We all know to call 911 if there is an emergency. There is another emergency number that I’d suggest adding to your phone if you spend any time fishing, hunting, or enjoying the great outdoors in Arizona.
The Operation Game Thief Hotline number, 800-352-0700, is staffed around the clock, seven days a week. Unfortunately, I have had to call that number on a couple of occasions.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) works on our behalf to improve habitat, manage wildlife and fish, and enforce hunting and fishing rules and regulations.
There are 97 wildlife/fish managers in Arizona. They are part-time biologists and part-time law enforcement officers. These hard-working AZGFD employees often have a large territory to manage. When they encounter a game/fish thief, that workload only increases as they investigate these crimes.
That typically involves penalties within the court system and penalties imposed by the Arizona Game and Fish Commission regarding an individual’s hunting and fishing privileges and reimbursement costs for the wildlife or fish taken illegally.
The regulations are in the fishing regulations book. As an example, the general statewide daily bag limit for trout is six fish. That also means that you must stop fishing for trout once that daily bag limit is reached.
There are specific regulations for how many fish you can take out of a body of water.
In our area, there are several areas with different regulations that anglers are responsible to know.
For example, at the Green Valley Lakes, like many Community Fishing Program lakes in the state, the daily bag limit is four trout. Smaller Community Fishing Program ponds in the Valley have a bag limit of two trout.
Canyon Creek has a daily limit of four trout in the upper section. In the unstocked lower section, that is home to wild brown trout, restrictions limit it to catch and release and the use of single barbless hooks, artificial fly or lure.
Horton Creek and the Upper East Verde River are also only catch and release with single barbless hooks, artificial fly or lure stipulations.
These are just a couple examples of waters in Rim Country. It is important to know the rules for the body of water that you intend to fish.
Regulations are in place to protect sensitive populations of fish, or to reflect the smaller amount of fish stocked into certain waters so that everyone has a fair chance at success.
I almost always return my catch to the stream or lake when I fish unless I have injured the fish and it will not survive the release. Many folks keep their catch, which I fully support. What I struggle with is when individuals take more than their share, or take them using illegal methods.
We all make mistakes. You can remind folks if you think they didn’t know the daily bag limits. If it is uncomfortable, seems ineffective, is likely to become confrontational, or is a blatant violation, call the Operation Game Thief Hotline (800-352-0700). Any photographic evidence that you can produce of the incident is valuable for the investigation.
We all need to take responsibility to protect these precious resources. The Arizona Game and Fish Department can’t do it without us.