May 2021 - 15

Perfect position
Game Warden maneuvers his way to witness illegal snagging of trout,
along with memorable dialogue from the violators

Editor's note: This case was taken from the
book, " Wildlife Crime: Stories From Wyoming's
Wildlife Officers, " published in 2013.
Illustration by Hanna Fox


ast Newton Lake near Cody attracts
anglers because of its large rainbow
trout, especially in the spring when
fish are in shallow water to spawn.
In the spring of 1998, Cody Game
Warden Craig Sax was at the lake during the
evening checking anglers with a particular
focus on the boat ramp area. Trout are
attracted to the gravel-covered ramp to
spawn, and in Sax's words, " sometimes in
numbers thicker than a hatchery raceway. "
This attracts anglers, and some are tempted
to try snagging the spawning fish. Although
fishing during the spawn is allowed, snagging
them in this manner is illegal.
Sax watched the area from a discreet
location about one-quarter of a mile away
from the ramp. At about 9:15 p.m. a truck
that had been at the rear of the parking
lot moved into a spot near the ramp. Sax
watched two men get out of the truck. They
left their headlights on, which were shining
on the water. Using artificial light to take
fish is a violation. They also had a fishing
rod with a lure or a big hook, along with
a weight.
One of the men immediately hooked and
landed a trout, and Sax eased his way to the
lake shore east of the ramp. Another fish was
hooked and Sax could tell it was snagged. The
angler handed the rod to his partner so he
could give it a shot, but he was unsuccessful.
The first angler became impatient, took the

rod back from his partner, hooked another
fish and explained some of the finer points
of snagging to the other man. When the lead
snagger wasn't using the fishing rod, he was
trying to scoop trout out of the water with
a landing net which also is illegal.
Sax eased his way toward the anglers
and their truck, but had to tiptoe his way
there because, in Sax's words, " sounds hung
in the air like freshly washed sheets on a
clothesline. " Sax got up to the tailgate of
the truck and clearly heard the two anglers
talking. Sax heard the two men talking about
how " stupid game wardens couldn't catch
their butts. "
Sax decided it was time to meet the two
men. He eased his way from the rear of their
truck, removed the keys from the ignition
and put them in his pocket.
The anglers didn't have fishing licenses.
Sax asked the lead angler for some
identification and he opened the passenger
door. Sax followed him to make sure he
wasn't reaching for a weapon. Each man
produced a Montana driver's license. As this
was going on, Sax watched the other angler
cut the line of a fish he had hooked.
Sax told one man to sit in the bed of
the truck while the other drove him to his
truck. Once at the Sax's truck, he told the
anglers: " You might as well make yourselves
comfortable because it's going to take a little
while to issue 10 citations. " A Park County
Sheriff's deputy later arrived to help Sax with
the paperwork and to measure the fish.
The two anglers were students at
Northwest Community College. Both
were charged with fishing without a license,
snagging trout, using artificial light to take


fish, overlimit of trout and taking trout
under the minimum length limit.
The lead angler was fined $530 and the
other $510. Because it was the first fishing/
wildlife violations for both anglers, Sax
did not request loss of license privileges,
restitution or jail time.
The men told Game and Fish they were
going through final exams and fishing passed
the time between tests - even though a lot
of how they were fishing was illegal.
" Someone once pointed out that in the
outdoors, ethics are what you do when no
one else is watching, " Sax said. " If we use that
idea as the measure of these mens' ethical
performance, I guess we have to conclude
that they flunked. I bet they will remember
the grade they received on this 'field exam' a
lot longer than any classroom exam they may
have aced or failed that week, or ever since. "
- Hanna Fox is a photographer, archives specialist,
and artist practicing drawing, painting and ceramics.
She has a bachelor's degree in art and environment
and natural resources from the University of Wyoming.
More of her artwork can be found at

Case Files highlights the
work Wyoming Game and Fish
Department wardens do to see wildlife
crimes through to convictions.
To report a wildlife violation, call the Stop
Poaching Hotline, 1-877-WGFD-TIP (1-877943-3847) or 1-307-777-4330 from out of
state. Or text " WGFD " to 847-411 or look for
the free Android app.
Wyoming Wildlife | 15

May 2021

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