North Dakota Game and Fish changes record policy after walleye controversy
North Dakota Game and Fish director Terry Steinwand admits his department jumped the gun when it declared Tom Volk's lunker walleye a state record. The ensuing controversy about whether Volk caught the fish legally or foul-hooked it was a statewide story that led to the Lincoln, N.D., angler being heavily criticized on social media.
So, Steinwand said Tuesday, May 21, Game and Fish is instituting a new process when it comes to declaring state-record fish.
The department will not recognize a record for a minimum of two weeks after a fish is caught, he said, "Just in case something like this happens again."
Volk took a 16-pound, 9-ounce walleye from the Heart River in Mandan on Easter Sunday while fishing from shore. The lunker was much larger than the previous state record walleye, a 15-pound, 13-ounce caught in 2018 from the Missouri River by Bismarck's Neal Leier, and Game and Fish sent out a press release the next day with the headline "Lincoln Angler’s Walleye Breaks Record." A Facebook post on the department's page congratulated Volk "for reeling in a new state record walleye!"
But Game and Fish enforcement chief Bob Timian said the department immediately began getting messages that Volk's fish was foul-hooked, meaning it was not taken legally and could not qualify as a state record. An investigation released May 13, using video and eyewitness statements, concluded Volk foul-hooked the fish and he would not be given the record.
Volk was issued a warning ticket for possessing a foul-hooked fish. State law says any fish foul hooked, deemed as hooked behind the gills, must immediately be returned to the water.
Steinwand said the two-week waiting period will allow anybody with questions about a catch to come forward and give Game and Fish time to look into concerns. Steinwand, like Timian, stressed that Game and Fish is under no obligation to recognize state record catches.
Steinwand said the department is "getting a little flack" for only issuing Volk a warning and not seizing the walleye, which it could do because Game and Fish says the fish was taken illegally. Steinwand said investigators don't believe Volk intentionally snagged the fish, which was taken with a small jig.
"Well, technically we could, but using some discretion and saving a little face for him, we're not doing it at this point," Steinwand said.
Volk continues to maintain that he believes the walleye was hooked legally in the mouth and that Game and Fish didn't have enough evidence to take away the record. He has posted photos and videos to his Facebook page that he says bolsters his case.
Volk said he's been cyberbullied since his catch went public, mostly on Facebook. He posted a message he said came from somebody angry with him for trying to claim the record.
"Even handicapped people can legitimately catch fish ... too bad you feel the need to SNAG fish and take the sport out of it," the message says. "Hopefully your children don't follow in your footsteps and realize what a (expletive) loser you are for lying and trying to cheat the actual person who caught his fish within the legal parameters. Take your free gun laws and put them to use by putting a barrel in your mouth and tasting lead."
Volk said it's just one of many nasty messages he's received since the controversy began.
"I don't even read them anymore," he said.