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Rare Pitch-Black Paddlefish Snagged; State Record in Tennessee

G&F News Digest: "Corner crossing" case; Fishing & Boating Week; IGFA Sweepstakes.

Rare Pitch-Black Paddlefish Snagged; State Record in Tennessee

This completely black (melanistic) paddlefish was caught and released by Ryan Davison of Oklahoma Paddlefish Guide Service. (Photo courtesy of Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation)

With the summer solstice approaching on the calendar (June 21), it’s the height of fishing season in many places, but also a time for fall hunting planning to begin. With so much going on in the outdoors world right now—including this weekend's beautiful Strawberry Full Moon that has the bluegills bedding in many spots—here’s this week’s Game & Fish News Digest.

Big Implications from Corner Crossing Decision

In a court case decision that could have far-reaching implications for hunters, Chief U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl ruled on Friday, May 26, that four public-land hunters from Missouri did not trespass when they "corner crossed" from one public parcel to another. The case stems from an incident when four elk hunters from Missouri "corner crossed," passing over land belonging to Fred Eshelman and his Elk Mountain Ranch. According to WyoFile.com, the federal judge dismissed most of the claims made by Eshelman in a lawsuit that said the men had trespassed and caused more than $7 million in damages when the corner crossings happened at Eshelman's 22,045-acre ranch in 2020 and 2021.

What is corner crossing? Like the squares of a checkerboard, it's the common corners between two pieces of public ground, allowing hunters to move from one to the other without theoretically trespassing on private ground on the other border squares.

Skavdahl was critical of improper lobbying in the case by both phone and e-mail, noting that the various attempts to sway his decision were ignored.

"These submissions have come from people who are not parties to this case, and who, unlike the [approved] parties, have not been given permission by the court to tender a submission that can be viewed and responded to by all parties," Skavdahl indicated, according to WyoFile.com. "The court has neither reviewed, or considered the submissions as part of examining the issues in this case."

What the judge did decide last month is that "Corner crossing on foot in the checkerboard pattern of land ownership without physically contacting private land and without causing damage to private property does not constitute an unlawful trespass.”

The case reportedly started when criminal charges were filed against Bradley Cape, Phillip Yeomans, John Slowensky and Zach Smith, although a jury in Carbon County, Wyo., last year found the four hunters not guilty of criminal trespass. Eshelman's subsequent civil suit ended up in federal court since the public land in question was federal ground managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

What does all of this mean? For now, it’s apparently good news concerning public-land access by the nation’s hunters and anglers. But stay tuned. "The judge's ruling is a public-access win worth celebrating!," noted Backcountry Hunters & Anglers CEO and President Land Tawney in an e-mail announcing the decision."

The whole issue remains complicated as BHA notes in a FAQ document issued on May 30, 2023. "This specific decision is based on the particular facts involved in the case," noted BHA. "The judge determined that the hunters did not commit trespass by corner crossing on foot where they did not touch private property or otherwise damage private property. While the court’s opinion sets forth the law as understood by the court, unless and until the case is appealed and heard by higher courts, there is no guarantee that corner crossing in Wyoming or anywhere else is explicitly legal.




"The decision the judge arrived at was made primarily based upon the case Mackay v. Uinta Development Co., a decision that allowed access across checkerboarded federal lands based upon existing federal law known as the Unlawful Inclosures Act (UIA), which has been on the books since 1885. As outlined in our amicus brief for this case, we believe this case and federal law makes corner crossing legal across the United States."

Melanistic Paddlefish Caught in Oklahoma

Last week’s Fishing Report from the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation contained yet another big, interesting fish from the Sooner State. This time it was a melanistic paddlefish that was caught (paddlefish are snagged with a treble hook since the filter feeders don’t take traditional lures and bait) and released by Ryan Davison of Oklahoma Paddlefish Guide Service.

“This interesting paddlefish caught by Oklahoma Paddlefish Guide Service last week in Tulsa County has some unusual pigmentation compared to most paddlefish we see,” noted the ODWC fishing report e-mail. “All paddlefish have the ability to be pitch black in coloration, but we rarely see this in wild, adult fish.

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"When adult paddlefish spend extended time in shallower tailwater habitats, where the water clarity may be greater, they will take on a darker coloration, sometimes almost black. It is likely that this paddlefish spent some time in clear, shallow water, effectively getting a dark suntan. In fact, you can see its tan lines around the gill cover.”

Still, the Sooner State agency admits that this isn’t typical, noting “Why don't we see this more often? This example could be a combination of a melanistic fish and the normal effects of shallow clear habitats on paddlefish coloration.” After fighting the fish and landing it, capturing some photos and video, Davison released the fish to fight another day.

Tennessee Paddlefish
Tennessee angler Henry Dyer of Kingston with his state-record paddlefish weighing 149 pounds. (Photo courtesy of Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency)

Record Paddlefish Snagged in Tennessee

If it seems like paddlefish have been in the news a lot lately, that’s correct. Back in April, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency posted a photo and a Facebook notice that read “BIG FISH ALERT! Tennessee angler Henry Dyer of Kingston with the new STATE RECORD paddlefish from Cherokee Lake! 149 lbs., 79 5/8” length, 44 3/8” girth. #tnwildlife #tntrophyroom #staterecord.”

