatch eventually told Gorecki they didn't have any walleyes and were only fishing "catch and release." They later admitted to dumping seven dead walleyes that they had caught when they heard Gorecki was coming to talk to them.

"They stated that they 'didn't want to get in anymore trouble,'" Gorecki said.

Fleck admitted the sunfish were his, saying he planned on giving them to a friend. He said he caught them in the Morrison County area. Fleck and Hatch both admitted the bags of walleye were theirs, including the fish they had caught that morning.

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Gorecki said eyewitness reports are among the strongest tools a DNR officer has in combating code violations.

"A CO has only one set of eyes," Gorecki said. "I cover 650 square miles. If the public out here is concerned about natural resources, every person is another set of eyes that can help catch those violating the law."

To report a fishing or wildlife violation, contact the nearest conservation officer, law enforcement agency or the toll-free TIP hotline at (800) 652-9093. Also, #TIP is available to most cell phone users in Minnesota.

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