By Nick Simonson
On Apr. 22, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department (NDG&F) issued a press release announcing that a 16-pound 9-ounce walleye caught by Tom Volk of Lincoln, N.D. “broke a record” when he reeled in a “32 and one-half inch fish from shore along the Heart River in Mandan, besting the old record by three-quarters of a pound.”
Today, the agency did an about-face after a number of interviews with anglers present for the happening and an investigation into the topic, stating in a May 13 press release that “department officials have concluded the fish was foul-hooked, and therefore cannot be recognized as a state record.” Despite this conclusion by the agency and being issued a written warning for keeping a foul-hooked fish, Volk remains steady in his position that the walleye was caught legally and could stand as the state record, if he wanted to pursue it.
Witness Statements Torpedo Record
“This fish was never submitted, never officially recognized as a state record,” said NDG&F Enforcement Division Chief Robert Timian, adding that the investigation which surrounded the fish between Apr. 22 and May 13 was focused on determining whether or not the fish was caught within the rules of recreational angling, not whether it was the biggest walleye in state history.
“We spoke with several individuals that had witnessed it and we determined it was hooked in the back,” he stated, adding in relation to items circulating on social media that “the online video is just a piece, we got a number of calls from people who saw the fish caught, they believed it was a foul-hooked fish,” he concluded.
According to Timian after speaking with several witnesses, the NDG&F made its decision and Volk was issued a warning for keeping a foul-hooked fish. Under North Dakota law, a foul-hooked fish is defined as any fish hooked or caught in any area from behind the gill covers to the tail. Any foul-hooked fish must immediately be returned to the water regardless of condition. Possession of foul-hooked fish is illegal. Volk confirmed that he received the written warning in an interview following the publication of the May 13 statement by the NDG&F on its website.
Angler Adamant Catch Was Legal
Despite receiving the warning for keeping the foul-hooked fish, Volk remains as constant in defending the validity of the catch as he has been since landing the walleye on the Heart River in April and is adamant that it occurred legally and could be the state record if he wants to pursue it. Volk is concerned, however, that doing so is not in the best interest of the state’s angling community nor is it worth clouding the title of biggest walleye in the state’s history with further controversy.
“I could prove this in a court of law, there’s enough evidence,” Volk stated, reiterating that the fish was hooked in the upper jaw, “there’s no evidence to show it was hooked in the back.” Among the pieces of evidence Volk states are in his possession proving a legal catch is five minutes of video of his battle with the walleye taken along the shore by his wife and photos of the fish including those of the head and back after it was taken into his possession showing a “hole in the upper right jaw” of the fish and “no hole in the back,” according to Volk. During the fight with the fish, he stated he recalled seeing, at a distance of approximately 50 feet, the white jig he was fishing with impaled in the fish’s upper jaw. He suggested that these materials and his recollection may be made available to the public through his personal Facebook page in the coming days to help prove his point that the fish was caught legally and to help put the matter to rest, but was weighing his options and considering the impact on others involved in the situation before he does.
A Matter of Process
Taking what he can from the situation, Volk hopes that the process of submitting a state record fish for consideration will be streamlined and better documented, and the role of observers and challenges to those fish will be clarified by the NDG&F in the future, particularly in light of the scrutiny brought on him, his family and netman over the last month.
“Out of all of this I just hope they create a process for verifying record fish, so that this doesn’t happen to someone else again because of social media and videos and photos, this could easily happen again, you could have one person ruin it for someone else,” Volk stated, continuing, “it’s not about the record, I could care less about the record, I don’t want a controversial record anyway, but they better damn well have a process in place next year when I catch an 18-pound walleye,” Volk finished with a laugh, adding that the best result in his mind would be that the determination would have been inconclusive.
With the press release by the NDG&F issued May 13, that fish weighing 15-pounds 13-ounces caught on May 18, 2018 by Neal Leier of Bismarck on the Missouri river will remain the state’s record walleye, as reported last spring by Dakota Edge Outdoors.
Tom Volk of Lincoln, N.D., poses with the 16-pound, 9-ounce walleye he landed on the Heart River in Mandan on Apr. 21, 2019. The NDG&F ruled after interviewing multiple witnesses to the catch that the fish was foul-hooked in the back and could not be submitted for state record consideration. Photo Submitted by Tom Volk.