DECATUR — Fishing always involves a certain amount of luck.
And one Decatur angler recently decided to take a chance with a jury when he was ticketed for what Illinois Department of Natural Resources Conservation Police said was an undersized crappie he pulled from Lake Decatur.
He could have simply paid the ticket — typically a $120 penalty — as most fishermen who are cited for keeping undersized fish do. He instead opted to test the legal waters with a full-fledged trial on July 18 in Macon County Circuit Court. The angler, who represented himself, failed to prevail during the one-day trial, according to court documents.
IDNR conservation officer Bryant Wright provided the key evidence for Macon County Assistant State’s Attorney Susan Moorehead, who prosecuted the case. Wright said he found the man in possession of a crappie measuring less than 10 inches, the legal minimum size, while fishing from Sportsmans Park at 7:30 a.m. on May 8.
“Failure to immediately release short fish,” the citation read. The jury agreed, and Judge Erick Hubbard fined the man $50, as well as ordering him to pay court costs calculated at more than $500 by the state’s attorney’s office.
The prosecution had photo evidence of the fish, and such evidence is difficult for a defendant to overcome, according to Macon County State’s Attorney Jay Scott.
Scott said it is unusual for someone to take the case to court.
“But we do have people sometimes who want to take it to the limit,” he said. “And any time under state law, you do have the right to a jury trial.”
IDNR spokesman Tim Schweizer said such cases are worth prosecuting because, long term, enforcing the law makes the fishing better for everyone.
“We’re protecting the resource and, in protecting the resource, the goal is to enhance the size and population of fish like crappie and bass in Lake Decatur,” Schweizer said. “You need to protect the small fish so that they become bigger fish.”