That TWRA social-media post—which generated more than 600 comments and more than 2,000 shares—was even bigger than a state-record paddlefish according to Chattanooga, Tenn., TV station WTVC since it was actually the largest fish of any kind ever caught in the Volunteer State.

Dyer noted that it took all he had to hold on and land the fish after several long runs and a battle that lasted just more than a half-hour. "I'm a little feller and that fish weighed more than me," he quipped.

National Fishing & Boating Week Celebration

With the arrival of June, it’s time for the annual celebration of “National Fishing and Boating Week.” Held the first week of June each year, this year’s NFBW celebration is occurring from June 3-11. Initiated by the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, the week is promoted by the RBFF's "Take Me Fishing" program and celebrates the 54.2 million fishing participants in the U.S. Those anglers, including 19.4 million female participants and 12.9 million youth participants, take some 890 million fishing outings each year.

States around the U.S. are joining in once again, many offering free fishing events and free fishing days. In Texas, a free fishing day and a variety of events were held this past Saturday, June 3. In the Peach State, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources is hosting a variety of events in addition to the state holding two such free fishing days this year, one last Saturday and the other this Saturday, June 10.

To find each state’s free fishing days, a schedule of events, and ways you can help celebrate the nation’s fishing and boating heritage, visit the National Fishing & Boating Week website.

2023 IGFA Day Sweepstakes

In holding its annual "IGFA Day" anniversary celebration this week (Wednesday, June 7, 2023), the International Game Fish Association is once again celebrating recreational anglers and the conservation efforts that they have championed worldwide.

This year, the Miami, Fla.-based conservation organization and keeper of world-record data is adding a wrinkle with the IGFA’s "Habits for Habitats" emphasis, an initiative focused on cleaning and restoring game fish habitats around the globe with reminders of how simple habits can make a big difference. The IGFA is also inviting recreational anglers to join the celebration throughout the month of June by engaging in a sweepstakes promotion that will give the grand prize winner an IGFA Lifetime Membership, the 2023 IGFA World Record Game Fishes book, a Daiwa Saltist MQ 4000 spinning reel, a YETI Flip 12 soft cooler, a pair of COSTA sunglasses, a signed and personalized limited-edition Guy Harvey lithograph, and more. Other runner-up winners will have a chance to claim an IGFA hat.

The sweepstakes is open through 11:59 PM EDT on June 30, 2023 to participants ages 18 and older. For additional details on entering and how to participate, visit the IGFA website.

Short Casts

While closed on National Forest lands, the spring squirrel season is now underway in the Commonwealth of Virginia, running from June 3-17 according to the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources. The bag limit is six squirrels per day, all combined. ... A Colorado Parks and Wildlife news release indicates that CPW has implemented a mandatory closure to fishing at Home Lake State Wildlife Area. Located near Monte Vista, the WMA closure went into effect on June 2 and runs through June 16. With the investigation continuing as to how the chemical exposure occurred, the closure followed testing of the lake water and was recommended by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. "Our early sampling has indicated that two herbicides used for agriculture have made their way onto the vegetation on the south end of the property and into the water," said CPW Area Wildlife Manager Rick Basagoitia. "Out of an abundance of caution, we will halt fishing for a couple of weeks as we determine the appropriate course of action and monitor the affected areas." ... From drought to floods to winterkill to disease, there's often a lot of negative news out there when it comes to hunting and fishing resources in the Western U.S. So for a change of pace, how about some good news? That comes via a story by Brett French in the Billings Gazette that updates the battle to save Yellowstone Lake's native cutthroat trout population, which had declined precipitously in past years thanks to lake trout being illegally introduced into the lake. French notes that as the lake trout population-control efforts continue with nearly three decades worth of netting, Yellowstone Lake's native cutthroat are trending in the right direction. "As the lake trout population has been reduced by nearly three decades of netting, Yellowstone Lake’s native cutthroat trout have slowly rebounded and gotten bigger — a lot bigger. In an annual online update in late May, Yellowstone lead fisheries biologist Todd Koel gave the upbeat western trout news. “From the perspective of an angler, these fish are phenomenal,” Koel says in the story. “If you catch a 20-inch cutthroat now it weighs on average twice as much as that same length fish would have weighed prior to the lake trout invasion,” he added. “These fish are much larger and much heavier, so the biomass here overall may actually be the same or surpass what we had prior to the lake trout invasion." ... If you fish for trout in the Ozarks region of Arkansas, watch your Inbox. That's because the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is conducting the AGFC Trout Program’s statewide angler survey, which will help the agency learn more about what trout anglers want in the Natural State. According to Christy Graham, AGFC trout management supervisor, some 10,000 anglers will be randomly selected from current trout permit holders and asked to participate in the survey. “We conduct angler surveys like these at regular intervals to gauge people’s opinions, motivations, favorite water bodies and typical expenditures,” said Graham in a news release. “These surveys, plus in-person creel surveys conducted throughout the year as people are coming off the water, help keep our trout management plans in line with what anglers want.”

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